Forensic nursing degrees are one of the most important degree programs a nurse can choose to enter. These nurses help provide emotional support to victims of crime, medically stabilize them, and help with evidence collection.
Most forensic nurses work with victims of rape and other types of sexual assault, but there are several other roles that forensic nurses can play, such as:
Domestic violence nurses, for men and women suffering from abuse from a partner.
Child abuse and neglect nurses, for children who are being abused by their caretakers.
Death investigation nurses, to investigate deaths believed to be caused by foul play.
Elder abuse nurses, for elderly patients who are being abused by their caretakers.
Corrections nurses, for prisoners.
Emergency services nurses, who work with EMTs and in emergency rooms.
Mental health nurses, for patients in mental health facilities.
Public health nurses.
Though most forensic nurses start out as sexual assault examiners, they can end up working with a variety of victims of abuse, neglect, assault, and even murder.
How to Become a Forensic Nurse
Forensic nurses are registered nurses, which means that prospective forensic nurses must first obtain a nursing degree (usually a bachelor’s degree), then take their National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses. After they pass their NCLEX-RN, they make take a forty hour long Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (or SANE) class, and perform forty hours of clinical work. Alternatively, they can take a Death Investigator course, if their state has one available. They may then pass a certification examination. There are actually two types of SANEs- SANE-As specialize in working with adult and elderly victims, while SANE-Ps work with adolescents and young children who have been abused, neglected, or assaulted. This is the most common way that nurses become forensic nurses.
Some nursing students get their bachelor’s in nursing, then go back to school to get advanced forensic nursing degrees. This may not be an option for all nurses, however, since not all schools have approved graduate nursing programs that specialize in forensics. When it is available, it’s a very good option that may give forensic nurses a stronger background in things like counseling, and greater job flexibility.
Forensic nursing is governed by each state’s Board of Nursing, just like all other nursing is. As a result, each state may have somewhat different requirements for what RNs must do in order to become certified forensic nurses. If you are considering any nursing career path, including forensic nursing, your first step should be to contact your state’s Board of Nursing for a list of approved nursing degree programs, educational requirements, examination requirements, and nursing-specific financial aid programs.
Forensic Nursing Schools
To get their forensic nursing certification, students can either attend an actual brick and mortar school, or enroll in an online degree program. Fairleigh Dickinson University, in New Jersey, offers a campus based MSN program that allows students to become forensic nurses, as does Xavier University in Ohio. As far as online forensic nursing programs go, Kaplan University has an online program that allows nurses to graduate with a forensic nursing certificate. The University of North Dakota also has an online program, but this school graduates online forensic nursing students with an MA in forensic psychology. Other online forensic programs, like those offered by the University of California and Fitchburg State University graduate students with MSNs that offer a forensic focus. It should be noted that certificates and degrees from these schools aren’t the same as SANE certification, and nurses who graduate from these programs will still need to follow the steps to become SANEs or Death Examiners.
Many cases of abuse and neglect go unreported until it’s much to late, either because the victim is ashamed of themselves, or afraid of their attacker. Well-educated forensic nurses can tell which injuries are accidents, and which are abuse, and can help establish a trusting dialogue with frightened patients to encourage them to tell the truth about the source of their injuries. Forensic nursing is one of the fastest growing fields for registered nurses, and forensic nursing degrees are an excellent way to get into this fascinating, vitally important area of healthcare and victim advocacy.