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What is Forensic Nursing?

What is Forensic Nursing?

Forensic nursing is a unique industry that involves the blending of medical care and the criminal justice system. Forensic nurses will have received advanced training to treat individuals who have been the victim of violence. As a forensic nurse, you will be responsible for providing specialty care to victims of severe trauma and abuse. Moreover, forensic nurses are expected to perform anti-crime duties including evidence collection and providing court testimony.

Forensic nurses are highly sought after in the medical field and can find employment in a variety of settings including hospitals, medical examiner’s offices, and community health providers. Since forensic nursing is a highly specialized area, salary and benefit packages are lucrative and have a higher median than traditional nursing positions.

What is a Forensic Nurse?

In most cases, a forensic nurse will have a background as either a registered nurse or an advanced nurse practitioner. In addition to a nursing background, he or she will need to finish certification programs and courses in forensic nursing. Forensic nurses are expected to provide both urgent and long-term care to victims. As part of that care, the nurse will collect any evidence on behalf of law enforcement. They may also be a part of court proceedings in criminal trials. They will be called on to provide expert testimony to discuss victim injuries and physical evidence found during medical examinations.

What does a forensic nurse do?

Oftentimes, forensic nurses work in hospital emergency rooms. Forensic nurses may be on call and only get dispatched to a hospital when needed by law enforcement. When called in, he or she may be given responsibilities such as collecting samples from a sex crime or collecting bullets from a gunshot victim. Evidence collection must be handled carefully to ensure due process. Clothing must be well-preserved if worn at the time of the crime. The forensic nurse must document any injuries and photographs of wounds may be required. Due to the delicate nature of the job, forensic nurses are expected to provide compassionate care at all times. Patients under the care of a forensic nurse may include victims of child abuse, domestic violence, rape, and assault.

In the field of forensic nursing, the nurse may also be involved in autopsies. They will work alongside medical examiners to help determine a person’s cause of death. He or she may need to examine the corpse and collect samples during an autopsy.

Why is a forensic nurse so important?

Forensic nurses are one of the first providers of care for victims of violent crimes. They are expected to provide medical aid to the victims, but also emotional support. Forensic nurses are highly trained to handle those who are going through trauma and are expected to provide the right responses to help the victims.

Forensic nursing is also important for anti-crime efforts. Nurses who are trained in the field will know how to collect evidence to aid officers in solving crimes. During autopsy examinations, the nurse can help deduce the cause of death and determine whether the deceased was a victim of a criminal act. The nurse can also give courtroom testimony to assist prosecutors with sending perpetrators to prison.

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Forensic nursing is a specialty—meaning an individual must first receive a college degree in nursing. Typically, forensic nurses start out working as registered nurses or advanced nurse practitioners before switching career paths. At a minimum, the prospective nurse will have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. An advanced practitioner will have already earned a master degree in the field. A number of forensic nurses have gone on to earn a Doctor of Nursing Practice degree. Post-graduation, a forensic nurse will receive additional training and certifications to prepare for his or her career.

Forensic nursing education and training

In all states, registered nurses are required to pass the NCLEX-RN after completing a nursing education program. A four-year bachelor degree program will prepare forensic nurses to handle the different requirements of the job. Courses will involve topics such as pharmacology, clinical nursing, nursing assessments, pathophysiology, senior healthcare, and nutrition. Once courses are completed and all other state requirements are met, the nurse receives licensure in the state.

Once the nurse is ready to enter the field of forensic nursing, he or she has two distinct career tracks available to them. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Time and cost can be a factor in choosing the right program as well as availability. Another consideration will be the comprehensiveness of the program. Notably, a certified forensic nurse will have more job options than those who have not gone through the certification process.

Option 1: Post-Graduate Certificate Program

A post-graduate certification program offers a short-term option for registered nurses who wish to enter the field of forensic nursing. The post-graduate option will require a certain number of clinical hours learning more about the specialization. For instance, Desales University has a 2,000-hour practice requirement for those who wish to receive a certification in forensic nursing with a specialty in investigative forensics.

The length of any forensic nursing certification program relies on the discretion of the nursing school. The nursing school may have forensic nursing certification programs that last anywhere from a few weeks to a few semesters. Forensic nursing seminars will delve into the specialty and cover subjects such as healthcare policies, ethics, evidence-based practices, and the legal system. Certificate completion requirements usually include a clinical preceptorship. Preceptorships involve working in direct contact with a qualified forensic nurse to gain hands-on experience. 

Besides colleges, professional organizations hold courses and certification programs for those interested in forensic nursing. Organizations like the International Association of Forensic Nurses hosts in-person classes as well as online training webinars. The webinars are helpful for both prospective nurses and current forensic nurses who need to earn continuing education credits.

All employers do not require board certification, but it will give a nurse an advantage over other job applicants. To become board certified, a registered nurse must pass a proctored examination. The Commission for Forensic Nursing offers two board certifications: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and Advanced Forensic Nursing. These certification programs require 41 to 43 credit hours of continuing education credits as a pre-requisite. Certifications usually require renewal every three years.

Option 2: Forensic Nursing MSN Degree Program

Forensic nursing MSN degree programs are longer, more in-depth education programs than certification programs. In many cases, a Master of Science in Nursing degree with a specialty in Forensic Nursing can be earned in two years or less. Programs like BSN to MSN accelerated degrees may only require a year of online course completion. To earn an MSN, colleges like Monmouth University require 150 credit hours for conferment. Hours include 30 credits of undergraduate prerequisite courses, 36 to 48 credits of graduate-level nursing classes, and the remainder made up of nursing electives. Monmouth University and other colleges offer an RN to MSN option that allows registered nurses to earn a master’s level degree without needing a BSN.

Class examples in a master’s level program for forensic nursing include health informatics, advanced nursing practices, medicolegal death investigations, sexual assault examinations, topics in forensic nursing, and psychopathology.

Forensic Nursing Career Outlook

The field of forensic nursing is expected to experience substantial growth over the next decade. Job outlook reported for registered nurses in all specializations is reported to be growing at a rate of 15 percent through 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The accelerated growth is linked to a call for more highly trained nurses with graduate-level degrees placed in settings such as emergency rooms, medical examiner offices, urgent care centers, and community health offices.

Due to the high level of stress associated with forensic nursing, pay scales are competitive. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports a median salary for registered nurses of $71,370, forensic nurses average a higher rate of $85,000+ according to Glassdoor. Higher salary consideration is given to individuals with MSN degrees and board certification. The top five highest paying states for forensic nurses in the United States are:

  • California
  • Oregon
  • Nevada
  • Arizona
  • Utah

Job titles for a forensic nurse include death investigator, sexual assault nurse examiner, forensic psychiatric nurse, legal nursing consultant, nurse coroner, and correctional facility registered nurse. Forensic nursing jobs in a legal capacity or through a medical examiner office will offer the highest salary packages. Jobs in urban areas will pay more than forensic nursing positions in rural and suburban areas. Hospitals located in high-crime areas and with trauma units will have a strong need for forensic nurses. However, these positions do involve high levels of stress and erratic work shifts.

Forensic Nursing Resources

Forensic nursing resources will assist prospective nurses with getting started on their professional journeys. For instance, professional nursing organizations can help a new forensic nurse network and learn about current events in the field. Online resources with information about forensic nursing MSN programs can help prospective nurses choose the right online and direct entry programs for them.   

Forensic Nursing FAQS

Does forensic nursing jobs require background checks?
Forensic nurses are often involved in legal proceedings. Like any legal career, a forensic nurse job requires that the individual submits to a background check. As part of the hiring process, the nurse may need to be fingerprinted.

How can a forensic nurse earn a higher salary?
Besides experience, advanced education is needed to earn a top salary in the field of forensic nursing. The top ten percent of earners in nursing are advanced practice nurses. These nurses earn either a master’s degree or doctorate degree in forensic nursing. Advanced nurse practitioners make a median wage of $100,000+ per year.

Where do forensic nurses practice outside of hospital settings?
Forensic nurses can work as on-call medical specialists and be brought in for aid during natural disasters and crisis situations. They may also work for a community office that promotes anti-crime efforts.

Are scholarships available for forensic nursing students?
Grants and scholarships are offered to both undergraduate and graduate nursing students. Scholarships are available to students who plan to pursue a degree in forensic nursing and also students from different cultural and financial backgrounds. To start the process of applying for financial aid, a FAFSA application should be submitted. Additional scholarship requirements may include providing career objectives and an essay to the scholarship board.

Helpful Forensic Nursing Organizations

Professional organizations provide support services to forensic nurses. A small annual membership fee may be required, but enrollment often includes networking events, educational webinars, and forensic nursing publications. The top three forensic nursing societies include:

Forensic Nursing Scholarships

Take a look at our scholarship opportunity for those wanting to become a forensic nurse.

List of Forensic Nursing Programs

Here’s a list of the best forensic nursing programs in the United States. Check it out!

Now what?

RNtoBSNProgram.com is available to assist nurses with reaching their career goals. By offering nursing resources to prospective students, we help you find the right type of educational program to advance your nursing education. We provide curated ranking lists that review the best online and on-campus BSN and MSN programs. Visit our resources today or contact us to learn more.

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