Quick Facts :
Forensic Nurse

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Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses, May 2017

info-icon ADN or BSN
info-icon $73,550 Annual Wage
info-icon 15% Job Growth

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What Is a Forensic Nurse?

Forensic science itself has been around in some form or another for centuries. However, it wasn’t until the 18th century that forensic practices really started to take hold. By the 20th century, forensic science was becoming a widely recognized field and quickly started gaining momentum. Today, forensics has become the subject matter of popular entertainment and of public fascination, due to the mystery associated with solving crimes.

Forensic nurses are immersed in the fascinating world of forensic science. Like other nurses, they are required to treat and attend to the needs of injured and ill patients. However, these professionals often have an equally important objective. They act as liaisons between the medical field and the justice system. For instance, they are trained to examine patients for evidence of a crime and are trusted to report their findings to law enforcement officials in a manner that can be used to secure convictions in criminal proceedings.

What Does a Forensic Nurse Do?

As previously mentioned, forensic nurses help gather evidence from their patients, who are often victims of a crime. A forensic nurse’s first role is a healthcare provider. They are often required to assess and treat minor injuries and illnesses in their patients. They may also be required to assist physicians in more complex procedures.

While providing treatment, however, forensic nurses will also look for signs of “foul play”. For example, consider the forensic nurse treating the woman who supposedly ran into a door and broke her nose. Despite the fact that she was brought in by a seemingly worried and caring husband, the nurse can’t help but notice that the woman is unusually jumpy around him. Upon closer examination, after the husband is asked the room, the forensic nurse finds multiple bruises on various parts of her body. These bruises, combined with the wariness toward the husband, may lead the forensic nurse to believe that the woman is not merely an accident-prone woman, but a victim of spousal abuse.

A forensic nurse is also often in charge of collecting evidence in the event of a possible crime. In the case stated above, the nurse may take pictures of the bruises and record her observation of the attitude of the wife toward her husband. Forensic nurses may also be responsible for collecting evidence of sexual assault, assault, battery, neglect, and a dozen other disturbing crimes.

Forensic nurses are also often called upon to deliver expert testimony during criminal trials as well. There, they can give their expert opinion and explain medical terminology and evidence to the jury in laymen’s terms.

Where Do Forensic Nurses Work?

As one might expect, forensic nurses work in medical settings. However, the majority of these types of nurses work in settings with a higher percentage of the patients are victims of crimes, namely emergency rooms and urgent care centers.

Working in an emergency healthcare setting is often stressful work, and a forensic nurse must always be on her toes. It often involves working long hours and swing shifts. Witnessing the constant parade of victims of heinous crimes does nothing more but increase the stress factor. However, at the end of the day – when yet another bad guy is put away – it is also very rewarding and satisfying work.

How Do I Become a Forensic Nurse?

Becoming a forensic nurse is not always as straightforward as becoming a traditional nurse. This is partly due to the fact that this is a relatively newer area of the nursing field, and not all employers have discovered the advantages of having forensic nurses on staff. If your goal is to become a forensic nurse, you have a couple different options.

First, you can complete nursing school and become a registered nurse by sitting for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLE-RN). You can then take continuing education courses, comprised of both classroom and clinical training, which are offered at colleges, online, or at some healthcare facilities. You can also choose to enroll in a school that offers a Forensic Nursing master’s degree program.

To become certified, you can then take a certification exam such as the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Certification Exam offered by the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN).

Additional Forensic Nurse Resources