Forensic Nurse: Education and Career Information
The world of forensic nursing can be an exciting, yet challenging career path. This position is fairly new to the nursing profession, being introduced in the 90’s. Although nurses have extensive knowledge in the caring of patients, the forensic nurse requires enormous attention to detail and is considered a specialist in the field. The basis of being a forensic nurse relies on the licensing and education of an RN, but has additional standards that must be met to be successful. As a forensic nurse, you will be able to delve deeper into the world of crime victimization and have first-hand access to crime scenes which help determine motive, causes of certain crimes and the suspects who may be responsible.
What a forensic nurse does
A forensic nurse is able to work within a broad range of fields and activities and is usually an integral part of the crime unit. Forensic nurses are trained in criminal justice and medicine, assisting in the treatment and investigation of accidental death, sexual and physical assault crimes. Depending on their role, they help live victims by collecting data to help convict criminals, can work as a consultant in a number of medical facilities, and are specialists in the collection and examination of evidence. Forensic nurses are often called as an expert medical witness during court proceedings. This is a highly structured, fast-paced position that requires a lot of research. There are a number of specialties available:
•Forensic Clinical Nurse: These nurses are highly educated and usually hold an advanced degree such as a master’s or doctoral degree. They are regarded as experts, consultants, administrators and teachers in the forensic field.
•Forensic Gerontology: These nurses assist in investigating cases involving elder abuse and neglect, usually working in facilities geared toward the care and maintenance of older persons.
•Forensic Nurse Investigator: If there is a violent or unexpected death, these nurses are first on the scene. They usually work with the coroner and special crimes unit to examine, collect information and perform autopsies on corpses to help solve the case.
•Correctional Nursing: These nurses work directly in correctional facilities to examine and monitor offenders currently incarcerated.
•Forensic Psychiatry: These nurses specialize in working with criminals who have social, behavioral and psychological disorders. They provide care, supervise and treat offenders and can work as a consultant in the courtroom for criminal defenses.
•Legal Nurse Consultant: These nurses work with attorneys to assist in a number of medically-related cases such as malpractice, worker’s compensation and personal injury. They dissect and evaluate all the information related to the case to advise the attorney.
•Death Investigator: These nurses help analyze the crime scene and examine the body. They are able to call time of death and work with the coroner to locate information to determine cause of death.
•Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner: Works with abused and rape victims. These nurses evaluate the patient, collect and package evidence, and helps with the victim’s care. They are ready and able to serve as an expert witness in these cases.
•Pediatric Forensics: Works with children and adolescents
How much do forensic nurses earn?
All forensic nurses follow the standard nursing path to acquire the Bachelor of Nursing (BSN) degree and pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become a registered nurse. Average starting salaries for nurses are $57,000, but location is also a factor. As you pursue the path of forensic nursing, your advanced education, expertise and experience will play a major part in determining your salary. The annual average salary of a forensic nurse falls between $42,574 and $112,441.
What type of skills are required to be successful in this career field?
Beyond the skills learned in nursing school, you must have a certain level of compassion and empathy for victims you will deal with. You must have a high level of communication skills and the ability to speak clearly and effectively. Here are a few other skills needed for this career path:
•Collection, Packaging and Storing of Evidence
•Eye for detail
•Ability to deal with a diverse group of people
Standard BSN requirements include clinical, which can be viewed as a form of internship within the program. Depending on the specialty, there are other internships that must be completed according to pre-licensure standards.
As part of a number of programs to obtain the Forensic Nursing certificate, both clinical and non-clinical internships are required after the didactic portion of the courses. The clinical internship includes observations and supervised practice in medical forensic evaluation, collection of evidence, documentation, chart and peer review. The non-clinical internship portion includes an observation of operations in the law enforcement field, case management procedures from a prosecuting agency such as the State Attorneys’ office, criminal court proceedings, a crime lab tour and participation in a sexual assault victim advocacy program.
There are a number of educational requirements you must complete prior to becoming a forensic nurse. The first is completing a Bachelor of Nursing (BSN) program from an accredited school and passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The next step would be to become certified as a Sexual Assault Nurse (SANE), which requires passing the SANE exam. There are two certifications available:
•SANE-A: For forensic nurses working with adults
•SANE-P: For forensic nurses working with pediatrics
There are a number of programs specifically designed for the forensic nurse profession, which awards a Certificate in Forensic Nursing. After receiving the certification, there are a number of continuing education courses available to maintain your designation. Some of these specialized courses include:
•Chain of Custody
•Forensic Wound Recognition
•Documentation and Communication
•Evidence collection in the Emergency Department
•Forensic Evidence Collection in the Clinical Setting
•Pediatric Sexual Assault
•Forensic Nurse Examiner
•Court Preparation and Testimony
There are a number of forensic nursing organizations to help assist in obtaining the necessary education and certifications needed to excel in this career path. As with any medical designation, you must keep up with new regulations and requirements in the field. Two organizations that specialize in providing continuing education are the American Forensic Nurses, which is a continuing education provider to help the advancement of education in forensic science; the American Institute of Forensic Education (AIFE), which offers forensic science distance learning training programs for professionals working the field.
If crime scene investigations and solving mysteries intrigue you, this may be the right career path to pursue. You will have many different scenarios based on the type of cases you deal with, and can be an integral part of helping bring criminals to justice.