Forensic Nurse: Career and Salary Facts

Research what it takes to become a forensic nurse. Learn about job duties, education requirements, career advancement, and salary to find out if this is the career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is a Forensic Nurse?

A forensic nurse is a nurse whose job combines clinical care with criminal investigations and law enforcement. These professionals treat patients who have been involved in criminal incidents, such as violence and abuse. They also use their knowledge of medicine to aid in the analysis and interpretation of criminal evidence, and they may write reports for law enforcement officials or testify in court. Some forensic nurses also serve as government policy advocates for patients who are the victims of abuse and/or assault. The table below outlines the general requirements to become a forensic nurse.

Degree Required Associate or bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Nursing, forensics
Training Required Must complete RN training
Key Skills Critical thinking, compassion, detail oriented, organizational skills, speaking skills
Certification Required Must pass national licensing exam through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, further certification is voluntary
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% (for all registered nurses)*
Mean Annual Salary (2015) $67,490 (for all registered nurses)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Would I Do as a Forensic Nurse?

As a forensic nurse, you'd assist in criminal investigations from a medical standpoint by treating victims of abuse and trauma. Your main duties could include gathering evidence from crime scenes, treating patients' physical and mental ailments, promoting human rights issues and testifying as an expert in abuse cases. Dealing directly with patients requires you to be compassionate and caring in order to help them through emotional trauma. You also need a thorough understanding of criminal law and legal proceedings in order to provide law enforcement workers with proper evidence.

What Education Do I Need?

To begin work as a forensic nurse, you'll first need to become a registered nurse (RN). You can choose either a 2-year associate's degree or 4-year bachelor's degree program in nursing to learn the basic techniques of patient care and medical procedures. Nursing programs combine classroom education with supervised clinical experience to prepare you to pass the required national nursing examination. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing offers the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) that you need to pass in order to receive the RN designation and legally work as a nurse in the U.S. (www.ncsbn.org).

Some nursing degree programs offer forensics classes in addition to basic curricula, but you can also seek further specialized education through a forensic nursing certificate program available to RNs. Specialized programs focus on forensic techniques and the social implications of violence and abuse.

How Could I Advance My Career?

After you have worked in the forensic nursing field for a few years, you could choose to seek a professional credential. The American College of Forensic Examiners International offers the Certified Forensic Nurse credential. You can become eligible to test for the certification after three years of work experience as an RN and completion of a forensic nursing education program (www.acfei.com). Alternatively, the International Association of Forensic Nurses offers two certifications, including the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult/Adolescent and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric credentials. You can qualify for either of these after you've met education and experience requirements and received a passing score on the respective exam (www.iafn.org).

You could choose to enroll in a master's degree program and become an advanced practice nurse in order to advance your career. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree programs in Forensic Nursing are available to RNs with bachelor's degrees. In an MSN program, you'll study the societal and community aspects of forensic nursing as well as participate in clinical examinations.

What Salary Could I Earn?

According to the International Association of Forensic Nursing, the specific field is relatively new to the nursing profession, tracing its origins to a 1985 declaration by the U.S. Surgeon General that medical professionals play key roles in caring for patients who suffer from acts of violence. As such, salary figures for forensic nurses are limited. In May 2015, the BLS showed registered nurses in the 10th-90th percentile reported a compensation range of $46,360-$101,630. According to PayScale.com the average annual salary for those with forensic nursing skills was about $80,000, but it is important to note that fewer than 10 individuals reported salaries for this position.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

Since forensic nursing is a small field, it may be easier to find a nursing job in a different specialization area. For instance, you could become an addictions nurse, where you would care for patients with substance abuse issues; depending on the patient's criminal history, you might work with a care team that also involves counselors, social workers, and/or law enforcement officials. For an entirely different job, you could become a neonatology nurse, a job in which you would dedicate your career to the care of infants.

If you want to pursue a career that is more closely related to law enforcement, you could get a job as a forensic science technician. These professionals can gather evidence in the field or analyze chemical and biological specimens in the lab in order to assist with criminal investigations. Most forensic science technicians have a bachelor's degree.

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