How Can I Become a Forensic Nurse?

Explore the career requirements for becoming a forensic nurse. Get the facts about the education requirements, certification, job duties and salary to determine if this is the right career for you. Schools offering Nursing degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

What Is A Forensic Nurse?

Forensic nurses are registered nurses work closely with law enforcement professionals. After a crime, they may be responsible for tending to the physical needs of the victim. For example, they may perform a rape kit or collect evidence, such as clothes or scrapings from under a victim's fingernails. They may also need to collect evidence from suspects. Forensic nurses could also be involved in investigating deaths, drug abuse, and environmental hazards. As professionals who work closely with victims of crime they need to be sensitive and compassionate, and may even need to testify in court regarding the evidence they collect.

Career Information At a Glance

Degree Required Associate's degree at minimum; bachelor's degree (RN) preferred
Education Field of Study Nursing
Licensure Nursing license (RN) required
Certification SANE certification may be required
Job Growth (2014-2024) 16% (for all registered nurses)*
Median Salary (2015) $67,490 (for all registered nurses)*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What General Education Do I Need?

In order to work in forensic nursing, you must first become a registered nurse (RN). You can learn about nursing principles, practices and techniques while enrolled in a 2-year associate's or 4-year bachelor's degree program in nursing. Diploma programs in the field are also available. All states require RNs to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) before they can legally work in a hospital, physician's office or other health care facility.

Do I Need Specialized Training?

One of the most common ways to enter into a career in forensic nursing is to get certified as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). SANE training programs typically include 40 hours of instructional training in the classroom or online and 40 hours of clinical work for more hands-on training. In order to take part in a SANE training program you must first be an RN. Once enrolled in the program, you will learn how to care for patients who have experienced any and all forms of sexual violence. This training includes learning how to perform a full forensic examination to search for signs of trauma and learning how to collect forensic evidence using a field regulation collection kit.

These programs are offered by a wide variety of schools and organizations, including American Forensic Nurses, Inc., the Illinois Attorney General's Office, and the Massachusetts Office of Health and Human Services. Some programs require an application process, but you should check with the specific program for details.

What Else Might Be Helpful?

Some colleges and universities offer master's or doctoral degree programs in forensic nursing. A Forensic Nursing Certificate program should introduce you to many of the same hands-on concepts as the SANE training programs, but will also include the opportunity to think critically about the field and the work performed. For instance, you might explore the implications of increasing violence levels and the impact of these levels on both the medical and legal professions. Doctoral programs like a Doctor of Nursing Practice with a concentration in forensic nursing can also include instruction on creating prevention and intervention programs for various cultures and demographics.

During a master's or doctoral program in forensic nursing, you might take courses on crime scene preservation and evaluation, forensic photography, victim mental health and courtroom testimony. This is a beneficial way to enter the field if you are looking to combine critical analysis of the work with hands-on application of classroom concepts.

What Are the Job Prospects in This Field?

Even though forensic nursing is a growing field, the position is still relatively new and, consequently, it is important to advocate for yourself and the unique specialized skills you possess. The International Association of Forensic Nurses also suggests networking with those who already work in the field to learn about their training and hiring backgrounds.

What Can I Expect to Earn?

Although this field is not listed separately, as of May 2015, the median salary for registered nurses (RNs) was $67,490, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Specialization usually tends to increase salary worth.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

If you're interested in the medical field, but perhaps unsure about working at a crime scene, you could consider working as an RN in a clinic or hospital. This position requires the same education as a forensic nurse, but you would treat patients and provide health education as part of a healthcare team that includes a physician or other medical doctor. You could also choose to specialize in a specific population, such as infants or the elderly, or specific treatment, such as critical care, addictions or genetics.

EMTs and paramedics have some aspects of their work that's similar to the work of forensic nurses. They may respond to the scene of a crime and provide immediate medical care to victims. As part of their treatment, they may interact with forensic nurses and provide them with materials collected from the victim during treatment. They do not need a degree, but do need postsecondary training.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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