Career Pathways & Education

What Does a Forensic Nurse Do?

Sallie Albert, RN, BSN, CCHP
March 2, 2021
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We asked an experienced Forensic Nurse about her experience below. For more on nursing specialties, view this resource.

The term forensic medicine can encompass a variety of nursing specialities. Forensic nurses typically work in settings such as prisons, jails, or in emergency rooms to respond to patients experiencing sexual assault, domestic violence, or victims of human trafficking. 

The first time I entered a correctional facility to work as a forensic nurse and the door slammed behind me, I knew that was where I wanted to work. Working every day with the most dangerous criminals of society is intriguing and exciting, bringing unexpected possibilities to each day.

What Are the Typical Responsibilities of a Forensic Nurse?

The responsibilities of a forensic nurse can differ depending on the specialty within the forensics field. The nurse in a correctional setting will spend the day triaging patients, responding to traumatic injuries, assessing risks, and promoting healthy habits. 

The nurse responding to sexual assault victims will diligently collect evidence of the crime, collaborate with local law enforcement, and potentially testify as an expert witness at a criminal trial. 

What Should Nurses Entering This Specialty Expect To Encounter on a Regular Basis?‍

A correctional nurse can expect to encounter a wide variety of health conditions and traumatic injuries. 

The patient population includes people needing help due to:

  • Substance abuse
  • Poverty
  • Trauma
  • Mental illness
There is never a dull moment, and you never know what to expect!

On the other hand, a sexual assault nurse examiner works with patients as they receive treatment following sexual assault. Sexual assault victims can be any age and require a compassionate and empathetic approach to collecting evidence following such a traumatic experience. 

My Experience as a Forensics Nurse

I have spent five years working as a nurse manager in a small county jail. I have experience floating to help in larger prison systems as well as larger county jails. This experience has expanded my nursing skills due to the variety of patients with different healthcare needs that change constantly. 

I am also a sexual assault nurse examiner for my local emergency department. I have responded to hundreds of sexual assaults and domestic violence incidents, including testifying at trials. My experiences as a forensic nurse may be unrelatable to other nurses, as my role has included intervening during suicide attempts and assisting in a criminal investigation. 

During one of the busiest shifts I’ve worked, I responded to everything from fights with traumatic injuries to seizures! 

What Are Some of the Benefits of Working as a Forensics Nurse?‍

There are numerous benefits to working as a forensic nurse, and it is an extremely rewarding career. Forensic nurses have the opportunity and skills to assist patients in a variety of situations such as dire and traumatic to as simple as treating wounds. 

The patients we encounter as forensic nurses are vulnerable and need the advocacy of forensic nurses.

What Are Some of the Not-So-Great Parts of Working as a Forensics Nurse? 

The forensic nurse role may not be for you if you don’t feel you are capable of handling emotional situations daily. In the correctional setting, our patients are not happy to be there, and even less happy when they are injured, sick, or hospitalized. 

The victims of crime can be any age, and it can be a challenging yet fulfilling role as a forensic nurse. The forensic nurse never knows what type of injuries their patients will be experiencing each shift. 

Share Your Favorite Piece of Advice for Nursing New Grads or Students Looking To Become a Forensics Nurse

The best piece of advice for a new grad or a student looking to become a forensic nurse is to choose the specialty. The more experience you have, the more skills you will acquire, and the more proficient you will become at understanding the in and outs of becoming a forensic nurse. If you're looking for an exciting, high-paying career, forensic nursing may be for you!

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