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Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses care for patients of any age who have been victims of some violent or traumatic crime. They are skilled at delivering compassionate care to those who have been abused, neglected, or sexually assaulted. Forensic nurses collect evidence to be examined and must use their investigative skills to evaluate the accuracy of the clinical history. 

Forensic nurses have a strong interest in law enforcement. They may be involved in providing expert testimony in court. They often work with pathologists and coroners to help determine the cause of death. Additionally, forensic nurses participate in activities to prevent violent criminal activities and often branch in disciplines involving forensic psychiatric nursing or death investigation.


Education Requirements

All nurse specialty areas require an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and successfully pass the state's NCLEX-RN exam. Two years of nursing experience is usually required and is necessary to apply for certifications. 

How to advance/career pathway

The ANCC no longer supports new forensic nurse certifications, just renewals of existing AFN-BC certification.

The International Forensic Nursing Association
https://www.forensicnurses.org/ hold exams twice a year in these two areas:

  • SANE-A: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Education Guidelines, (Adult/Adolescent)
  • SANE-P: Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Education Guidelines, (Pediatric) 

You can apply for certification after working for two or more years as an RN. You must complete a minimum of a 40-hr SANE course by an accredited provider, a SANE clinical preceptorship, and accrue 300 hours of SANE-related practice within the past 3 years (at least 200 with the intended exam population); read more here.

Some forensic nurses pursue certification through the ANCC in: 

You can also advance by getting a Master of Science in Forensic Nursing degree.

RESPONSIBILITIES

  • Treat and assess patient's physical injuries, often performed in the ER
  • Provide emotional and psychosocial support to the victims of violent crimes, their families, and significant others
  • Take unbiased, accurate history regarding the events that occurred and who was involved
  • Collect and preserve evidence (chain of custody) to make sure it is admissible in court (e.g., physical swabs, samples, victim's clothing, bullet(s), etc.)
  • Assist with documentation of those in the morgue
  • Work with coroners, pathologists, and law enforcement

MOST COMMON CASES

  • Sexual assault victims
  • Abuse
  • Neglect: elder and child
  • Domestic violence
  • Psychiatric or patients with special mental needs

How to become a

Forensic Nurse

  1. Complete an ADN or BSN program in nursing
  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for your RN license
  3. Have two years of experience working as an RN
  4. Take courses in Forensic nursing to advance your knowledgebase
  5. Apply to work as a Forensic Nurse examiner through private organizations or hospitals
  6. Apply for Sexual Assault Certification (SANE) or Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (PMH-BC)

Specialty Groups and Communities

International Forensic Nursing Association

  • Mission: "To provide leadership in forensic nursing practice by developing, promoting, and disseminating information internationally about forensic nursing science."
  • Cost: $129, annually, with discounts for more extended membership options. 
  • Perks: Member Exclusive Discounts to educational courses to advance your career. Discounted fees for SANE-A® /SANE-P® certification. FREE electronic subscription to the Journal of Forensic Nursing.

APNA Forensic Psychiatric Nurses Council

  • Mission: "APNA's core ideology is our reason for being and the essential and enduring principles that guide our behavior and actions. To be the unifying voice of psychiatric-mental health nursing."
  • Cost: $135.00, annually.
  • Perks: More than 230 online continuing education sessions, and eBooks. APNA members get four free options each month. Receive psychopharmacology CNE at the Clinical Psychopharmacology Institute online or through over 35 sessions. Apply for grants and scholarships from the APNA Foundation Committee.

Academy of Forensic Nursing

  • Mission: "Our mission is to link research to practice through dissemination of scholarship, education, and service to those affected by and responding to trauma."
  • Cost: $120 first year, $110 for renewals.
  • Perks: AFN members get FREE shipping and a 5% discount on all online store publications.

The Pros

  • Able to provide guidance and reassurance to patients and their families
  • Advocate for patients to help them make individual choices and decisions to meet their level of comfort
  • Work collaboratively with the forensic team providers both in healthcare and law
  • Changing caseload of complex cases involving both physical and mental challenges

The Cons

  • Specific focus on traumatic care limits exposure to general medical conditions
  • Stressful since patients are dealing with the types of injuries that are personal and emotionally difficult
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Personality Traits

  • Calm demeanor with patients and families
  • Strong investigative skills to dig below the surface for causes of injuries
  • Good observation skills to accurately report and photograph injuries
  • Strict technique skills in collecting evidence (chain of custody)
  • Excellent communication to assist patients with psychological and emotional needs 
  • Interest in law and how it applies to healthcare
  • Independent thinker
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Average Salary

On average, forensic nurse salaries in 2020 range from $50,000 to $75,000
For the most up-to-date salary information, check out Salary Explorer.

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Work Setting

Found in many hospital emergency departments, correctional facilities, law enforcement departments, State/County health department (coroner & medical examiner's office), and community services organizations (Sexual Assault Response Teams).

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Interested in learning more about what it's like to be a Forensic Nurse? We spoke to one to find out. Read What Does a Forensic Nurse Do?