How to Become a Forensic Nurse: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a forensic nurse. Research the education and career requirements, training, and licensure information needed for starting a career in forensic nursing. View article »

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  • 1:02 How to Become a Forensic Nurse

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Video Transcript

Should I Become a Forensic Nurse?

Forensic nursing is a specialty within the nursing field that allows medical care and the law to intersect. Forensic nurses may treat patients and individuals involved in crime and sexual assault incidents, as well as assist in evidence collection and death investigations. Nursing in general can be physically demanding due to long periods spent standing and sometimes lifting or moving patients.

Career Requirements

Degree Level Master's degrees or postgraduate certificates
Degree Field Forensic nursing
Licensure and Certification A state-issued license is required; voluntary certifications are available
Key Skills Detail oriented, compassionate, patient, emotionally stable; critical-thinking, speaking, and organizational skills
Additional Requirements Strong knowledge of criminal proceedings, law, and forensic science
Salary (2016) $81,800 (median annual salary for forensic nurses)

Sources: International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Nursing Link

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

What do I need to do to become a forensic nurse?

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program is designed to prepare graduates for post-baccalaureate study and help them enter the workplace with solid skills in critical thinking, situational analysis, and clinical assessment. Students in BSN programs can complete coursework in pathophysiology, adult and pediatric health patterns, clinical nutrition, transcultural nursing, pharmacology, and physical assessment. They also must take part in clinical lab experiences and complete rotations at local medical facilities, which can expose them to various nursing specialties, such as surgical nursing, critical care, obstetrics, psychiatry, pediatrics, and community health.

Step 2: Obtain Your Registered Nursing (RN) Credential

Every state in the U.S. requires aspiring nurses to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN), which is administered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). Graduates of accredited nursing programs are eligible to sit for this exam. Once an applicant has passed the exam and satisfied any other specific state requirements, he or she can use the RN designation.

Step 3: Acquire Postgraduate Training

There are two ways to obtain training in forensic nursing. RNs can undergo a shorter postgraduate certificate program in forensic nursing, or they can commit to a two-year Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program with an emphasis in forensics. Certificate programs in forensic nursing or health care are often found in the continuing education or postgraduate departments of nursing schools. Ranging from a few short lectures to several semesters of class work, and often including a practicum, these programs prepare RNs to assess injuries, perform clinical investigations of inflicted traumas, recognize abuse and neglect, collaborate with law enforcement, and respond effectively in the face of disaster.

An MSN program in forensic nursing is a graduate program designed to prepare practicing nurses for clinical roles in forensics, including work as a legal nursing consultant, death investigator, nurse coroner, or forensic psychiatric nurse. Upon completion of this degree program, a nurse should be prepared to work comfortably within the legal system, promote health care and safety in the community, identify and help prevent domestic abuse, assist in legal investigations, and demonstrate advanced documentation and analysis skills.

Consider obtaining credentialing in forensic nursing. While it's not an industry requirement to have credentialing as a forensic nursing specialist, it might help when competing for an open job position. The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) offers the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult/Adolescent certification (SANE-A) and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric certification (SANE-P). Both of these designations require nurses to sit for a written examination. Credentialed nurses must seek renewal every three years. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers an Advanced Forensic Nursing credential for qualified RNs with graduate degrees. Certification renewal requires continuing education.

Step 4: Secure Employment

Forensic nursing is rapidly evolving, and the options for employment are numerous. Nurses who wish to specialize in forensics might find work with law enforcement, corrections, morgues, attorney's offices, or emergency rooms. They also might serve as expert witnesses. Day-to-day duties of a forensic nurse might include evidence collection, autopsy assistance, victim assessment and treatment, criminal rehabilitation, drug tampering analysis, or development of violence prevention programs.

Step 5: Pursue Growth in Your Career

Forensic nurses who choose to earn SANE-A or SANE-P certification are required to continue their education on a regular basis in order to renew certification. Continuing education may be conducted through seminars, webinars, or courses. In addition to fulfilling renewal requirements, continuing education can help forensic nurses stay current in advances and innovations in the field, as well as changes in protocol or laws.

In addition, joining a professional organization, such as the IAFN, can provide forensic nurses with access to continuing education options as well as other resources and benefits. Membership benefits include access to online publications, discounts on certification renewal, networking opportunities, and listings in professional directories.

Forensic nurses use a combined knowledge of medical care and the law. They have postgraduate education and licensing. They are compassionate, detail-oriented professionals with expertise in forensic science and legal issues, and they earn a median annual salary of $81,800.

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