Forensic nursing certificate programs are usually offered at the professional or graduate level and are typically open to licensed registered nurses who hold a bachelor's degree in nursing. However, undergraduate certificate programs may be open to licensed RNs who hold an associate's degree, and there are a few programs designed for advanced practice nurses. Rarely, other medical professionals, like licensed practical nurses or paramedics, may also be eligible for certain forensic nursing certificate programs.
Several online and hybrid programs are available and may be available in several specialty areas. The majority of the curriculum can be completed online, although students may need to attend campus or a medical facility to complete clinical training in working at crime scenes to gather evidence or examining victims of sexual assault. Some hybrid programs may also include on-campus classes.
Forensic Nursing Certificate
Forensic nursing combines the medical knowledge and patient care aspects of nursing, the laboratory experience of medical laboratory technicians and the investigative and evidence-gathering skills of crime-scene specialists. Forensic nurses work with the police, paramedics, coroners, social service agencies and emergency medical services.
Online graduate certificate programs in forensic nursing are primarily designed for practicing nurses with bachelor's degrees who wish to explore career options in forensic science.
Program Information and Requirements
One focus of forensic nursing training is on the treatment of victims of accidents, trauma and disasters. This includes helping the victims' families, recognizing abuse and neglect, preserving forensic evidence and preparing for courtroom testimony. Other specialties within forensic nursing include nurse coroner, legal nurse consultant, correctional nursing specialist and sexual assault nurse examiner.
Distance education forensic nursing certificate programs average 12-15 credits, and these programs can be completed in 9-24 months. Classes are generally fully online, but some schools require occasional on-site attendance for classes or seminars. Some courses may have clinical components that require the student to attend on-site classes or make an arrangement with a nearby clinical facility.
Online courses require a computer with multimedia capabilities and a fast Internet connection. Students need basic computer competence in text processing, Web-searching and e-mail. Courses delivered online can include audio and video lectures, slide presentations, chat room interactions and online field trips.
Most of the coursework is fully online. For courses with clinical components, schools help students arrange clinical practice at sites near their homes; such sites can include acute care settings, protective investigation units, sexual assault examination teams or crime scene units. Courses include:
The course covers evidence collection and preservation, the legal rules of crime scene processing and chain of custody law. Procedures common to police departments, social service agencies and courtrooms are also discussed.
Students learn the various types of courtroom experiences for forensic nurses, including legal consultation, deposition and testimony. Some programs have students participate in a mock-trial courtroom experience, which may be held onsite, rather than online.
Forensic Photography in Health Care
The use of photographs to bolster physical evidence is discussed, along with cameras, lenses and lighting. Included in the course are forensic procedures and techniques, like the inclusion of scale objects, establishing context with distant set-up shots, and maintenance of photographs' chain of custody.
Emergency and Trauma
The medical objective to provide appropriate medical care to a victim must be balanced with the forensic objective of preserving evidence. Techniques to accomplish both with the least compromise are discussed. Also discussed are triage and care during disasters.
Interpersonal violence includes sexual assault and battery, abuse and neglect, human trafficking, spousal abuse and religious abuse. Other topics include the forensic processing of bite marks, blunt trauma, sharp injuries and gun wounds.
Forensic nurses require an active RN license to practice. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not track separate data for forensic nurses, but states a projected job growth for all RNs to be 16% from 2014-2024 (www.bls.gov). The median annual salary for RNs in 2015 was $67,490.
Most forensic nurses work for acute care medical facilities, law enforcement, legal services, social services, coroners and in nursing schools. Some are self-employed as independent consultants and expert witnesses.
The International Association of Forensic Nurses (www.iafn.org) offers exam-based certification credentials as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, either for adults and adolescents (SANE-A) or for pediatric and adolescent populations (SANE-P). Other certification agencies for forensic nurses include the Correctional Health Professional from the National Commission on Correctional Health Care and the Legal Nurse Consultant from the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants.
RNs interested in applying their trade to help solve crimes will want to pursue an undergraduate or graduate certificate in forensic nursing. Online courses offered in these programs teach RNs about evidence collection, court testimonies, trauma care and other topics related to medicine and forensics.