In addition to treating victims, forensic nurses assist medical examiners in the collection of forensic information or evidence related to a crime, and the presentation of that evidence in expert legal testimony. Undergraduate and graduate certificate and master's and doctoral programs are available.
Bachelor's degrees in this field aren't available online, since hands-on training and clinical work are major program components. Students shouldn't give up on finding distance learning options in this field, though; there are several four-year universities offering certificate and graduate degree programs.
Admission requirements vary based on program and degree level. For instance, graduate programs typically require a bachelor's degree, and possibly a master's degree, in nursing. In all cases, online programs specifically in forensic nursing require applicants to be registered nurses. Clinical experience could be required.
Options and Formats
The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) provides a list of accredited universities that offer online certificate and degree programs in the field of forensic nursing. Many programs can be completed totally online, but certain degree programs may require practica or some on-campus attendance. Distance learners can complete online assignments, view lectures and take part in class discussions within a virtual classroom environment managed by their schools.
Undergraduate Certificate in Forensic Health
In a forensic health certificate program, individuals need not be nursing students, but merely have an interest in forensics. Usually this certificate program consists of an overview of the essentials of forensic disciplines and forensic health issues as they apply to crime victims, as well as an investigation of the situations in which the crimes occur and an examination of perpetrators of violent crimes.
Master of Science (M.S.) in Forensic Nursing
Designed for registered nurses who want to become forensic clinical nurse specialists, the M.S. in Forensic Nursing may be delivered online and with clinical requirements carried out on campus. Many programs include clinical practica as prerequisites to the program, rendering the program available entirely online. Online courses include the following:
- Nursing theory
- Research methods
- Criminal law
- Technology and its legal limitations
- Nursing with diverse populations
- Forensic nursing techniques
Advanced Practice Forensic Nursing Certificate
Individuals wishing to earn an advanced practice forensic nursing certificate generally must be licensed to practice nursing and hold a master's degree or higher in a health-related field. Usually this is a 12-credit program that requires a small amount of on-campus instruction. Online courses deal with the theoretical foundations of forensic nursing, forensic procedure, vulnerable populations and evidence collection.
Post-Master's Forensic Nursing Certificate
Open to registered nurses who hold a Master of Science in Nursing, this program is nearly entirely online with the exception of one clinical practicum under the supervision of a forensic nurse. The online portion of the program typically consists of such subjects as the legal system and civil law, forensic nursing research and writing, theories of violence and forensic nursing fundamentals.
Doctor of Nursing Practice in Forensic Nursing
Applicants to this combination online and on-campus program must hold a degree equivalent to a Master of Science in Nursing with advanced practice credentials from an accredited institution. These could require clinical practica and a thesis or final project connected to the fieldwork experience. Beyond this, much of the coursework can be completed online with the exception of any short on-campus residencies. The following courses may be offered through distance learning:
- Healthcare policies
- Economics of health care
- Forensic nursing principles
- Crime theories
Graduates who qualify as forensic nurses can work for legal emergency health services, schools, correctional facilities, community health agencies or law enforcement agencies. Potential career paths include:
- Nurse consultancy
- Forensic psychiatric nursing
- Sexual assault nursing
- Child or domestic abuse advocacy.
Individuals who wish to become certified as a forensic nurse may take voluntary examinations administered by the Forensic Nursing Certification Board of the IAFN in order to become certified as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A) or a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric (SANE-P). Certification is not mandatory.
Though bachelor's degree programs in forensics are not offered online, interested students can pursue a certificate or graduate degree in the field. Topics students could focus on in such programs include criminal law, research methods, leadership and crime theories.