Forensic Nurse Career Overview
Forensic nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who treat survivors of assault or abuse and serve as patient advocates. They also collect evidence and may testify in court cases. In addition, many forensic nurses obtain certification as sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE).
What Does a Forensic Nurse Do?
Forensic nurses provide an important connection between healthcare and the criminal justice system. These nurses receive specialized training to treat survivors of violence and advocate on their behalf. While specific duties vary by employment setting, key responsibilities include the following:
- Examine patients to assess and collect evidence of trauma and injuries before referring them to the next stage of medical treatment
- Provide support to survivors and their families
- Gather and submit evidence for criminal investigations
- Coordinate with law enforcement and testify in court
- Ability to deal with trauma
- Understanding of criminal justice and legal systems
- Critical thinking
- Communication skills
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Where Do Forensic Nurses Work?
Hospitals, community anti-violence programs, and medical examiners' offices provide the majority of forensic nursing jobs. As the demand for these specialized nurses increases, career opportunities expand in other settings, such as psychiatric clinics, correctional facilities, and emergency government services.
Hospital-based forensic nurses document injuries and gather evidence from survivor of trauma. Those with SANE certification treat sexual assault cases and file reports to police and protective services agencies.
Community Anti-Violence Programs
These programs provide vital services to the vulnerable, including survivors of gang violence, domestic abuse, and sexual assault. They may assist immigrants and refugees exploited in sex trafficking rings or dangerous work settings.
Medical Examiners Offices
Nurses employed as forensic examiners or coroners investigate causes of death, assist in autopsies, and collect evidence from corpses, clothing, and the crime scene.
Why Become a Forensic Nurse?
Forensic nurses integrate healthcare and criminal justice training into one specialized career. While the constant exposure to trauma can take its toll, the field offers nurses considerable personal and professional satisfaction.
Advantages to Becoming a Forensic Nurse
- Making a difference in survivors' lives, holding perpetrators accountable, and working to keep communities safe
- Broadens RN skills with forensic training in evidence collection, criminal procedures, and legal investigations
- More flexible schedules than other RN positions that require shift and evening work
- Expanding career opportunities through a variety of specializations and certifications in sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, correctional nursing, and medical examiner investigation
- Higher salaries than other RN specialties
Disadvantages to Becoming a Forensic Nurse
- Vicarious trauma syndrome, e.g., feelings of grief, anger, and depression triggered by the high levels of stress from intense working conditions
- Desensitization and burnout from exposure to extreme cases
- Heavy workload that includes nursing duties, detailed evidence documentation and legal reporting, and the pressure to achieve required levels of accuracy and thoroughness
- Constantly shifting professional roles and communication styles interacting with patients and their families, healthcare professionals, law enforcement, lawyers, and court officials
How To Become a Forensic Nurse
To become a forensic nurse, students must complete the necessary education, pass the NCLEX-RN exam, receive their RN license, and earn certification.
Earn a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).
Pass the NCLEX-RN to receive RN licensure.
Consider a certification as a sexual assault nurse examiner.
Consider a forensic nurse specialist certification offered by the American Institute of Health Care Professionals.
Certification Options for Forensic Nurses
How Much Do Forensic Nurses Make?
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not supply forensic nurse salary and employment data but includes them in their projections for all RNs. Job prospects for RNs continue to make gains, with a projected increase of 7% from 2019 to 2029, faster than the average for all occupations. The economy could add 222,000 RN positions during this period.
RNs earn an annual mean salary of $77,460, significantly higher than theaverage yearly wage of $53,490 for all U.S. occupations. Nursing salaries also vary by education and specialty. For example, RNs with a graduate degree and a nurse practitioner specialty earn an annual salary of $111,840. Graduate-trained forensic nurses with SANE or other certifications may experience relatively higher levels of compensation.
Frequently Asked Questions
Resources for Forensic Nurses
International Association of Forensic NursesThe only international professional association representing the interests of forensic RNs, this group offers online continuing education and certification programs. Members benefit from networking opportunities, conferences, chapter events, and a job board. Through a partnership with the Office on Violence Against Women, IAFN promotes best practices for conducting sexual assault medical forensic examinations.
Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Technical AssistanceSponsored by IAFN, this initiative advocates for the dignified and compassionate care and treatment of sexual assault patients. Service providers may access the free helpline and free training information to comply with national protocols for forensic examination practice, policy, and procedures. Based on an interdisciplinary and community-based model, this program assists sexual assault responders who work with both adults and children.
National Sexual Violence Resource CenterThis nonprofit organization provides tools and information for individuals, communities, and providers to prevent sexual violence and assist survivors. NSVRC offers training, consulting services, technical assistance, and a resource library. The center also sponsors a national conference and an annual month-long sexual assault awareness campaign to educate the public about the causes and impact of sexual violence.
Academy of Forensic NursingCommitted to advancing forensic nursing science and evidence-based care in clinical practice, this organization offers membership to forensic nurses, attorneys, advocates, physicians, law enforcement, and other first responders. AFN sponsors annual conferences, discussion groups, free podcasts, and webinars. Members may participate in the online discussion board and mentoring opportunities. AFN also offers continuing education and e-learning training programs.
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