How Much Do Forensic Nurses Make?

Gayle Morris, MSN
Updated March 6, 2023
Forensic nursing is a growing field with a strong salary potential. Consider these influential factors and steps you can take to increase your pay.
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Forensic nurses receive specialized training and education to care for patients who have experienced violence as survivors of abuse or assault. These professionals are the connection between healthcare and the criminal justice system. How much a forensic nurse makes depends on several factors.

Forensic nurses are a critical resource for survivors within the court system. They collect evidence and testify in court to prosecute the perpetrators of violent and abusive acts. These nurses may work in colleges or universities, prison systems, psychiatric institutions, with attorneys, or hospitals.f

The first step in becoming a forensic nurse is to earn bachelor’s-level education as a registered nurse. While some facilities will hire ADN-prepared RNs, most prefer nurses with BSN degrees.

Average Salary for Forensic Nurses

How much a forensic nurse makes can vary depending on several factors. These include education, certifications, geographical location, and experience. These professionals may hold several job titles with slightly different responsibilities, each with distinct forensic nursing salaries.

Variations in job responsibilities and facilities make it challenging to establish a forensic nursing salary range. The median RN salary is $77,600. Forensic nurses are specialized and often hold bachelor’s degrees, which can deliver a relatively higher level of compensation.

Median Annual Salary
Source:BLS, May 2021

Median Hourly Wage
Source:BLS, May 2021

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The Highest-Paying States for Forensic Nurses

RN salaries vary significantly from state to state. Factors such as cost of living, nursing shortages, and specialty can affect forensic nurse pay. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, California is the top-paying state for RNs, with an average salary of $124,000.

The average salary for a nurse in South Dakota is about $63,000 lower than in California. With such a wide salary range, some nurses may consider moving to a higher-paying state. It is also crucial to consider the cost of living in the city where you move.

There is no state-specific data for forensic nurse salaries, but the range of earnings is likely reflected in the salaries of all RNs.

The states with the highest annual pay for all registered nurses are:

Highest-Paying States
StateAverage Salary

Source:U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

4 Ways to Increase Pay As a Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses can consider several ways to increase their salaries. Each factor affects how much a forensic nurse makes to a different degree. To make the greatest impression, focus on one change at a time.

  1. 1

    Consider Pursuing Certifications

    The International Association of Forensic Nurses offers board certification in forensic nursing. While this is not required to practice in most states, it demonstrates that nurses are committed to the profession, possess specialized knowledge, and can practice at the highest standard of forensic nursing.

    Forensic nurses can also seek certification as sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) with a focus on adults or pediatrics. Some universities also offer post-master certificates for advanced practice registered nurses.

  2. 2

    Increase Education Level

    According to June 2022 Payscale data, there is a vast difference in the average annual salary across the U.S. for individuals who possess ADNs ($73,000) and nurses with BSNs ($89,000). Advanced education as an APRN also influences the average salary, which is $97,690. Nurses can consider online and in-person RN-to-BSN and RN-to-MSN bridge programs to advance their education.

  3. 3

    Gain Experience in Administrative Roles

    Administrative roles require a BSN-prepared nurse at a minimum. These healthcare workers earn an average annual base salary of $88,620 as of June 2022. Forensic nurses seeking higher-paying positions can consider transitioning their clinical skills into administrative roles. Their unique experiences can translate into strong operational management and leadership opportunities.

    Some organizations help nurses with strong clinical skills transition to administrative positions. After practicing in a leadership role for 2,000 hours, these professionals can consider the nurse executive board certification.

  4. 4

    Switch Practice Setting

    Forensic nurse salaries are highly influenced by practice settings. For example, they may work with individuals who experienced sexual assault, domestic violence, elder abuse, or child abuse. Their skills also apply to medical-legal consulting, corrections, death investigation, and in the aftermath of mass disasters.

    Forensic nurses can find positions in hospitals, medical examiner and coroner’s offices, psychiatric hospitals, and community anti-violence programs. Forensic nurse salaries differ across each of these settings and in different geographical locations.

Frequently Asked Questions About Forensic Nurse Salaries

question-mark-circleWhat types of forensic nurses are there?

Forensic nursing is a broad field. Nurses with the education and training can specialize their work to care for survivors of domestic violence, child abuse, elder abuse, and sexual assault. They may also work in corrections, death investigations, medical-legal consulting, or mass disaster recovery.

The range of different settings allows them to pursue positions in diverse work environments. These can include the medical examiner or coroner’s offices, prisons or jails, psychiatric hospitals, and community anti-violence programs.

question-mark-circleHow much do forensic nurses make per year?

The median RN salary across the U.S. is $77,600. This number represents the average of ADN and BSN-prepared nurses. Nurses with bachelor’s-level education make an average annual salary of $89,000, which also depends on the geographical location and practice setting. Additional certifications and experience also influence a forensic nurse’s pay.

question-mark-circleDo forensic nurses need to be certified?

In most states, forensic nurses do not need to be board certified to work. Board certification is different from state credentialing. However, forensic nurses who are board-certified or have a SANE certification can negotiate for better compensation.

question-mark-circleIs forensic nursing in high demand?

Forensic nursing is a growing and emerging field. It developed out of the intersection between law and medicine. There is a growing need for forensic nurses in various practice settings throughout the United States. As the field continues to grow, the demand rises for nurses with specialized education, training, and certification.

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