What Is Forensic Nursing?

Posted January 16, 2018 | By Tricia Hussung

Nurse in scrubs examining a vial

For victims of violence and abuse, receiving treatment from a trained medical professional is vital during times of trauma. Forensic nurses are a critical resource at the intersection of health care and the criminal justice system. According to the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), forensic nurses “collect evidence and give testimony that can be used in a court of law to apprehend or prosecute perpetrators who commit violent and abusive acts.”

Of course, forensic nurses provide high-quality care to their patients, but they also work closely with police or lawyers to ensure justice is served. “The specialized role of forensic nurses goes beyond medical care; forensic nurses also have a specialized knowledge of the legal system and skills in injury identification, evaluation and documentation,” the IAFN explains. As one of the fastest-growing specializations in the nursing field, forensic nursing is an ideal career path for those interested in making a difference in their patients’ lives while assisting law enforcement in the solving of criminal cases.

Forensic Nursing Job Description

A forensic nurse’s first responsibility is to provide care to those involved in crimes, whether as victims or perpetrators. They also collect evidence such as blood samples, photograph any injuries and provide support to victims. “They may serve as expert witnesses in court as well, and they must be able to work collaboratively with law enforcement professionals and the district attorney’s office,” according to PayScale. In addition, forensic nurses may act as a liaison between the victim and medical personnel or law enforcement.

Other responsibilities include supporting patients and victims who are recovering from traumatic experiences, both physically and emotionally, Nurse Journal notes. Forensic nurses may also have to “research and verify cause of death in cases involving victims who have perished,” the same source continues.

The job setting for forensic nurses is typically hospital emergency rooms or trauma centers, though many also work on a consulting or contract basis with law enforcement or legal firms. Because of the forensic nature of the role, these nurses must adhere closely to all privacy and safety regulations.

Earnings and Job Outlook

Though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide information specifically for forensic nurses, the average salary for all registered nurses is $68,450 per year. For forensic nurses who work on a contract basis, PayScale reports average earnings to be $31.07 per hour. Employment in the nursing field is projected to grow 15 percent through 2026, must faster than the national average for all occupations.

Becoming a Forensic Nurse

The education requirements for forensic nurses are similar to other nursing careers, as a person must be a registered nurse before specializing in the forensic area. A bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN) is ideal. Because forensic nursing is a relatively new field, many registered nurses choose to pursue a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) credential to help specialize their training. “To become a SANE, registered nurses must take a Sexual Assault Examiner Class comprised of 40 hours of classroom training, followed by an average of 40 hours of clinical training,” the IAFN explains.

Because it is a relatively new specialty, it is not uncommon for nurses who are interested in forensic nursing to have to advocate for the value of a full-time role in hospital settings. Many forensic nurses choose to work on a consulting basis to mitigate this issue, which adds additional flexibility.

Concordia University, St. Paul offers an online RN to BSN designed for registered nurses who are interested in deepening their knowledge of nursing practice and advancing their careers. This program is an ideal starting point for those who are looking to gain a strong background in essential nursing skills before pursuing a specialization area such as forensic nursing. It combines theoretical inquiry and practical application to give students insight into ethics, evidence-based practice, collaboration, care coordination, community health and more. Coursework prepares students to be leaders and lifelong learners in the nursing field.