What is Forensic Nursing?

NursingOctober 30, 2013


You may have heard the term, but what exactly is forensic nursing? Forensic nurses are registered nurses who complete specialized training to care for victims and suspects in the criminal justice system. According to American Forensic Nurses, Inc. (AMRN), if you go into this area of nursing, you can expect to engage in tasks like collecting evidence and may participate in any legal proceedings that follow. Forensic nurses work mostly with victims of sexual assault, but you can also serve as a psychiatric or corrections nurse, and even become a death investigator or coroner in some jurisdictions. Working in forensic nursing also prepares you to be a legal consultant or a forensic gerontology specialist who investigates possible abuse and neglect to the elderly.

Additional Training Required

In addition to being a registered nurse, you'll need Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) training and certification to be able to perform exams on sexual assault victims. Training is approximately 40 hours each of classroom and clinical practice to prepare for the written examination, administered by the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). If you're interested in becoming a forensic nurse, you should also consider a master's degree in forensic nursing, but advanced degrees aren't required.

If you want to become a death investigator, or coroner, first check where you live to see if you are eligible for this position. Some states allow elected coroners to be their death investigators. The IAFN reports that at present, 22 states require medical examiners for this position, 11 states elect coroners and 18 states employ a variety of both.

IAFN strongly encourages you to get ICU and emergency room experience to refine your assessment skills before entering this specialty, then employment may be sought in the office of a medical examiner or coroner. The American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) requires all applicants to be currently employed as death scene investigators to be eligible for even the basic certification. At least 640 hours of death scene investigation must also be completed.

Employment Prospects
Forensic nursing is a new specialty, so detailed statistics on job outlook for this specialty aren't available, but the nursing profession in general continues to grow and offer attractive salaries. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports average salaries in 2010 of $31.10 per hour and a job growth rate of 26% through 2020, which is faster than average.

You may have considered many conventional nursing paths such as gerontology, critical care, labor and delivery or home health, but if you have a desire to help victims seek justice, you can put your care giving abilities to use in the field of forensic nursing.

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