Forensic Nursing: An Emerging Field

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Forensic nursing is on pace to grow faster than the national average rate, and for good reasons. This emerging field dates back to the 1980s and was born out of the need to combine law and medicine. Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden points out the importance of a forensic nurse’s role as a connection between medicine and law and believes that forensic nurses should be in every emergency room. TV shows such as “CSI” have also made the field popular. But forensic nurses do much more than what is featured on television, and there is no doubt about the need for forensic nurses in a variety of fields.

Forensic Nurses Have a Variety of Useful Skills and Specializations

Forensic nursing is not limited to the domains of law and medicine. Some common forensic nursing specializations include sexual assault, medical-legal consulting, death investigation, and forensic psychiatric nursing. These specializations lead to a wide selection of unique careers in forensic nursing, including a career as a forensic nurse examiner (FNE), sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE), legal nurse consultant, forensic psychiatric nurse, nurse death investigator (NDI), correctional nurse consultant and forensic nurse educator. Forensic nurses can also apply their skills to different domains of business, including risk management, human rights abuse, and employment litigation.

Forensic nursing’s expansion into an array of fields and applications to various situations calls for special skills. The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) recommends that forensic nurses should have a variety of skills including an understanding of injury identification and of the legal system and an ability to evaluate situations. Since forensic nurses have this special skill set, it is not uncommon for authorities to request them to provide testimonies in court.

Each specialized forensic nurse has specific requirements that must be met. For example, forensic nurse examiners are also required to have the IAFN recommended skills, be able to document trauma and injury and be able to deal every day with subjects such as death and dying.

Forensic Nurses Aren’t Limited to Specific Work Settings or Situations

Forensic nurses are needed in more than one work environment. Some common places forensic nurses are employed include general hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, medical examiner and coroner offices, community anti-violence organizations, correctional institutions, and community crisis centers. Moreover, forensic nursing is needed in a variety of situations ranging from arson to medical error. Some cases that may require forensic nursing include bioterrorism, drug and alcohol abuse, suicide and homicide, and tissue and organ donation.

Forensic Nurse Specializations Require Various Certifications and Responsibilities

Being a forensic nurse examiner requires more than receiving a degree in nursing. Forensic nurses must first be registered nurses. Additionally, forensic nurses need to have relevant certifications that apply to their specialized field of choice. Forensic nurse examiners have a variety of responsibilities such as treating and educating patients, examining prospective suspects as part of an investigation, providing crisis intervention to patients, using forensic photography to recover evidence, and referring patients to ongoing programs. Additionally, FNEs may also be responsible for serving victims to assist with crime-related injuries and testifying in court as a fact witness or as an expert.

Sexual assault nurse examiners must understand victimization issues, possess investigative and counseling skills, and be sensitive to victims’ needs. SANEs are responsible for collecting evidence accurately, treating and evaluating minor injuries, and taking preventative measures, such as preventing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Forensic psychiatric nurses are expected to have communication skills to treat patients who have experienced physical or emotional trauma. They are also responsible for providing child patients with advice on how to find an outlet for safety as a way to deal with trauma.

A nurse death investigator must carry out tasks such as conducting body examinations and taking crime scene photographs. A legal nurse consultant must liaise between physicians and clients and attorneys while educating attorneys on case-related medical facts. The responsibilities of a correctional nurse specialist include providing medication, physical exams, and health care to detainees and inmates, and this requires medical field knowledge. Finally, the forensic nurse educator dispels myths about forensic nursing by teaching a variety of specializations in classes, including domestic violence, elder abuse, and evidence collection and management.

Demand for Forensic Nurses Is Growing (And So Are the Salaries)

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), registered nurses made a median salary of $67,490 in 2015. This profession is expected to grow at a rate of 16 percent between the years of 2014 and 2024. However, forensic nurses earn a median salary of $81,800, and the top 10 percent of forensic nurses can earn up to $140,000. The location of the forensic nurse can also impact the salary. For example, forensic nurses based in the District of Columbia, Washington D.C., earned on average $71,000 in 2014, according to This annual average salary was higher than the national average by 25 percent.

Final Thoughts

Although forensic nursing is a relatively new field of nursing, its job growth forecast shows promising demand for forensic nurses. The popularity of this profession on TV shows may have produced myths about this emerging career choice. Students can learn the truth about what it takes to be a forensic nurse as well as gain valuable knowledge once enrolled in a forensic nursing program.

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Duquesne University’s Online Master of Science in Nursing program.

Forensic Nursing An Emerging Field Infographic

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