Pursuing A Career As A Forensic Nurse

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Forensic nurses help trauma victims by not only focusing on medical care, but also on the legal components of a crime such as identifying, evaluating, and documenting injuries and presenting evidence to law enforcement for criminal cases.

Nurse holding child

Forensic nurses help survivors of sexual assault, domestic abuse, child and elder abuse, and other violent crime victims by focusing on short- and long-term physical and mental healthcare concerns. Forensic nurses do not replace other forensic professionals on an investigative team—such as crime scene investigators or forensic examiners—but instead, they bring a nursing perspective to an investigation. Forensic nursing takes a holistic approach to patient care.

“Forensic nurses play an integral role in bridging the gap between law and medicine. They should be in each and every emergency room,” Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said in Forensic Nursing: A Handbook for Practice. “Forensic nurses are foot soldiers in the response to and treatment of violence against women.”

The foundation for all successful forensic nurses begins with a solid education as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), which includes earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a focus on forensic nursing.

Forensic Nurse Education And Training

Forensic nurses start their careers as registered nurses (RNs) and continue their education to earn MSN degrees. Many forensic nurses also pursue certification as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE).

SANE certification educations nurses on how to treat victims of physical and sexual assault by collecting and preserving evidence that could be used in legal proceedings.

SANEs interview crime victims to collect vital health information and link them to necessary community resources.

“They manage highly emotional situations and typically are the initial support for victims, providing counsel and reassurance,” James Bryant, DNP and Associate Chief Nursing Officer of Emergency Services at Cleveland Clinic in Ohio, said of forensic nurses.

While pursuing an MSN degree in forensics or a Post-Master’s Certificate in Forensic Nursing, APRNs take coursework in forensic science, criminal law, and court procedures, among others.  Many forensic nurses seek certification through the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN).

Forensic Nursing Careers

A career as a forensic nurse is not limited to one role. Forensic nurses work in an array of positions, helping a multitude of different crime victims. Their jobs are glamorized on television and in the movies as quick and easy. In reality, forensic nursing jobs are challenging and can be emotionally and physically draining. They work one-on-one with patients but also work with groups in large-scale emergencies.

The following is a sample of forensic nursing careers:

Forensic Nurse Examiner

Forensic Nurse Examiners (FNEs) help victims of all ages who have suffered abuse, neglect, sexual assault, trauma, or any other crime-related injuries. FNEs are often trained as SANEs, providing them the education and expertise to assist sexual assault victims. FNEs also act as liaisons to state child protective service organizations as well as providing support in mass-disaster incidents.

Nurse Death Investigator (or Nurse Coroner)

As a nurse death investigator (NDI), forensic nurses have the legal authority to pronounce and confirm a death, establish the identity of the decedent, and notify next of kin. In a death investigation, NDIs collect medical and social histories, examine the descendant’s body and investigate the scene of the death. NDIs work closely with law enforcement, social services, community leaders, and organ and tissue donation procurement agencies. NDIs often earn certification through the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI).

Forensic Psychiatric Nurse

Also called forensic mental health nurses, forensic psychiatric nurses work with criminal offenders and crime victims. As an expert in medicine and law, they work with prison and jail inmates and others with suspected mental and behavioral disorders.

Forensic Nurse Educator

As educators, forensic nurses teach future nurses about the underpinnings of forensics and the role forensic nurses play in assisting the public. Often, forensic nurse educators continue their work outside the classroom with law enforcement in cases related to trauma, assault, and death. This type of ongoing work allows educators to pass experiential knowledge to nursing students.

Forensic Nurse Salaries And Job Outlook

Employment opportunities for all APRNs, including forensic nurses, continue to grow, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) found. On average, forensic nurses earn $39 an hour, or $81,800 a year. The bottom 10 percent make about $50,000 a year and the top 10 percent earn about $140,000. Salary varies based on a number of factors, including experience and geographic location. Most forensic nurses work in hospitals but are also employed by law enforcement agencies, court systems, attorneys and other medico-legal service organizations.

Duquesne University Online Master Of Science In Nursing (MSN) Program

RNs who hope to pursue a career as a forensic nurse have the opportunity to learn from the nation’s leading forensic experts through Duquesne University’s online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Forensic Nursing program.

The Forensic Nursing MSN program at Duquesne University builds on baccalaureate-level skills to prepare APRNs for duties as SANEs, FNEs, forensic psychiatric nurses, and forensic nurse educators. The online format allows RNs to pursue an advanced career and complete coursework with flexibility.