Forensic Nurse


Forensic nursing is relatively new and was not a recognized specialty until the early 1990s.  It began with about 70 nurses who hosted a conference for nurses who worked with victims of sexual assault.  The movement essentially spread like wildfire and several different organizations were formed for nurses in this specialty.  To answer the question, “what is forensic nursing,” the simple answer is that this type of nurse is trained in criminal procedures, forensic evidence collection and legal testimony.

Licensed nurses can pursue certification in this specialty after meeting specific forensic nursing requirements.



Forensic Nurse Salary

Forensic nursing salary requirements are interesting because they differ from all other types of nursing.  The forensic nurse will earn a registered nursing salary, but will get a differential based on forensic work.  The average registered nursing salary is $67,610 per year.  The lowest 10 percent are earning around $54,395 per year and the highest 10 percent are earning around $80,438 per year.

This is going to be the typical salary, but a forensic nurse salary is added to this when you are doing things that are forensic in nature, such as working with a victim of sexual assault or collecting evidence from a patient with a gunshot wound.  During the time you are working with these patients, the average hospital will add $1 to $4 more per hour to your registered nursing pay.  Once you go back to seeing non-forensic patients, you will return to your general registered nursing salary.  Now, if you work as a contract forensic nurse, the average earnings are $150 to $400 per case.


Forensic Nurse Job Description

The forensic nurse is a registered nurse that is also trained in performing forensic investigation in the healthcare setting.  He or she will often work in a hospital emergency room, an urgent care center, a rape crisis center, for the coroner’s office or as a consultant for law enforcement agencies.  In addition to general registered nursing duties, forensic nurses may perform the following:

  • Assessment of victims of crime
  • Documenting findings and evidence
  • Treating victim’s of crime
  • Collecting evidence
  • Investigating causes of death
  • Offering support and advocacy to crime victims
  • Testifying in court


Forensic Nurse Education

Forensic nurses, at minimum, are registered nurses.  You will spend two to four years pursuing your undergraduate degree in nursing at an accredited college or university.  An associate degree will take about two years to complete and a bachelor’s degree will take about four years to complete.  After you have completed your degree, you will be able to sit for the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses.  This license is required to practice as a registered nurse in the United States and will allow you to pursue entry level employment, as well as pursue training as a forensic nurse.  You will complete a mix of clinical hours and classroom lectures to earn your undergraduate nursing degree.  Common classes include the following:

  • Pediatric nursing
  • Medical surgical nursing
  • Geriatric nursing
  • Obstetrical nursing
  • Psychiatric nursing
  • Acute care nursing
  • Nutrition
  • Nursing math
  • Pharmacology
  • Pathophysiology
  • Health assessment
  • Nursing fundamentals
  • Microbiology
  • Anatomy and physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Statistics

To go into forensic nursing, you will take additional classes that will grant you a forensic nursing certificate.  This is different than a certification which can also be obtained.  The following are sample classes that are taken to pursue a certificate in forensic nursing:

  • Introduction to forensic science in healthcare settings
  • Forensic approaches to firearm injuries and blunt force
  • Death investigation and crime scene preservation in healthcare settings
  • Occupational considerations in forensic nursing
  • Courtroom testimony in forensic nursing
  • Forensic photography in the healthcare setting
  • Forensic approaches to domestic violence
  • Forensic approaches to human abuse injuries
  • Forensic approaches to mental health assessment

This certificate takes approximately one year to complete when pursuing it full-time.


Forensic Nurse Certification and Licensing

Forensic nurses have options when it comes to certifications.  The following certifications are offered by the International Association of Forensic Nurses:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner – Adult/Adolescent
  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner – Pediatric
  • Advanced Forensic Nursing

All of these have different requirements, but there are some general ones that apply to all three of these:

  • An active, unrestricted registered nursing license
  • Currently working as a registered nurse
  • Completion of a forensic nursing certificate program
  • Pay all applicable fees
  • Pass the associated examination

These certificates are good for three years and then must be renewed.  To renew your certificate you must meet the following requirements:

  • Proof of all completed continuing education requirements
  • Pay all applicable fees
  • Have an unrestricted, active registered nursing license
  • Meet and prove all work requirements


Forensic Nurse Job Outlook

The job outlook for forensic nurses is very strong and as the rates of crime continue to increase across the nation, the demand will become greater.  Between 2008 and 2018, the job openings for nurses in this specialty is expected to increase by 22 percent.

The demand is far greater in major metropolitan areas where the rates of crime are higher.  In 2010, 1.3 women reported that they were sexually assaulted.  Law enforcement agencies are unable to keep up with the demand for proper investigation and this is where the forensic nurse comes in.  He or she will perform the initial investigation and assist the victim in getting proper follow-up services.  This is just a single example, as this type of nurse will assist with a variety of crimes, such as assaults, gunshot wounds, sexual assault against men, child abuse and even investigating the cause of death.




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