For those with a keen interest in nursing and criminal justice, forensic nursing can be a challenging and rewarding profession since forensic nursing focuses on where the health and legal systems intersect. Forensic nurses often play a vital role in examining assault victims and investigating death cases. While some of the investigation work is done through the collection of all necessary medical evidence, forensic nurses may also spend time giving testimony that can be used in court to prosecute alleged perpetrators charged with committing violent or abusive crimes.1
Though it may be an exciting field, there are personality traits and education requirements a professional should consider before pursuing a career in forensic nursing.
Skills and Characteristics
A forensic nurse may provide specialized care for patients who are victims of trauma.1 Compassion and empathy are necessary when caring for patients as a nurse, especially when dealing with such sensitive and often traumatic circumstances. In general, a nurse can also benefit from having a stable mindset when treating patients and being able to demonstrate emotional resilience to help cope with particularly stressful daily work experiences.2
Though these forensic professionals are nurses, the role they play in medical and criminal proceedings includes maintaining specialized knowledge of the legal system and skills in injury identification, evaluation and documentation.1 Also, critical-thinking skills can help a nurse assess medical situations and offer the correct treatments to injured patients while organizational skills and a detail-oriented demeanor can be essential too.2
After attending to a patient’s medical needs, a forensic nurse may collect evidence, provide medical testimony in court, and consult with legal authorities.1 A nurse’s ability to stay organized may help in these situations.
The first step to becoming a nurse is to earn a diploma, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree from an accredited nursing program. A Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) typically takes four years to complete. While a student could opt to complete an associate's degree program to earn a nursing degree, a bachelor's degree may be required by some employers.2
Once a nursing student has earned their degree, he or she must obtain a registered nurse (RN) license through successful completion of the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Other requirements to become a licensed nurse vary by state, and each state’s board of nursing provides licensing details.2
Certifications and Licenses
Organizations, such as the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), offer board certifications that are different than state credentialing. Though not required, board certification can signify that a nurse is committed to demonstrating professionalism in this occupation and has the expert knowledge necessary to meet the highest standards of forensic nursing.3
IAFN offers two certifications for forensic nurses seeking to specialize as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). The SANE-A focuses on adults and adolescents while the SANE-P focuses on children (or pediatrics). To become certified in either specialty, an RN must have been practicing as a nurse for a minimum of two years, pass a certification exam, and meet other eligibility criteria determined by the Forensic Nursing Certification Board.3
The IAFN also recommends that those practicing in the field of forensic nursing make sure that the training they receive meets all the requirements of their local community. Each state’s requirements may vary, so it is important to contact a state’s board of licensing to ensure the correct credentials are obtained.3
Job Market for Nurses
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that the job market outlook for registered nurses, in general, will grow by 16% through 2024, which is faster than the average growth of other careers. The number of jobs for RNs was over 2.75 million in 2014 alone.4 Growth for nurses will occur for a number of reasons, including more emphasis on preventative care, increasing rates of chronic conditions (like diabetes and obesity), and a higher demand for health care services from the aging baby boomer population.
Besides working as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, a forensic nurse might work in other areas, including domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, elder mistreatment, death investigation, corrections and in the aftermath of mass disasters.1
What to Expect on a Day-to-Day Basis
The daily responsibilities of forensic nurses vary greatly depending on their work environment and chosen field. However, a forensic nurse may be employed at any of the following places:1,5
- Hospitals, including emergency departments or clinics
- Community anti-violence programs
- Coroner and medical examiner offices
- Correctional institutions
- Psychiatric hospitals
In the hospital setting, common expectations of a forensic nurse with a SANE certification can include: 5
- Patient history-taking and assessment
- Treatment of trauma response and injury
- Recording, collecting and managing evidence
- Emotional and social support required during post-trauma evaluation
- Documentation of injury and testimony for legal cases5
Forensic nursing takes a considerable amount of emotional stability.2 However, for nurses capable of dealing with the challenges presented by this specialized nursing occupation, a career as a forensic nurse can be rewarding.
Earn an RN-to-BSN at CTU
Colorado Technical University offers an RN-to-BSN program aimed to provide students with the opportunity to synthesize and apply prior learning. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program at Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (http://www.ccneaccreditation.org). Learn more about CTU’s BSN program.