Forensic Nurse Career Guide

Updated: Aug 16



Forensic nurses are the first healthcare professionals that victims of violent crimes will interact with. When they are not collecting evidence to present to testimony, they provide critical physical and emotional support to individuals who have experienced horrible and potentially-traumatizing events. They are an irreplaceable part of both healthcare and the criminal justice system as we know it. For strong-willed, compassionate nurses with interests in law and order, this is a profession well worth considering.


 

Overview


In layman’s terms, a forensic nurse serves as a bridge between healthcare and judiciary systems. They are in charge of examining victims, collecting and organizing evidence, providing court testimony as medical experts and conferring with legal authorities. In addition to their role in legal proceedings, these nurses are responsible for the physical and emotional care of crime victims. At any given day, they could be dealing with victims of sexual assault, child/elderly neglect, domestic abuse or even psychiatric patients. Other common patients include law enforcement and members of public health organizations.

Common responsibilities for forensic nurses includes, but is not limited to:


  • Providing treatment for physical injuries

  • Collecting and preserving evidence (biological samples, bullets, torn clothing, etc.)

  • Providing consolation and emotional counseling to patients and their loved ones

  • Assessing alleged offenders, when directed.


Location


Forensic nurses can be found in a number of different locations:

  • Anti-violence initiatives

  • Hospitals

  • Medical examiner’s office

  • Correctional facilities

  • Communities (Following natural disasters)

  • Coroner’s office


 

Salary and Outlook


At the time of writing, Payscale reports that Forensic Nurses earn around $73,986 annually. For reference, the BLS estimated that RNs earn around $77,600 annually as of 2021. Though significantly lower on paper, there is a good reason for this. Relative to other specializations, forensic nursing is a young and burgeoning field. As a result, salaries are even more variable based on factors like facility, and location. Listed below are the highest paying states for RNs in general:


 

  • California - $120,560

  • Hawaii - $104,830

  • Oregon - $98,630

  • District of Columbia - $ 98,540

  • Alaska - $ 97,230

As for the outlook, that also remains bright. Per the BLS, employment for registered nurses are set to grow by 9%, between 2020 and 2030. Rapidly aging populations and a looming nursing shortage will keep nursing demand extremely high for the foreseeable future. Forensic nurses in particular will carve an interesting niche in the market. Even though the crime rates are fluid, tens of thousands of Americans are victims of violent crimes each year. This means that forensic nurses will always be needed as first responders and evidence-gatherers.


 

How to Become a Forensic Nurse


Step 1: Earn your nursing degree


For starters, you need to complete a Registered Nursing degree program. To this end, you have three options: a two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN), a three-year nursing diploma, or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from a college or university. While the former two are cheaper, the latter provides more advanced training and career opportunities. Nursing employers will give priority to bachelor’s students since they are guaranteed a higher level of care. Once you are done, all you need to do is take and pass the NCLEX-RN certification exam, before you can finally obtain your nursing license.


Step 2: Gain experience


Though technically optional, employers will greatly prefer nurses with relevant clinical experience. For aspiring forensic nurses, a background in med/surg, psychiatric nursing and/or pediatric nursing is highly recommended.


Step 4: Acquire relevant certifications


You want to look for certification programs that are relevant to the specific needs of forensic nursing. For more information, look into continuing education programs or post-graduate offerings.



 

Continuing Education


CEU and certification requirements will differ, based on your credentialing board and your State Board of Nursing. To keep our license active, look into your state’s individual procedures and contact your state board for more clarity on this end.



Further reading


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