According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, 1.2 million people older than age 12 were victims of violent crime (excluding simple assault) in the U.S. in 2019. As victims of crimes such as sexual assault and robbery, these individuals require specialized care that forensic nurses are uniquely qualified to provide. Trained to treat the trauma associated with victimization and collect evidence, forensic nurses work not only in healthcare but also with law enforcement and the courts.
A national shortage of forensic nurses has impaired some victims’ ability to promptly receive the services they need, according to U.S. News & World Report. The shortfall also presents an individual who learns how to become a forensic nurse with an opportunity to make a significant contribution to society. Pursuing an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program is one way to pursue a rewarding career in forensic nursing.
What Does a Forensic Nurse Do?
Forensic nurses treat patients who’ve been victims of violence and trauma. They are also called upon to treat the perpetrators of violent crime. Examples of areas in which forensic nurses can specialize are sexual assault, intimate partner violence, elder abuse, and human trafficking. Forensic nurses work in various settings, such as hospitals, correctional health centers, or medical examiner’s and coroner’s offices.
In providing treatment, forensic nurses should demonstrate objectivity and be sensitive to the effects that cultural and societal influences have on violence. In addition to treating patients, forensic nurses are trained on the proper way to collect, document, and preserve evidence for law enforcement and the legal system. They also provide consultation and testimony during legal proceedings. The contributions of forensic nurses to the legal system are critical in reducing violence in society and achieving successful outcomes in the criminal justice system.
Steps to Become a Forensic Nurse
Individuals can take a variety of paths to becoming a forensic nurse. In most instances, steps include becoming a registered nurse, gaining experience, and pursuing additional education and certification.
Become a Registered Nurse and Gain Required Experience
To become a forensic nurse, individuals typically are first required to be registered nurses (RNs). Becoming an RN involves earning a diploma in nursing from a hospital-based program, an associate degree in nursing, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Individuals are also required to pass a national licensing examination.
Before RNs can become forensic nurses, they usually must acquire experience in areas such as advanced physical assessment, emergency care, or critical care. Obtaining a master’s degree in nursing can help RNs move into more authoritative and higher-paying nursing positions.
Complete Required Training and Clinical Education
Registered nurses usually need specialized classroom training and clinical education to become forensic nurses. They can obtain that training and education through programs offered by state agencies and universities, or through certification programs offered by organizations such as the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). Training and education focuses on areas such as conducting a medical forensic examination, forensic interviewing, and learning about the role of law enforcement.
While certification is not always required, it can be helpful if registered nurses want to become forensic nurses. RNs can gain certification in a variety of ways.
- The IAFN offers two sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) certifications: the SANE-A certification, which focuses on adults and adolescents, and the SANE-P certification, which focuses on pediatrics.
- The American Institute of Health Care Professionals offers a forensic nurse specialist certification program.
- Some states offer forensic nurse certification programs. For example, the Texas Office of the Attorney General offers a CA-SANE certification, which focuses on adult and adolescent patients, and a CP-SANE certification, which focuses on pediatric patients. The Maryland Board of Nursing offers a registered nurse-forensic nurse examiner (RN-FNE) certification.
Certifications come with their own requirements. For instance, to gain SANE certification from the IAFN, RNs must have two years of experience and complete 40 hours of specialized classroom training and around 40 hours of specialized clinical training.
Forensic Nurse Salaries
Salaries for forensic nurses can vary depending on work experience, education level, geographic region, and other factors. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for registered nurses as of May 2019 was $73,300. Information from PayScale indicates that a forensic nurse’s annual salary ranged from $59,000 to $89,000 as of January 2021.
Employment Outlook for Forensic Nurses
The BLS projects that employment of registered nurses will grow by 7% from 2019 to 2029, exceeding the 4% projected growth rate for all occupations. With a nationwide shortage of forensic nurses, the employment outlook for an individual who becomes a forensic nurse appears promising.
Become Part of the Forensic Nursing Profession
Individuals looking to fill a critical need in nursing and enhance their expertise can explore Maryville University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program. Through the program, individuals who wish to pursue a career in forensic nursing can obtain valuable knowledge and skills to set them on a path to achieving their professional goals. Take the first brave step on your path toward becoming a forensic nurse today.