Forensic Nurse

What Is a Forensic Nurse?

Forensic Nurses are registered nurses (RNs) who work with victims of crimes, collect medical evidence, and provide knowledgeable testimony that can be used in court proceedings. Forensic nursing is an interdisciplinary specialty field that draws from a variety of disciplines like nursing, forensic science, and the legal system. These nurses play an integral role in connecting the worlds of medicine and law.

What Are Some Forensic Nurse Duties?

Forensic nurses can be found working in a wide variety of fields which include domestic violence, sexual assault (as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner or SANE), the mistreatment of the elderly, child abuse and neglect, death investigations, various crime investigations, and others. The following are common duties that are carried out by forensic nurses:

  • Provide expert witness testimony
  • Collect evidence pertaining to deaths and possible homicides
  • Examine victims' bodies
  • Gather victims' medical and social history from their doctors and relatives
  • Conduct forensic photography
  • Act as a bridge between the health care field and the legal system
  • Handle crime scene evidence

Where Do Forensic Nurses Work?

Forensic nurses often find employment in the following settings:

  • City, county, state, and federal governments and law enforcement agencies
  • Universities
  • Private investigative firms

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Beginning a career as a forensic nurse means that one must first complete the general education and training that is required in order to become a licensed registered nurse. After completing this initial education and training, prospective forensic nurses will then need to complete additional education and training in legal and forensic sciences.

Step 1: Educational Requirements

Students must start by completing an ADN or BSN degree. After passing the NCLEX-RN exam, students can become licensed as a registered nurse. After having gained some experience in their field as a regular RN, they can then choose a number of pathways that will take their careers to the next level. Law enforcement agencies like to hire forensic nurses who are RNs with experience as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) or Death Investigators. To become a SANE, individuals must complete at least 40 hours of clinical training and 40 hours of classroom training. Another way to become a forensic nurse is to earn one of the following degree types: Master's in Forensic Medicine, Master's in Forensic Nursing, Clinical Nurse Specialist with Forensic Nursing Sub-specialty, Advanced Practice Forensic Nurse Specialist, or a Doctor of Nursing Practice in Forensic Nursing. Lastly, RNs who would like to work in the legal medical consulting field must have a BSN with a minor in Law.

Do Forensic Nurses Need an RN Degree?

In order to become a forensic nurse, individuals will first need to complete an ADN or BSN degree program and then become a fully licensed RN. Once these two things have been completed, RNs can then go on to become Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners or Death Investigators - both of which may fall under the umbrella term ‘forensic nurse'. Becoming certified under these titles requires additional education and training. RNs can also go on to pursue advanced degrees in forensic nursing science.

Step 2: Required Forensic Nurse Certifications/Credentials

As stated above, there are a number of different pathways that one can take to become a forensic nurse. RNs can become certified as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). The American Institute of Health Care Professionals offers a training program in forensic nursing that's comprised of 250 contact hours of education and training.

Forensic Nurse Jobs, Salary & Employment

Due to the specialized and extensive amount of education and training that's needed to become a forensic nurse, it is an in-demand specialty. There are many city, county, state, and federal government job opportunities for those that gain the necessary education and training for forensic nursing.

Job Description & Information

  • Essential Skills Needed - Forensic nurses should be skillful and meticulous when it comes to making observations, documentations, and preserving evidence. They should also be knowledgeable in the protocol for death investigations, sexual assault, medical and legal consultations, and psychiatric care.
  • Job Outlook - The BLS has predicted that the employment growth rate for forensic nurses will grow 16% between 2014 and 2024. This is quite a bit faster than the average growth rate for most jobs.

What Is the Average Salary of a Forensic Nurse?

According to PayScale, forensic nurses earn an approximate average annual salary of about $91,765. The exact amount will inevitably depend on the forensic nurse's educational level and experience. Because many forensic nurses are employed by the state, most will receive generous benefits packages that have comprehensive dental, medical, vision, prescription, and malpractice insurance coverage. Most forensic nurses will also get a certain amount of paid time off each year.

How Much Do Forensic Nurses Make per Year?

  • $58,000 – $92,000 annually

How Much Do Forensic Nurses Make per Hour?

  • $30.69 average hourly wage

Forensic Nurse Resources