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How to Become a Forensic Nurse

By Lace Brunsden

Published:

Have you ever wondered how healthcare intersects with solving crimes? With a staggering increase in forensic cases, the demand for skilled professionals is higher than ever. In this article, we’ll unravel the intriguing realm of forensic nursing, exploring the unique blend of medical expertise and investigative skills that make these healthcare heroes essential in the pursuit of justice.

Career Summary

Forensic Nurse Salary

Forensic Nurse Salary

There are many different roles and responsibilities that you might have as a Forensic Nurse, and this results in a wide array of a forensic nurse salary.

According to Glassdoor, the average forensic nurse salary over the entire United States for 2023 can be summarized as follows:

  • Entry: US$ 62,000
  • Median: US$ 78,000
  • Executive: US$ 98,000

According to Forbes, the average salary in the U.S. can be estimated at US$ 59,500. Compared to this figure, the average forensic nurse salary is relatively high.

What is a Forensic Nurse?

Before we can delve into the intricacies of how to become a forensic nurse, we first need to cover their responsibilities. So, what is a forensic nurse?

Forensic nurses play a crucial role in healthcare and criminal justice. Their responsibilities may include conducting medical examinations on victims of violence or abuse, collecting and preserving evidence, collaborating with law enforcement, and testifying as an expert witness in court. Their expertise in medicine and forensic science contributes to the pursuit of justice and the well-being of individuals affected by crime.

Forensic Nurse Career Progression

  • Entry-Level Forensic Nurse: Conduct thorough patient assessments, document injuries, and collaborate with healthcare and legal professionals to ensure accurate evidence collection.
  • Clinical Forensic Nurse Examiner: Specializes in providing comprehensive care to victims, conducting forensic examinations, and offering support during legal proceedings.
  • Forensic Nursing Coordinator: Oversee and coordinate forensic nursing services, manage team members, and liaise with law enforcement agencies to optimize response to forensic cases.
  • Director of Forensic Nursing: Guide the strategic direction of forensic nursing programs, collaborate with hospital administrators, and implement best practices for comprehensive forensic healthcare services.
  • Forensic Nursing Administrator/Executive: Lead at an organizational level, overseeing multiple forensic nursing units, shaping policies, and advocating for the integration of forensic nursing principles in healthcare systems.
Forensic Nurse Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as a Forensic Nurse

  • Impactful Contribution to Justice
  • Diverse and Dynamic Work Environment
  • Specialized Expertise in Healthcare and Forensics
  • Collaboration with Multidisciplinary Teams
  • Continuous Learning and Professional Development

Worst Aspects of Working as a Forensic Nurse

  • Emotional Toll and Exposure to Trauma
  • Irregular and Demanding Work Hours
  • Legal Proceedings and Testifying Challenges
  • Limited Public Awareness and Recognition
  • Potential for Burnout and Compassion Fatigue

Useful Skills to Have as a Forensic Nurse

  • Attention to Detail
  • Effective Communication
  • Critical Thinking
  • Empathy and Compassion
  • Adaptability

Popular Forensic Nurse Specialties

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE)
  • Legal Nurse Consultant
  • Correctional Nurse Specialist
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse
  • Death Investigator/Nurse Coroner

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Forensic Nurse 5 Steps to Career

Like most carers, there are multiple ways to enter the career path. But, let’s look at the most common way that is most likely to ensure you a job. This is important when considering how to become a forensic nurse, and which pathway you would like to pursue.

Step 1: Earn a Nursing Degree

Do I need a degree to become a Forensic Nurse?

Yes, to become a forensic nurse, you typically need to have a nursing degree. Most forensic nurses start by earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, and some may pursue advanced degrees such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a focus on forensic nursing.

Why is it important to get a degree in Nursing?

Getting a degree in nursing is essential when becoming a forensic nurse for several reasons:

  • Medical Foundation: A nursing degree provides a strong medical foundation, ensuring that you have a comprehensive understanding of anatomy, physiology, and medical principles, which is crucial when dealing with evidence related to injuries or trauma.
  • Clinical Skills: Nursing programs include clinical training that develops hands-on skills, such as patient care, assessment, and communication. These skills are transferable and valuable when conducting forensic examinations and working with victims of crime.
  • Ethical and Legal Knowledge: Nursing education emphasizes ethical standards and legal aspects of healthcare. This knowledge is vital for forensic nurses who often deal with legal proceedings, evidence collection, and maintaining patient confidentiality.
  • Professional Licensure: To practice as a forensic nurse, you need to be a licensed registered nurse (RN). Nursing degrees provide the academic and clinical requirements necessary for obtaining RN licensure, a foundational step in entering the nursing profession.

How long does it take to get a degree in Nursing?

The length of time it takes to earn a degree in nursing can vary based on the type of program and the level of education pursued.

Here are the general timelines:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): Typically takes 2 to 3 years to complete.
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN): Typically takes 4 years if pursued as a traditional undergraduate program. Some programs offer accelerated BSN options that may take 12 to 18 months if you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree.
  • RN-to-BSN completion programs are designed for licensed nurses with an ADN or diploma and may take 1 to 2 years.
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN): Requires a BSN for admission. Typically it takes 2 to 3 years for full-time students. Some programs offer accelerated options.
  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Nursing: DNP programs may take around 3 to 4 years after obtaining a BSN. Ph.D. programs may vary but often take around 4 to 6 years post-BSN.

How much does it cost to study Nursing at university?

The cost to study nursing at university can vary depending on where you study and the kind of program.

According to SimpleNursing.com, the following can be expected:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): At a public university you can expect to pay USD 2,000 to USD 4,000 per year. At a private institution, you can expect to pay as much as USD 25,000.
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BDN): This degree can cost you anywhere between USD 7,500 and USD 10,000 per year at a public institution. 
  • Master’s Degree in Nursing (MDN): Postgraduate degrees tend to be slightly more expensive than undergraduate degrees. This holds true for nursing where you can expect to pay between USD 15,000 and USD 20,000 per year.

Can I become a Forensic Nurse through online education?

Yes, it is possible to pursue a career as a forensic nurse through online education. Many nursing programs, including those offering forensic nursing specializations, provide online courses to accommodate the needs of students who may not be able to attend traditional on-campus classes. 

You can pursue an online nursing program to obtain the necessary education, such as an online Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). However, keep in mind that some programs, even if primarily online, may have clinical requirements. You might need to complete clinical hours at an approved healthcare facility, which you can often arrange locally.

Look for online programs or certifications that offer a forensic nursing specialization. After completing your nursing degree and any required forensic nursing specialization, you’ll need to obtain licensure as a registered nurse (RN). Licensing requirements may include passing the NCLEX-RN exam, which is typically taken in person.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become a Forensic Nurse?

While specific online resources for forensic nursing skills may be limited, there are various websites and organizations that provide valuable information, courses, and resources related to forensic nursing and related fields.

Here are some suggestions:

Step 2: Obtain Licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN)

To obtain licensure as a registered nurse (RN), you typically need to follow these general steps.

Keep in mind that specific requirements may vary by state:

  • Graduation and Transcript Submission: Successfully graduate from your nursing program and ensure that your official transcripts are sent to the nursing regulatory body.
  • National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN): Register for and successfully pass the NCLEX-RN exam. This standardized exam assesses the knowledge and competencies necessary for entry-level nursing practice.
  • Application for Licensure: Apply for RN licensure to the nursing regulatory body in the state or country where you plan to practice. This often includes providing proof of education, transcripts, and other required documentation.
  • Background Check and Fingerprints: Complete a background check and, in many cases, provide fingerprints for a criminal background check.
  • Licensure Fees: Pay the required fees associated with the licensure application and any additional fees for background checks.
  • Waiting Period and Notification: There may be a waiting period while your application is processed. Once approved, you will receive notification of your licensure.
  • Receive Your RN License: Upon successful completion of the process, you will receive your RN license from the nursing regulatory body.
  • Maintain Licensure: Fulfill any ongoing requirements for maintaining your RN license, such as continuing education credits or license renewal fees.

Step 3: Pursue Forensic Nursing Education or Training

After obtaining your licensure as a registered nurse (RN), you can pursue forensic nursing education or training through various avenues.

Here are general steps to guide you:

  • Research Forensic Nursing Programs: Explore educational programs that offer forensic nursing courses or specializations. Look for universities, colleges, or online platforms that provide relevant courses or even full forensic nursing programs.
  • Choose a Forensic Nursing Pathway: Determine your specific area of interest within forensic nursing, as there are various specialties such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), Legal Nurse Consultant, and Forensic Psychiatric Nursing. Choose a pathway that aligns with your career goals.
  • Forensic Nursing Conferences and Workshops: Attend conferences, workshops, and seminars focused on forensic nursing. These events provide valuable networking opportunities and the chance to learn from experts in the field.

Step 4: Acquire Relevant Certifications

Relevant certifications for forensic nurses can vary depending on the specific area of forensic nursing you are interested in.

Here are some certifications commonly sought by forensic nurses:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Certification: Offered by organizations like the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), this certification is for nurses specializing in the care of sexual assault survivors.
  • Legal Nurse Consultant Certification: Provided by the American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC), this certification is for nurses providing expertise in legal cases.
  • Certified Forensic Nurse (CFN) Certification: This certification is available through the American College of Forensic Examiners International (ACFEI) and covers various aspects of forensic nursing.
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nursing Certification: Offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), this certification is for nurses specializing in forensic psychiatric nursing.
  • Certification in Correctional Health (CCHP): Provided by the National Commission on Correctional Health Care (NCCHC), this certification is relevant for nurses working in correctional facilities.
  • Forensic Nurse Death Investigator (FNDI) Certification: Offered by the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), this certification focuses on death investigation and is suitable for those working with medical examiners or coroners.
  • Certified Pediatric Emergency Nurse (CPEN): While not specific to forensic nursing, CPEN certification can be beneficial for nurses working in emergency departments where forensic cases may be encountered.

Step 5: Secure Forensic Nursing Experience

What are internship opportunities for a Forensic Nurse?

Internship opportunities for forensic nurses can provide valuable hands-on experience in various settings where forensic nursing skills are in demand.

Here are some potential internship opportunities:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) Internship: Work with experienced SANEs in a healthcare setting specializing in sexual assault examinations and evidence collection.
  • Forensic Nursing Clinical Placement: Secure an internship within a hospital or clinic with a forensic nursing department to gain experience in a variety of cases, including interpersonal violence and abuse.
  • Coroner’s or Medical Examiner’s Office Internship: Intern with a coroner or medical examiner’s office to gain insight into the forensic investigation of deaths, including autopsy procedures and documentation.
  • Law Enforcement Forensic Unit Internship: Collaborate with law enforcement agencies that have specialized forensic units, such as crime scene investigation or forensic evidence collection.
  • Correctional Facility Nursing Internship: Intern in a correctional facility to experience the unique healthcare challenges and forensic aspects involved in caring for inmates.
  • Child Advocacy Center Internship: Intern with a child advocacy center to focus on cases involving child abuse and collaborate with multidisciplinary teams, including law enforcement and social services.
  • Community-Based Forensic Nursing Programs: Seek internships with community-based organizations or nonprofits that provide forensic nursing services, particularly in areas like domestic violence prevention or human trafficking support.
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nursing Internship: Gain experience in a forensic psychiatric setting, working with individuals involved in the legal system and addressing mental health aspects of forensic nursing.

What skills will I learn as a Forensic Nurse?

As a forensic nurse, you will acquire a diverse set of skills that span both healthcare and forensic science.

Here are key skills you can expect to learn:

  • Clinical Assessment: Conduct thorough physical and psychological assessments of patients who have experienced trauma, violence, or abuse.
  • Forensic Evidence Collection: Learn techniques for the proper collection, preservation, and documentation of forensic evidence, ensuring its integrity for legal proceedings.
  • Crisis Intervention and Counseling: Develop skills in providing immediate crisis intervention, support, and counseling to individuals who have experienced traumatic events.
  • Legal and Ethical Knowledge: Gain an understanding of legal and ethical considerations in healthcare, including patient confidentiality, informed consent, and compliance with laws related to forensic practice.
  • Interdisciplinary Collaboration: Collaborate with law enforcement, legal professionals, social workers, and other healthcare providers to ensure a comprehensive and coordinated response to forensic cases.
  • Victim Advocacy: Advocate for the needs and rights of victims, providing them with resources, information, and support throughout legal processes.
  • Documentation and Reporting: Develop meticulous documentation skills to accurately record medical assessments, evidence collection procedures, and other pertinent information for legal and healthcare records.
  • Cultural Competence: Cultivate cultural competence to provide sensitive and inclusive care to individuals from diverse backgrounds who may be victims of crime.
  • Testifying as an Expert Witness: Learn how to effectively communicate medical findings and opinions in a court of law, serving as an expert witness during legal proceedings.
  • Risk Assessment: Assess and identify potential risks, including safety concerns and mental health issues, for individuals involved in forensic cases.
  • Trauma-Informed Care: Understand and implement trauma-informed care principles, recognizing the impact of trauma on individuals’ physical and mental well-being.

What is the work-life balance of a Forensic Nurse?

The work-life balance of a forensic nurse can vary based on factors such as the specific forensic nursing role, work environment, and personal preferences.

Here are some general considerations:

  • Varied Work Environments: Forensic nurses may work in hospitals, law enforcement agencies, correctional facilities, or community organizations. The work-life balance can be influenced by the demands and scheduling practices of the chosen setting.
  • Shift Work: Some forensic nursing roles, especially those in emergency departments or with on-call responsibilities, may involve irregular or rotating shifts. This can impact work-life balance, particularly for those who prefer more predictable schedules.
  • Caseload and Case Complexity: The volume and complexity of forensic cases can affect workload and work hours. High caseloads or particularly challenging cases may require additional time and attention.
  • Emergency Response: Forensic nurses involved in responding to emergencies, such as sexual assault or trauma cases, may need to be available at short notice, potentially affecting personal plans.
  • Community-Based Roles: Forensic nurses working in community-based organizations may have more regular hours and a more predictable schedule compared to those in emergency departments or law enforcement settings.

What’s the Career Outlook for Forensic Nurses?

It can be difficult to determine the career outlook of such a niche profession. However, it is important to note that, as a forensic nurse, you have all the required qualifications for nursing in general. 

The outlook for nursing is very positive, at an estimated 6% growth between 2022 and 2032. This is higher than the average.

Forensic Nurse Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Forensic Nurse?

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE): Conduct thorough medical assessments, collect forensic evidence, and provide compassionate care to victims of sexual assault while collaborating with law enforcement and legal authorities.
  • Legal Nurse Consultant: Offer expertise in healthcare-related legal cases, analyzing medical records, providing expert opinions, and assisting legal professionals in understanding complex medical issues.
  • Correctional Nurse Specialist: Provide healthcare within correctional facilities, addressing the unique medical needs of inmates, conducting health assessments, and collaborating with correctional staff to ensure the well-being of incarcerated individuals.
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse: Assess and treat individuals involved in the legal system with mental health concerns, conducting forensic evaluations, and collaborating with legal professionals to address the intersection of mental health and criminal justice.
  • Death Investigator/Coroner Nurse: Work with medical examiners or coroners to investigate and document deaths, perform autopsies, collect post-mortem evidence, and assist in determining the cause and manner of death.
  • Forensic Nursing Educator: Instruct and educate aspiring nurses and healthcare professionals in forensic nursing practices, evidence collection, and legal considerations, contributing to the development of skilled forensic nursing professionals.
  • Forensic Nursing Coordinator: Oversee and coordinate forensic nursing services within a healthcare institution, manage a team of forensic nurses, and liaise with law enforcement and legal entities to optimize response to forensic cases.
  • Forensic Nursing Administrator/Executive: Lead and shape the strategic direction of forensic nursing programs at an organizational level, implement policies, advocate for best practices, and ensure the integration of forensic nursing principles into healthcare systems.

What Type of Organizations Hire a Forensic Nurse?

Forensic nurses may find employment opportunities in various settings and types of organizations.

Here are some examples of the types of companies and institutions that may hire forensic nurses:

  • Hospitals and Medical Centers: Forensic nurses can work in hospital emergency departments, providing care and forensic services to victims of violence or trauma.
  • Law Enforcement Agencies: Many law enforcement agencies have specialized units or programs that employ forensic nurses to assist with evidence collection and medical examinations related to criminal cases.
  • Coroner or Medical Examiner Offices: Forensic nurses may be employed by coroner or medical examiner offices to assist in death investigations, perform autopsies, and document forensic evidence.
  • Correctional Facilities: Prisons and jails may hire forensic nurses to provide healthcare services to inmates, conduct health assessments, and address medical needs within the correctional system.
  • Community-Based Organizations: Non-profit organizations and community-based agencies focused on issues like domestic violence, sexual assault, or child abuse may employ forensic nurses to provide support, advocacy, and medical services.
  • Forensic Laboratories: Some forensic nurses work in laboratories involved in analyzing and processing forensic evidence, collaborating with forensic scientists and technicians.
  • Private Practices or Consulting Firms: Forensic nurses may establish private practices or work for consulting firms, offering their expertise in legal cases, providing expert witness testimony, or offering legal nurse consulting services.
  • Government Agencies: Federal, state, or local government agencies involved in criminal justice, public health, or victim advocacy may hire forensic nurses for various roles.
  • Educational Institutions: Universities, colleges, and educational institutions may employ forensic nurses as educators or researchers, contributing to the academic field and training the next generation of healthcare professionals.
  • Military: Forensic nurses may find opportunities within the military, particularly in roles related to military healthcare or forensic services.
  • Private Healthcare Providers: Private healthcare organizations may have specialized units or programs where forensic nurses can contribute their skills in providing medical care and forensic services.

Should I Become a Forensic Nurse?

The path to becoming a forensic nurse is a captivating journey where the realms of healthcare and justice converge. The diverse roles, from Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner to Legal Nurse Consultant, offer opportunities to make a profound impact on individuals and communities. 

If you find fulfillment in providing compassionate care, contributing to investigations, and advocating for those affected by crime, a career as a forensic nurse may be the calling that merges your medical expertise with the pursuit of justice. It is also important to consider the forensic nurse salary and if it is suitable for you. 

Ultimately, the decision to become a forensic nurse is a personal one, influenced by your unique skills, interests, and commitment to making a difference in the lives of others.

Careers Related to Forensic Nurse


Lace Brunsden

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