What is a Forensic Nurse? Forensic Nursing Job Description and Salary

If you’re looking for a career in nursing with a specialized edge, forensic nursing could fit the bill. You may have heard of a forensic nurse, but what is one, exactly?

A forensic nurse is a nurse who works side by side with victims of crime, as they gather evidence, treat injuries, and provide vital support to patients. Forensic nurses are an intrinsic part of both the physical and psychological recovery of crime victims and their families.

Both Medicine and The Law

Forensic nurses not only play an important role in the health of their patients, but they have a large part to play in the criminal justice system. The evidence they carefully preserve can mean the difference between a violent criminal walking free or being given a prison sentence. Forensic nurses are even, at times, required to testify at trial.

A Forensic Nurse’s Duties

A forensic nurse’s duties are at times very similar to those of a regular nurse, but often they will employ much more specialized skills. Forensic nurses will at times be one of the first healthcare professionals aiding a victim of crime. After all, the word ‘forensic’ relates to methods and techniques associated with crime investigations.

A forensic nurse’s patients will have suffered such crimes as violent assault, domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual assault, and elder abuse. Even more specialized forensic nurses can be called on to collect evidence from people who have died because of violent crime, especially when the collection of evidence is paramount.

For the most part, though, a forensic nurse is one who offers medical care and support to patients who have suffered injury or other damage because of violence or abuse. They can be employed in hospitals, emergency rooms, prisons, schools, clinics, and a range of other locations.

Forensic nurses will be asked to dress wounds, remove bullets, perform rape exams, collect evidence, administer medications, attend crime scenes, complete detailed reports, and provide both psychological and practical support to crime victims and their families. And this is only a small sample of their duties!

Forensic Mental Health Nurses

If forensic mental health is your calling, then you’ll find that this job is a little different. While you will no doubt attend to victims of crime, you will likely have a great deal of contact with criminals, particularly those who have been sentenced for prison for violent crimes.

Prisoners who suffer from mental health problems often serve out their sentences in secure hospitals and other facilities, as opposed to regular jails or prisons. Mental health forensic nurses become their primary caregivers, as opposed to prison wardens.

Forensic Nurses are a Modern-Day Provision

While there’s always been crime, there haven’t always been forensic nurses. In fact, they were unheard of until the 1980s, just 40 years ago. It was around this time that a nurse by the name of Virginia Lynch realized upon visiting a crime lab that when attending to a victim without the proper care and attention, vital evidence was being lost.

She began the training of nurses not only in their jobs as sympathetic, professional caregivers but adding to their skillset with such things as science and its relation to the law. Thus, forensic nurses were born, and they’ve been playing a valuable role in the care industry ever since.

Not for the Faint of Heart

All nurses are heroes, and must deal with both unsettling and traumatic sights, often daily. Without nurses, health systems all over the world would fall apart.

Forensic nurses are no more or less important, but they must deal with disturbing scenarios with much more frequency. With that in mind, it bears noting that forensic nursing isn’t for everybody.

Forensic nurses deal with sexual abuse cases, featuring very young children right through to the very elderly. They must therefore develop the ability to deal with very traumatic situations, seeing and hearing about injuries and abuse that people have suffered.

They may be called upon to work cases at very short notice, often being called in the middle of the night and attend a crime scene, emergency room or police department to collect evidence and liaise with a patient.

At times, forensic nurses may have to attend large-scale mass disaster scenes, requiring that they use their critical thinking skills and remain sharp to know how best to attend to the patients most in need, all while preserving valuable evidence.

Being a forensic nurse is highly rewarding and guarantees that you will never be bored!

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Before specializing in the field of forensic nursing, you must first qualify as a nurse. You can either do this by obtaining an ADN, or Associate’s Degree in Nursing, or a BSN, which is a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing.

For those who wish to add to their skillset and give them a better chance of being hired at the end of their studies, it might be an idea to take an extra year at the end of a nursing qualification in order to obtain a Master’s Degree in Nursing, or MSN. The Master’s program should specialize in forensic nursing.

To then obtain a license as an RN, or Registered Nurse, a qualified nurse then takes the NCLEX-RN exam. After that, you’ll be registered to practice in your state, and at this point it’s important to specialize in forensic nursing by becoming certified in different areas.

There’s no definitive path to becoming a forensic nurse, because once you’ve qualified as a registered nurse and have applied for and been offered a forensic nurse position, then job training is always given.

Training includes collecting such items as fibers, fluid swabs, and hairs from victims and crime scenes. On-the-job field training is part of this training, where you will treat real patients, and victims of crime.

There are always ways to add to a nurse’s repertoire of experience, so it helps to always see what further training and certification can be gained to become even more qualified in the role. One such example is the SANE certification, which stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.

At the same time, minoring in law-related accreditations will not only boost your resumé but will also add to your own experience and appreciation for the job you’re doing.

What is a Forensic Nurse’s Salary?

Across the United States, a forensic nurse earns a median salary of around $80,000.00. However, given levels of expertise and experience, and depending on the state, this figure can rise to up to $140,000.00, which is where the top 10% of forensic nurses in the country sit.

A Career Unlike Any Other

There’s no doubt that being a forensic nurse is challenging work, but it’s also highly rewarding, not to mention fascinating.

It’s a career where you can truly make a difference, as not only will you be helping people at the most vulnerable time of their lives, but you also have the chance to ensure justice is served to the perpetrator of the crime.

With strong attention to detail, a critical thinking attitude, but above all a real sense of empathy and care for others, you might find that becoming a forensic nurse is a career choice that you will never forget.

For More Information on Forensic Nursing feel free to visit International Association of Forensic Nurses.

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Anna Curran. RN, BSN, PHN

Anna Curran. RN-BC, BSN, PHN, CMSRN I am a Critical Care ER nurse. I have been in this field for over 30 years. I also began teaching BSN and LVN students and found that by writing additional study guides helped their knowledge base, especially when it was time to take the NCLEX examinations.

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