Forensic nurses provide care to victims of crime. Their job is twofold: first, they must treat the victim with the same level of compassionate care given to any patient, and secondly, they must collect evidence and be prepared to testify at trial. As need increases in this growing nursing specialty, you may be asking yourself, “How do I become a forensic nurse?”
What’s it like to be a forensic nurse?
The critical care function of forensic nurses is similar to those of any trauma nurse. They treat patients who are victims of violence, sexual assault and abuse or neglect. Their primary role is to take care of the victim and attend to their physical and emotional needs. However, forensic nurses are trained to identify and preserve evidence that may be found during treatment. This evidence can include bodily fluids and objects inside the victim, or can consist of documentation of bodily conditions. Lastly, forensic nurses may be called upon to testify in court regarding the evidence they collected or witnessed.
To become a forensic nurse you must first meet certain educational requirements. While the standards for forensic nursing specialization vary from state to state, all require a valid nursing license. Registered nurses typically spend 2-4 years in school to receive a nursing degree. Students completing a bachelor’s degree in nursing may wish to choose electives related to the field of forensic nursing. Classes in psychology, criminology, and legal studies are particularly relevant to the future forensic nurse. After the completion of nursing school, those who desire to become a forensic nurse should plan to spend extra time becoming completing a certification in forensics. The Certified Forensic Nurse (CFN) designation is the most recognized program. Forensic nursing certification programs usually include classes in evidence, criminology, criminal procedure, and teach the techniques of evidence collection related to different crimes including sexual assault, child/elder abuse, and even homicide. The clinical component of these programs allows nurses to gain practical skills while treating patients under supervision. This allows nurses to learn how to spot evidence of crimes that may otherwise go undetected. After certification, nurses will need to remain current on best practices and attend continuing education programs related to nursing, criminal investigation, and legal procedure.
Salary and job opportunities
The demand for forensic nurses continues to grow. Most forensic nurses work for hospitals, but forensic nurses may also work as independent contractors for law enforcement, legal services agencies, or health care providers. Some forensic nurses may work on an “on call” basis, while others’ may work regular shifts. Salaries for this specialty vary widely, in part due to the career flexibility within the field. Pay may also vary depending on the nurse’s educational level and experience as a forensic nurse. For full time nurses, salaries begin around $50,000 and can grow into the six-figures. While this is higher than other nursing jobs, those hoping to become a forensic nurse should consider the extra time and expense required for certification.