How to Become a Forensic Nurse

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Written by Ayana Dunn, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
Forensic nurse taking a mouth swab from a patient.

Forensic nurses bridge the gap between medicine and law as they use their nursing expertise to assist in legal investigations. Learning how to become a forensic nurse may appear daunting at first. While it is certainly an intensive career path, it shares a number of similarities with other nursing specialties. We’ll describe what forensic nurses do, outline required education and skills, and answer some frequently asked questions about the role.

What Is a Forensic Nurse and What Does a Forensic Nurse Do?

Forensic nurses assist law enforcement by collecting biological evidence in criminal investigations and helping to determine a person’s cause of death. This evidence is collected during a forensic examination — a full-body assessment performed by a healthcare professional who identifies and documents physical injuries. Forensic nurses must obtain informed consent before beginning this assessment. They also actively listen to patients, and provide support and resources.

These nurses may also give medical testimonies in court and provide emotional support to survivors of violent crime and their families. Although this specialty is emotionally taxing, it is uniquely rewarding as well.

Forensic Nurse Education

Attaining adequate education is the first step on the path of how to become a forensic nurse. These nurses must first earn their BSN. Then, after at least two years of experience, they can specialize by obtaining their master’s or doctoral degree in forensic nursing.

Forensic Nurse Certification Requirements

Although certifications aren’t necessary to work in this niche, they show your dedication to the specialty. For example, forensic nurses who specialize in working with survivors of sexual assault can earn a few distinctive certifications. Sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) can get certifications to work with adults or younger children and adolescents.

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner – Adults and Adolescents (SANE-A)
  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner – Pediatric (SANE-P)
  • Advanced Forensic Nursing Board Certification (AFN-BC)

Forensic Nurse Skills

This specialty is complex and requires a unique skill set. Honing these skills is of the utmost importance when learning how to become a forensic nurse.

Tact: Forensic nurses work with patients during the aftermath of unusually devastating events. These nurses must be extra-mindful of both their verbal and nonverbal communication to ensure patients feel safe enough to cooperate with them.

Compassion: It’s important to have a heightened level of compassion when working with patients who have survived traumatizing experiences. Forensic nurses must set aside their personal opinions and prioritize the maintenance of the patient’s wellbeing during the examination.

Attention to Detail: Minute forms of evidence can make a profound impact on a trial’s outcome. These nurses must pay close attention to their findings because it can be the difference between whether or not a survivor attains justice.

Be sure to consider the potential impacts of vicarious trauma, which is the traumatization of health professionals due to repeated indirect exposure to violence from working with patients. Ensure a healthy work-life balance and prioritize your mental health to remain successful in this job.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Forensic Nurse?

The length of time it takes to become a forensic nurse varies based on your educational path. After successfully completing a nursing program and passing the NCLEX, these nurses must gain experience before entering this specialty. Generally, it can take at least six years to begin working in this field.

Where Do Forensic Nurses Work?

Some forensic nurses work in locations that are typical to nursing, while others work in facilities that don’t specialize in healthcare:

  • Medical examiner offices
  • Psychiatric institutions
  • Correctional facilities
  • FBI
  • CIA
  • Local police departments
  • Hospitals
  • Active crime scenes

How Much Do Forensic Nurses Make?

Forensic nurse salaries vary greatly based on location and the facilities in which they work. The average forensic nurse salary is $61,520 per year, and ranges from around $48,000 to $80,000.

The Path to Forensic Nursing Just Got Clearer

If you learn how to become a forensic nurse, you can make a profound impact on society by playing an integral role in the justice system. Find out how a fully flexible work schedule can support your forensic nursing education goals by applying to IntelyCare today.