Forensic Nurse: Job Description, Salary, and How to Become One

The world of forensic nursing awaits those who are passionate about merging healthcare and justice. Careers

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Forensic nursing is critical in providing holistic care and support to violence, crime, and abuse victims. This specialized field extends beyond traditional nursing responsibilities, engaging nurses in evidence collection, legal proceedings, and specialized patient care.

Whether you're a student or practicing nurse interested in this career, we've compiled everything you need to learn more about the role, salary expectations, and steps to becoming one.

Forensic Nurse Job Description

Forensic nursing is a specialized field that combines healthcare and legal expertise to offer comprehensive care and support to victims of crime, violence, and abuse. Within this dynamic profession, forensic nurses fulfill critical roles in the healthcare and legal system, including evidence collection, specialized care provision, and assistance in legal proceedings as expert witnesses.

Dedicated forensic nurses provide a diverse range of tailored healthcare services to address the unique needs of crime victims. The essential services these encompass:

Conducting Sexual Assault Examinations: Equipped with specialized training, forensic nurses meticulously perform examinations and gather crucial evidence for victims of sexual assault. With empathy and compassion, they deliver comprehensive care, document injuries, collect DNA evidence, and administer preventive treatments for sexually transmitted infections.

Addressing Domestic Violence Intervention: Forensic nurses assess and treat domestic violence victims, expertly document injuries, and deliver essential medical care. Collaborating with social workers and counselors, they actively contribute to safety planning and facilitate access to support services for victims.

Related: RN Case Manager: Job Description, Salary, and How to Become One

Undertaking Child Abuse Assessment: Forensic nurses possess specialized expertise in evaluating and caring for children who have suffered abuse or neglect. Through thorough examinations, they meticulously document injuries, provide medical treatment, and closely coordinate with child protection agencies to ensure the safety and well-being of affected children.

Engaging in Elder Abuse Evaluation: Vital in identifying and addressing elder abuse cases, forensic nurses conduct meticulous assessments and document injuries among elderly individuals. Forensic nurses play a pivotal role in preventing and addressing elder abuse by providing critical medical care, collaborating with adult protective services, and advocating for the safety of older adults.

Participating in Death Investigations: Forensic nurses contribute to death investigations, working collaboratively with forensic pathologists and law enforcement to determine the cause and manner of death. They expertly collect evidence, meticulously document injuries, and provide valuable insights into the circumstances surrounding the deceased, aiding in the pursuit of justice.

As a forensic nurse, you may help and support victims of violent crimes like sexual abuse, human trafficking, intimate partner violence, or other violent crimes, depending on your role. Embarking on a career in forensic nursing offers both challenges and rewards. It requires a unique combination of compassion for patients, unwavering commitment to justice and advocacy, and critical thinking skills.

Forensic Nurse Responsibilities

Forensic nursing roles involve diverse responsibilities based on specialization and work environment. Here are some general duties performed by forensic nurses, recognizing that each position may have unique tasks:

Comprehensive Assessment and Documentation: Forensic nurses who receive specialized training evaluate and document victim injuries. They identify and document signs of physical trauma, including bruises, cuts, or injuries related to sexual assault.

Evidence Collection and Preservation: By following strict protocols, forensic nurses meticulously collect and preserve critical evidence from victims to ensure its integrity and admissibility in criminal investigations and legal proceedings.

Specialized Medical Care Provision: With a focus on individualized care, forensic nurses provide tailored medical interventions such as forensic examinations, medication administration, wound care, and addressing immediate healthcare needs.

Emotional Support and Counseling: Providing essential emotional support and counseling, forensic nurses create a secure environment where victims can openly share their experiences and receive guidance during examinations and treatment.

Collaboration with Multidisciplinary Teams: Working closely with law enforcement, social workers, counselors, and legal professionals, forensic nurses actively collaborate to deliver a comprehensive response that addresses the diverse needs of victims.

It's important to note that the exact scope of each role may vary based on specialization, work setting, and individual cases. Forensic nursing offers diverse opportunities to provide care, support, and justice for those affected by crime, violence, or abuse.

Where do Forensic Nurses Work? 

  • Hospitals
  • Community anti-violence programs
  • Medical Examiner's office
  • Coroner's office
  • Correctional facilities
  • Psychiatric hospitals

Forensic Nurse Salary

The salary of forensic nurses can vary based on factors such as years of experience, education, geographical location, and work setting. 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports annual salaries at $77,600 for registered nurses (RNs) but does not break down the varying nursing specialties. Per the May 2023 ZipRecruiter report, forensic nurses make an annual salary of $58,198. 

Forensic nurses' salaries may vary depending on their state of employment. Here are the top five highest and lowest-paying states for forensic nurses:

Highest Paying States:

  • California: $78,404
  • Vermont: $74,910
  • Massachusetts: $72,744
  • Arizona: $71,737
  • Arizona: $71,496

Lowest Paying States:

  • South Carolina: $43,559
  • North Dakota: $44,669
  • North Carolina: $47,366
  • Arkansas: $47,889
  • Mississippi: $49,064

Forensic nurses pursuing advanced degrees such as an MSN or DNP can enhance their knowledge and skills, increasing their earning potential. The breakdown for MSN- or DNP-trained forensic nurse salary is unavailable, and it is important to keep in mind that an advanced degree will not guarantee forensic nurse job opportunities or an increased salary. 

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Step 1: Nursing School

To begin a career in forensic nursing, first, it is necessary to complete a nursing program and obtain a nursing degree. The minimum requirement for this field is an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN), but some employers may prefer candidates with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).

Step 2: Nursing License

Obtain a nursing license by passing the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses, NCLEX-RN.

Step 3: Relevant Nursing Experience

To develop strong clinical nursing skills, work as a registered nurse in relevant nursing fields such as the emergency department, critical care unit, pediatrics, or obstetrics. While it's not mandatory, this hands-on experience will provide valuable knowledge and expertise to build on as you progress in your nursing career.

Step 4: Forensic Nursing Certification

To further advance your career in forensic nursing, consider pursuing certification through reputable organizations such as the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) or the Forensic Nursing Board (FNCB).

The IAFN offers Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certifications, including SANE-A (adult) and SANE-P (pediatric). These certifications demonstrate specialized knowledge and skills in providing care to victims of sexual assault.

The FNCB, a member of the American Board of Nursing Specialties, offers the Generalist Forensic Nurse Certified (GFN-C) and the Advanced Forensic Nurse Certified (AFN-C) certifications. While the FNCB is actively working towards accrediting their certifications, they are still valuable credentials in the field.

While the certifications are not mandatory to work as a forensic nurse, obtaining certification in forensic nursing showcases your expertise and dedication to the field and may be required for certain positions.

Related: 10 Best Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Programs in 2023

Step 5: Advanced Degree Program

Additionally, you may want to consider becoming an advanced practice nurse with a concentration in forensic science by completing a master's (MSN) or doctorate (DNP) in nursing practice. Advanced nursing education can provide you with in-depth knowledge and skills, creating the potential to open doors to leadership roles in forensic nursing.

The world of forensic nursing awaits those who are passionate about merging healthcare and justice. By providing comprehensive care and support to crime victims, forensic nurses significantly impact their journey to healing and justice. 

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Editorial Team / Admin

Erin Lee has 12 years experience as a BSN, RN and specializes in Critical Care, Procedural, Care Coordination, LNC.

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