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A forensic nurse can serve as an important bridge between the criminal justice and health care systems. These highly trained professionals provide specialized nursing care for victims, and sometimes even the unintentional (or intentional) perpetrators of trauma.

Those who are interested in learning how to become a forensic nurse should know that in addition to taking care of a patient's immediate medical needs, a forensic nurse needs to have specialized knowledge of injury identification and to able to document their findings. Forensic nurses typically collect evidence, they may need to consult with legal authorities and they may be required to testify in court. This medical testimony can help to apprehend or prosecute individuals who commit violent and abusive acts.

Day in the Life of a Forensic Nurse

Forensic nursing careers are available in many different settings, such as hospital emergency departments, sexual assault centers, psychiatric hospitals and clinics, correctional centers (such as jails and prisons) and coroners' and medical examiners' offices. They may treat victims of homicide, attempted murder, or assault; child neglect, molestation, or rape; sexual assault; or elder neglect or abuse.

Depending on their specialty, a forensic nurse will:

  • Provide comfort and psychosocial support to victims of violent crimes, as well as to the victims' families and other loved ones
  • Treat physical injuries
  • Order or collect tests such as a rape kit, and send them to be processed
  • Collect and preserve physical evidence (such as victim's clothing) to be used in court proceedings
  • Evaluate alleged perpetrators and collect evidence from them

Although many different specialties are represented by those working in forensic nursing careers, the most common one is Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), specializing in treating either child or adult victims.

In large medical centers and trauma units, a forensic nurse may specialize in tissue and organ donation, working with a crisis intervention team and with families of potential donors.

And in some communities a forensic nurse my act as the coroner (or deputy coroner) or as a death investigator.

Other areas of specialization for forensic nurses include:

  • Forensic clinical nurse specialist
  • Forensic nurse investigator
  • Forensic nurse educator
  • Geriatric nursing emergency room
  • Pediatrics
  • Bioterrorism
  • Domestic and international investigations of human rights abuse

Although the field of forensic nursing is growing, a professional health care worker who is interested in a forensic nursing career must sometimes "make the case" for this specialty nursing position to be created in a hospital, clinic, or community.

Important Characteristics for Forensic Nurses

An effective forensic nurse balances compassion toward victims with the objectivity required by law. They must be detail-oriented, organized, skilled in collecting and preserving evidence to be used in court, and accurate and careful in their documentation. They must be interested in both medicine and the law, both of which require specialized study and ongoing education. This job requires excellent interpersonal skills to work with victims, perpetrators, families, law enforcement, attorneys, and other forensic professionals.

Typical Steps for Becoming a Forensic Nurse

Are you ready to learn how to become a forensic nurse? Below are the steps that typically lead to this career.

  1. Become a registered nurse (RN). This requires that you earn a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN). It's also possible to advance from an associate degree or diploma to a bachelor's degree through an accelerated RN-to-BSN program. You will also need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX-RN, to earn a nursing license. Learn more about becoming an RN.

  2. Acquire forensic nurse training. There are several ways to accomplish this:

    • Certification Programs offered at a university that provides courses in forensic nursing. These are separate from undergraduate or graduate degree programs. While not required to practice forensic nursing, professional certification proves a nurse's experience and knowledge in a profession or specialty. Candidates must have at least two years of experience practicing as a registered nurse and must meet the other criteria set by the Forensic Nursing Certification Board.

    • Nursing school undergraduate or graduate elective courses in forensic nursing. Such classes are oftenavailable as part of the Certification Program courses described above.

    • Continuing Education courses that focus on forensic subjects and can be applied toward the renewal of a state nursing license. These classes are also offered in Certification Programs.

  3. Earn a Master's of Science-Nursing degree., Along with core graduate nursing courses, these programs include special instruction in the areas of evidence collection, forensic law and science. The program includes a clinical internship in a setting where forensic nurses practice.

Sources:

  • Registered Nurse, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, https://www.bls.gov/ooh/healthcare/registered-nurses.htm
  • Summary Report for Registered Nurses, O*NET OnLine, https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/29-1141.00
  • What is Forensic Nursing?, International Association of Forensic Nurses, http://www.forensicnurses.org/?page=whatisfn, accessed December 2017
  • American Forensic Nurses, http://www.amrn.com/, accessed December 2017
  • American Institute of Forensic Education, www.taife.com, accessed December 2017

Forensic Nurse Skills

Below are the skills needed to be forensic nurse according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Skill NameImportanceCompetence
Social Perceptiveness4.124.38
Active Listening4.124
Service Orientation44
Speaking44
Critical Thinking3.884

Forensic Nurse Abilities

Below are the abilities needed to be forensic nurse according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Ability NameImportanceCompetence
Oral Expression4.124.62
Oral Comprehension4.124.75
Problem Sensitivity4.125
Inductive Reasoning44.88
Deductive Reasoning44.12

Forensic Nurse Knowledge

Below are the knowledge areas needed to be forensic nurse according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 7 being highest).

   
Knowledge AreaImportanceCompetence
Medicine and Dentistry4.434.03
Customer and Personal Service4.315.1
Psychology4.185.91
English Language4.043.64
Therapy and Counseling3.884.42

Forensic Nurse Work activities

Below are the work activities involved in being forensic nurse according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest) and competency level on a scale of 1 to 7 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work ActivityImportanceCompetence
Assisting and Caring for Others4.855.53
Documenting/Recording Information4.784.41
Making Decisions and Solving Problems4.624.9
Getting Information4.624.56
Updating and Using Relevant Knowledge4.555.44

Forensic Nurse Work styles

Below are the work styles involved in being forensic nurse according to their importance on the scale of 1 to 5 (1 being lowest and 5 being highest).

   
Work StyleImportance
Attention to Detail4.81
Integrity4.77
Cooperation4.67
Stress Tolerance4.65
Dependability4.63
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