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What Does It Take to Become a Forensic Nurse?

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If you can’t decide whether you’d like your career to look more like CSI or Gray’s Anatomy, there’s a role that strikes a perfect middle ground: forensic nursing.

If you’re wondering what is forensic nursing, we’ve got all the answers. It’s a field in which medical professionals put their clinical skills to work in the justice system, providing critical evidence in civil and criminal cases and advocating for victims of abuse, sexual assault, intimate partner violence, human trafficking, and more.

If this piques your interest, you may have what it takes to become a forensic nursing investigator. Read on to learn if your skills and interests align well with those needed in forensic nursing jobs and find out how you can get your start in this unique role. 

Who is a forensic nurse?

Broadly, forensic nurses use their knowledge of the human body to provide important insights in cases regarding violence. 

This means that forensic nurses work directly with victims of traumatic and violent acts to provide short- and long-term care for medical issues related to the abuse. Since these nurses have first-hand experience working with these patients, they also gather forensic evidence and provide testimony in cases against perpetrators of violent acts. 

What skills do you need to be a forensic nurse?

Forensic nurses must possess a specialized and sensitive set of skills because of the nature of their work. Here are a few abilities that will help them succeed in this role. 

  1. Clinical skills: All forensic nurses must first become registered nurses (RNs). Becoming an RN requires completing a college-level nursing education, clearing an exam, and getting licensed. Then, you’ll get first-hand experience providing the kind of patient care you’ll continue to provide as a forensic nurse.  
  2. Specific clinical knowledge: Forensic nurses should have experience working with victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other forms of abuse. 
  3. Empathy: Forensic nurses work with victims who have endured physical and/or emotional abuse and have experienced trauma. These nurses must act with empathy and understand the type of mental health conditions affecting violent crime victims. 
  4. Knowledge of forensics: Forensic nurses should have experience in evidence collection, assessing injuries, and helping perform forensic exams, including death investigations. 
  5. Experience with social work: Victims of violence may face other issues like homelessness or unemployment during this traumatic period of their lives. Forensic nurses must understand how social workers can assist victims. 
  6. Understanding of law enforcement: Forensic nurses should be ready and able to collaborate with law enforcement officials on cases, advocate for victims and provide clinical knowledge during investigations. 

What does it take to become a forensic nurse?

The first step in any nursing career is gathering all the knowledge you’ll need to excel at your work. Here’s what you can expect from the educational route to becoming a forensic nurse. 

Get your degree 

All nurses must earn a college degree in the field, and two options provide a solid base for most roles. These are the Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and the Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). If you think you may specialize or pursue an advanced nursing degree like a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) later, start with the bachelor’s degree, as it is more widely accepted for higher education. 

Get licensed 

To practice as an RN, you must take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination – Registered Nurses. Once you do, you can seek licensure from your state. 

Get in clinical hours 

There’s nothing quite like hands-on patient care. During your education, you’ll start your work in the field of nursing, acquiring clinical knowledge, preferably in the field in which you intend to specialize. 

Get certified 

Getting a forensic nursing certification is a great way to bolster your knowledge and make your resume stand out to employers. Consider continuing your education by enrolling in a forensic nursing program like the one offered by the American Institute of Health Care Professionals (AIHCP).

Where do forensic nurses work?

Choosing the right workplace for you is part of ensuring job satisfaction in the future. Like every other profession, nurses also have a choice regarding the workplace –– private practice, hospital or sometimes home. We recommend opting for a healthcare setting where you know you can thrive and avoid burnout and fatigue simultaneously. 

As a forensic nurse, you’ll have options. Here are a few of the environments in which you can typically work: 

  • Hospitals
  • Coroner’s offices 
  • Medical examiners’ offices 
  • Correctional facilities
  • Anti-violence organizations 
  • Crisis management organizations 
  • Psychiatric healthcare settings

How much does a forensic nurse earn?

No matter how much you love your job, you could always love it more by getting paid well. So, what can you expect from a forensic nursing salary?

On average, forensic nurses make around $80,000 annually in the U.S., and salaries may be even higher in certain geographic areas or for professionals with advanced skills or considerable experience.  

The job outlook is also bright for this field. In the U.S., the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects a 7% growth rate for all RN jobs, including forensic nursing roles. With thousands of forensic nurses getting certified in recent years, there is a healthy interest in this field. 

Whether you work in forensics or family practice, oncology or orthopedics, we’re here to support your important work to keep our society safe and healthy. Come to us for career information and scrubs that are so comfortable you could sleep in them (but, please, change into your loungewear first)! 

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