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How to Become a Forensic Nurse

3 min readMay, 17 2023

If you're interested in both nursing and the criminal justice system, a career in forensic nursing could be the right fit. As with other nursing specialties, forensic nurse requirements vary, and there are additional steps beyond becoming a registered nurse. You'll usually need a few years of relevant clinical experience. Depending on the opportunities available in your area, you may also need an advanced degree or special forensic nursing certification.

What Is a Forensic Nurse?

A forensic nurse works at the intersection of nursing and the criminal justice system to provide nursing care to victims. Forensic nurses also provide emotional and psychological support, collect evidence, and may perform evaluations of alleged perpetrators when necessary. In cases involving a deceased victim, forensic nurses may work with a coroner to establish the cause of death and to prepare and report statistics.

Forensic nurses are responsible for providing compassionate care for all facets of a victim's well-being. They may even help provide support for families of people targeted in violent crimes.

Forensic nurses commonly see victims of domestic violence or sexual abuse. They may also work in cases regarding child abuse, psychiatric patients, and in situations that don't involve direct patient care, such as determining the cause of death.

Where Do Forensic Nurses Work?

Due to the nature of their work, forensic nurses are found both in hospitals and in environments like legal criminal justice institutions (coroners' offices or prisons), domestic violence centers, and psychiatric facilities. They may even work in response to emergencies such as mass casualty events and natural disasters. Forensic nurses may work in a variety of settings throughout their careers, thanks to the varied competencies required to succeed.

Forensic Nursing Certification, Experience, and Other Requirements

A nurse in a white lab jacket is holding the hands of a small child in their hands in a supportive manner. Their faces are not visible.

In some states and situations, forensic nurse qualifications may simply include relevant clinical experience as an RN. But forensic nursing certificate courses can help you prepare for the role. These programs typically offer a mix of classroom hours and clinical training and may focus on specific areas of forensic nursing, such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certifications.

Some employers may prefer candidates with an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN). If you're equally committed to nursing and the law, some degree programs focus specifically on forensic nursing and offer a double master's degree in nursing and criminal justice.

Whether or not you pursue certification or an advanced degree, you'll need to gain clinical experience before looking for forensic nursing jobs. Medical-surgical nursingpediatric nursing, or psychiatric nursing are all areas that can provide relevant clinical experience while working with populations that you might see as a forensic nurse.

Forensic Nursing Salary and Career Prospects

Career prospects for forensic nurses are positive. The nursing field is growing thanks to increased demand for health care services as the baby boomer generation ages. The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the employment of nurses to increase by 6% from 2021 to 2031.

Forensic nursing salaries are similar to, or slightly lower than salaries for generalist RNs. Some estimates place forensic nurse salaries at about $73,000 per year, compared to an average of $77,600 for registered nurses overall. However, salary ranges vary by state, with some states and sources reporting forensic nurse salaries around $95,000, so it's important to check on average salaries in your area.

If you have an Advanced Forensic Nursing Certification offered by ANCC, learn how to renew it. If you're seeking a forensic nursing certification for the first time, consider certification from the International Association of Forensic Nurses.


Images sourced from Getty Images

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