Forensic nursing provides a unique blend of education and patient advocacy. Trained to treat victims of abuse, violence, or trauma, forensic nurses possess advanced assessment skills and a solid understanding of today’s legal system, which they use to provide a unique type of patient care.
Forensic nurses collect evidence in cases of sexual assault, neglect, or interpersonal violence, then work with police and legal counsel to present evidence. They may provide expert witness testimony in court and can be a vital link in the administration of justice.
While forensic nurses are registered nurses who tend to the patient’s medical needs, additional training builds specialized skills for injury evaluation, identification, and documentation that follows the proper legal process, and can be used in a court of law.
Where do forensic nurses work?
Forensic nurses can work in a variety of settings and focus areas. You may find forensic nurses in hospitals, correctional facilities, in a coroner’s office, or on the scene of a mass disaster evaluating:
- Sexual assault
- Elder or child abuse
- Death investigations
This specialized field works with vulnerable populations and in community settings. Many forensic nurses work closely with community anti-violence programs and are valuable in the assessment of patients seeking help.
Becoming a forensic nurse
Even though forensic nursing is among the fastest growing careers in nursing, it can be challenging to convince community leaders about the need for forensic nurses if they are not already part of the community health care team. Many nurses choose to start with a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification, requiring 40 hours of classroom training plus an average of about 40 hours of clinical training. This training may include a set number of hours observing court cases, riding with local law enforcement, and engaging in direct patient care. Additionally, you may choose to enroll in a master’s or Ph.D. program for forensic nursing.
Obtaining forensic nursing certification
The International Association of Forensic Nurses offers a variety of resources on webinars and certificate and degree programs for nurses to choose from. Once you complete the required certificate or degree program, obtaining certification may be your next step. While it isn’t always necessary, certification shows employers your dedication to the profession and expert knowledge in the field. In some cases, the certification may also increase pay. Currently, nurses may sit for the SANE-A certification (for adults and adolescents) or the SANE-P (for pediatrics).
Becoming a forensic registered nurse is a challenging yet rewarding career. If you are interested in pursuing this field, make sure to contact your state board of nursing for specific certification and practice requirements where you live. Training can vary widely by state or region, and it will be important to understand your specific requirements before moving ahead.