After a crime occurs, time is precious. Investigators only have hours to capture the evidence they need to put a criminal behind bars. Forensic nurses can collect evidence from a perpetrator or victim, alive or dead. They are skilled in photography, careful documentation of observations, and victim advocacy. Depending on the size and scope of a law enforcement agency, forensic nurses may work for multiple counties and cities. If this sounds like an ideal career for you, don’t wait to request information about programs near you. Simply use our directory to compare programs near you!
One of the largest subspecialties in forensic nursing is sexual assault nursing. When a victim of sexual assault is brought to the hospital, forensic nurses can help the victim calm down, collect necessary evidence for the police, and protect the victim from pregnancy and STDs. Other forensic nurses may examine and collect evidence from dead bodies or help shape policies that affect victims of criminal justice. In addition, forensic nurses often work at crime scenes or police stations to help preserve crime scenes or interpret medical reports.
Forensic Nurse Job Description
You can plan on working long hours as a forensic nurse! Hospitals and criminal justice agencies often do not have multiple forensic nurses on staff at any given point, so you may need to work on-call hours in addition to your typical work schedule. Many forensic nurses work traditional daytime hours to process evidence, act as a witness in court cases, and help overworked doctors with crime victims. However, when victims come in after hours, the forensic nurse is the one that hospitals turn to. This may mean that you work more than 40 hours per week or that your schedule changes on a weekly basis to accommodate patients’ needs.
According to Yahoo! News, forensic nurses need a strong mind and the ability to stay calm in the face of disturbing crimes. Since much of your time may be spent working with victims of violent crime, you must be able to listen to their ordeals without getting overly emotional or worsening their situation. This is often a trait that is developed on the job, so you may become more resilient the longer you work as a forensic nurse.
Of course, just like any nursing profession, forensic nursing requires a great deal of experience and education. If you’re interested in this career path, it’s important to begin preparing and planning early in your training. This can allow you to get the proper work experience to get into forensic nursing.
How to Become a Forensic Nurse
Before you can even start taking forensic nursing classes, you must be a bachelor’s-level registered nurse. This involves four years of school, covering nursing practice and general education. You may take courses like Fundamentals of Nursing, Nursing Care of Adults, and Nursing Care of Children. These courses and the practical experience you gain in them can help you develop the patient communication skills you need to become a successful forensic nurse.
Once you have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, you’ll likely need to spend at least one or two years working as a registered nurse. Most graduate programs in forensic nursing have a work experience requirement. At that point, you can begin your master’s degree in forensic nursing. You can plan on spending about two years in school if you attend full-time.
The curriculum of your forensic nursing program will be intensive and multifaceted. Common courses required early in the degree include Forensic Approaches to Blunt Force and Firearm Injuries, Crime Scene Preservation, Death Investigation in Health Care, and Courtroom Testimony by the Health Care Specialist. Other courses you take may include Forensic Approaches to Domestic Violence, Forensic Approaches to Human Abuse Injuries, and Sexual Assault Nursing. If you specialize in a field like accidental death or sexual assault, you may take courses that are geared towards your field of study.
To legally work as a forensic nurse, you must maintain a valid nursing license in your state. Since this is considered a nursing specialty, you may need to apply for an advanced practice nursing license. Typically, this involves taking a state-mandated exam in forensic nursing and maintaining your license with a certain number of continuing education credits. You will likely also need to renew your license annually or biannually to continue practicing.
Forensic Nurse Salary and Career Outlook
According to O*Net, the demand for specialist nurses is expected to increase faster than average when compared to other professions. They indicate that the average salary for a nursing specialist is $68,450 per year (O*Net, 2017). As you gain experience and become more knowledgeable about different types of forensic nursing, your earning potential may increase. Furthermore, salaries vary significantly from state to state. In Texas, the average salary is fairly close to the national average at $68,680 per year (O*Net, 2017). California nurse specialists earn an average income of $100,460 per year (O*Net, 2017). Salaries in Florida are slightly lower than the national average; the average nurse specialist claims an income of $62,720 per year (O*Net, 2017).
Keeping on top of changes in the field and new types of technology may improve your job outlook. The International Association of Forensic Nurses offers additional certifications, chapter networking events, and an annual international conference.
Forensic nursing is different from other types of nursing because there is a focus on patient interaction and advocacy. While nurses in other specialties do interact with patients on this level, forensic nurses may spend several hours with just one patient. By helping one patient at a time, you can help victims heal and give law enforcement professionals the help they need.
If you’re ready to learn more about this career path, contact the schools in our directory to find out more today.