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How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses are the bridge between the health care world and the justice system. They are responsible for gathering and storing evidence that can be used in a court case and taking care of crime victims. Forensic nursing is quite new to the nursing field so it can be hard to find a job at first. However, as crime continues to increase, the demand for forensic nurses will rise as well.

What is Forensic Nursing?

A forensic nurse's main duty is to treat victims of violent crimes and to gather evidence while they are treating their patients. Forensic nurses mainly aid in cases that involve sexual assault, abuse or neglect. They can also be called to give expert testimony if the case they handle goes to court. Forensic nurses must have a working knowledge of the legal system that works in tandem with their nursing background. Their knowledge of the justice system will become useful since they may be called to assist police officers, lawyers or nursing homes.

Education Requirements

The only way to become a forensic nurse is to become a registered nurse first. Many nurses who want to break into the field of forensics find it helpful to become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. To become SANE, registered nurses must complete 40 or more hours of training in the classroom and in the field. This rigorous training program will teach nurses how to collect evidence, like fibers or hair, to use in DNA testing and how to treat sexual assault victims. Upon completion of the SANE program, nurses will need to take a certification exam before they can work with sexual assault victims.

Another path to becoming a forensic nurse is to obtain a higher degree like a Master's or PhD in forensic nursing. As with any nursing degree, potential forensic nurses will need many hours of clinical experience to complete their program. Forensic nurse programs have several areas of focus from criminal justice to mental health to victimology.

It is not necessary to take a certification exam to get a job as a forensic nurse. However, a certification can help increase the chances of landing a job because it shows dedication and lends credibility to the field of forensic nursing. Before nurses can take the credentialing exam for forensic nursing they must have at least 3 years experience as a registered nurse and have completed forensic nurse training.

Necessary Skills

Forensic nurses need to have good observation skills and have a keen eye for detail as they may be called to testify in court cases. They must also be able to keep thorough documentation of the evidence they collect. Forensic nurses need to be familiar with the legal system and terminology since they may be required to testify in court or report back to a legal counsel. They must also be able to treat and identify injuries in cases of neglect and violence. But most of all, forensic nurses need to show compassion toward their patients and have a passion for the medical field.

Salary and Job Opportunities

Forensic nurses mainly work in emergency rooms but they can also work in a variety of environments outside of a hospital. These jobs can include consultants for law firms, nurse coroner, trauma clinic nurse, sexual assault nurse and forensic psychiatric nursing. The annual salary for forensic nurses range from $38,045 to $121,796 per year with a median salary of $64,690. The salary can vary depending on the location of the job, level of education and the place of employment. Becoming a certified forensic nurse may lead to an increase in pay. Nurses who are on call can earn more than those who are employed by hospitals.

Even though forensic nursing is quite new to the medical world, the field is projected to grow by 22% in the next 10 years. The need for forensic nurses continues to increase as each year crime rates climb higher. Each state's requirements to become a registered or forensic nurse are different so look into each state's certification and training requirements before pursuing a degree program.