Forensic Nursing

Forensic nursingForensic nursing is still a fairly new specialty of nursing that has become popular in the 1990’s. It’s a specialty of nursing which cares for victims of criminal offenses such as rape, trauma and assault. These nurses also deal with unexplained deaths, spousal and elder and child abuse. Forensic nurses collect physical evidence of crime from victims’ bodies to help solve criminal investigations.They work in conjunction with the law by providing evidence that is used in a court of law. They bridge the gap between medicine and law. This specialty of nursing is considered a high stress job due to the type of work involved and it requires nurses to be well versed in psychological, environment and social behaviors of health. Forensic nurses have to work quickly, to gather evidence at the scene of a crime by gathering blood and tissue samples in order to help bring justice to a horrible situation.

Predecessors of Forensic nurses are known as sexual assault nurses examiners. They cared for victims that presented to the emergency room battered, scared and abused. There were inconsistencies with timing and unavailability with the sexual assault system in hospitals which would impede criminal cases. Sexual Assault Nurses are still employed today at many hospitals. When 70 sexual assault nurses gathered for the first convention of sexual assault nurses in 1992,they found out that they shared common problems. They were excited about talking about ways they could share their knowledge of what they knew to help this area of nursing and how they could take this science of nursing to the next level. In 1995, the American Nurses Association recognized Forensic Nursing as a specialty and the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IFAN) was formed.Forensic nurses are trained to treat traumatic acts victims have suffered and they care for both victim and perpetrators of violence.Forensic nurses play an important role in bringing justice to a victim and their families. Since Forensic Nursing is considered a fairly new specialty, many Forensic nurses have to advocate on their behalf for the importance of having a Forensic Nurse on staff.

Characteristic of Forensic Nurses:

  • Have the ability to work in fast paced and stressful environment
  • Ability to deal with death and dying
  • Ability to work quickly coordinating programs involving medicine and law
  • Prepared to be on-call any time of day or night
  • Coordinate nursing, investigative and counseling skills
  • Ability to collaborate with pertinent staff member with a calm demeanor during stressful situations.

Education Requirements

There are several levels of certification and degrees available for Forensic Nursing:

  • Forensic Nursing Certificate programs are available for associate degree nurses, LPNs and LVN to give them a basic knowledge in several areas of Forensic Nursing.
  • Masters in Science of Forensic Nursing prepare nurses to think critically in this area of nursing which will help provide the best outcome victims and families. Masters level program concentrate on scientific studies and theories related to this science. Students must have a bachelor of science in nursing and a background in Forensic Nursing.
  • PhD in Forensic Nursing programs prepare leaders in the field of Forensic Nursing to work as research scientist and educators. Registered nurses must first attain a Master’s degree before applying for doctorate studies. PhD prepared Forensic Nurses develop policies and collaborate with legislators of state regarding implementation of programs to prevent violence and protect communities.

Job Description & Duties

Forensic Nurse’s address the psychological, physical and social trauma of victims. They work in law enforcement agencies, for social service agencies, medical examiners offices and specialized hospital units. They are advocates for the victims, speaking on their behalf to get them the protection and help they need to heal physically, emotionally and mentally. Forensic nurses are one of the first healthcare workers to examine and collect physical evidence from victims of crime in hospital emergency departments. They work closely with detectives and victim advocates by providing vital information to solve cases. Forensic nurses also work with families and in communities to counsel, educate and bring healing.

Job Outlook and Salary

Forensic nursing is one of the fastest growing nursing specialties in the United States which is expected to grow by 22% until 2018. This is related to the population growing and people living longer. Salaries are dependent upon area and type of institution worked. A Forensic nurse may receive a median salary of $60,000 or receive pay on a per case basis which can range from $150 to $400 per case. Forensic nurses with higher degree who hold more responsibility can earn $26 to $100 per hour.


Written by

Carrie Cronkite BSN, RN

Carrie has been a registered nurse for 14 years and works at a local hemodialysis outpatient center. She has experience in cardiac nursing, orthopedic rehabilitation and [...]