What is Forensic Nursing?

Registered nurses, pediatric nurses, geriatric nurses…as a travel nurse you no doubt understand the many different paths you can take with a degree in nursing. But have you ever heard of forensic nursing? Forensic Nurses have a specialized set of skills in injury identification and documentation, evidence collection, and a breadth of knowledge of the legal system. Forensic Nurses are a key aspect of the justice system, helping to prosecute an abuser and provide justice to the abused.  

An emerging field

As American Nursing Today explains, forensic nursing is where the legal system intersects with nursing. It’s a highly specialized nursing field where nurses provide care to patients affected by violence and trauma or assist in death investigations. Forensic nurses provide compassionate, holistic care to patients that are, sometimes, going through deeply personal emotional trauma. Many of the patients have experienced sexual assault, intimate partner violence, neglect or other intentional injury, according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). 

It’s critical for forensic nurses to not only provide quality care, but they can also be responsible for collecting evidence and giving medical testimony that can be used in a court of law. Even though forensic nursing is still a relatively new field, it’s critical to support anti-violence efforts. Duquesne University predicts the need for forensic nurses will continue to grow at an above average rate. 

Where they work 

Because of the unique nature of forensic nursing, there are many different settings where nurses in this field are needed. As previously stated, forensic nurses can assist in death investigations, so not all the patients they interact with are living. Some forensic nurses work in coroner or medical examiner offices to help identify the cause of death, especially if it was from a traumatic illness or violence. 

Duquesne University also highlights that forensic nurses can work at correctional institutions, psychiatric hospitals, community crisis centers, community anti-violence organizations and, of course, hospitals. Forensic Nurses may also be called upon during mass disasters or community crisis situations.  

female surgeon using phone

How do I become a forensic nurse? 

If you’re interested in becoming a forensic nurse, IAFN recommends doing some more research into the field. Online resources are a great start, but talking to current forensic nurses is the best way to truly understand some of the intricacies and challenges of the position. This can be an opportunity to ask questions you may have and receive honest answers based on their experiences. Look for a local IAFN Chapter where you can meet forensic nurses in your community and learn from them firsthand.  

To continue towards this goal, you must be a Registered or Advanced Practice Nurse. This means completing the education, practical training and license examination. Taking specialized courses in emergency, trauma or obstetrics care is a plus. Try to find training and hands-on classes that cover information about legal investigations, domestic abuse, and sexual assault in addition to their education in healthcare if you want to be a forensic nurse. While this is not a specialty you’ll see on travel nurse job boards, it is a lucrative field. The average salary nationwide for Forensic Nurses is $81,000 annually, according to Duquesne University.  

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