An Introduction to Forensic Nursing for the Squeamish
One of the great things about the nursing field is that there are so many places that you can take your career. While many RNs are satisfied with providing routine care, many others find themselves gravitating toward one specialization or another. You can take your pick from a dizzying array of specializations, but forensic nursing has to be among the most unique. Like many people, you may be a bit squeamish about forensic nursing. Learn more about it to dispel your misconceptions.
What is Forensic Nursing?
Forensic nursing refers to nursing that revolves around providing specialized care to patients who are either the victims or perpetrators of trauma. The trauma in question may be intentional, as with domestic abuse, or unintentional, as with a mass natural disaster. In either case, forensic nurses do far more than provide medical care. These professionals possess the same nursing skills as RNs, but they also identify, assess and document injuries; provide medical testimony in court; consult with law enforcement officials; and possess specialized knowledge of the legal system.
Typical Duties of a Forensic Nurse
Forensic nurses handle many of the same duties as regular RNs. However, because they are specialized nurses, they are also often responsible for:
- collecting blood and tissue samples from victims and perpetrators of traumatic events
- providing support and encouragement to victims of trauma
- photographing, measuring and otherwise cataloging wounds
- collecting various types of evidence from the body
- attending to the immediate medical needs of victims
- collaborating with law enforcement officials and other authorities
- testifying in courts of law regarding the medical aspects of a crime
In terms of where they work, forensic nurses are found in a variety of different settings. They work in hospitals like regular RNs, but they also often work in coroner's offices, medical examiner's offices, correctional facilities and psychiatric hospitals. Oftentimes, they are also hired by anti-violence programs to provide support. Many non-profits that focus on supporting victims and the like also hire forensic nurses. Finally, many forensic nurses work on call for police departments and other legal authorities, so they are often in courtrooms, police stations and lawyer's offices.
Forensic Nursing Fields
Within the specialization of forensic nursing, there are numerous sub-specializations or fields. Without a doubt, the most common one is sexual assault. In fact, you can obtain a certification in this field. The certification is known as sexual assault nurse examiner, or SANE, and it is the most common sub-specialization in forensic nursing. As you may have surmised, this specialization involves caring for and working with victims of sexual assault. In addition to stabilizing them medically, SANEs collect evidence and often go on to testify in court if the case goes to trial.
There are more options beyond sexual assault forensic nursing. Other fields within forensic nursing include domestic violence; corrections; child neglect and abuse; elder mistreatment; death investigation; and mass disasters. The latter refers to large-scale traumatic events, including natural disasters and terrorist attacks, that necessitate the intervention of medical professionals and law enforcement authorities alike.
You don't necessarily have to choose a specialization right away. Many people basically fall into their specializations after being exposed to them during the course of their everyday work. For example, you might be called on to assist in a few domestic violence cases and realize that you really enjoy that specialization. In that case, you can narrow your focus to that precise field.
How to Become a Forensic Nurse
Become a forensic nurse by following these steps:
- Complete Nursing School - The first step in becoming a nurse is completing nursing school. Technically, you can get away with earning an associate degree in nursing, or ADN, which takes about two years. However, if you decide to obtain a master's degree, which is highly recommended, you will still have to earn your bachelor of science in nursing, or BSN. It takes about four years to earn a BSN.
- Take and Pass the NCLEX-RN - After your training is complete, you need to take and pass the NCLEX-RN licensing exam to obtain your RN license.
- Earn Your MSN - Next, you might want to move immediately into earning your master of science in nursing, or MSN, in forensic nursing. Plenty of schools offer master's programs in this specialization.
- Gain Experience - Whether you opt to pursue your master's or not, you'll want to obtain a job in the field to gain some experience.
- Obtain Forensic Nursing Certifications - You can and should obtain certifications to improve your job prospects. A SANE certification goes a long way. Additionally, the Forensic Nursing Certification Board, or FNCB, offers a certification in forensic nursing. As long as you have some experience under your belt, you should be able to take and pass the certification exam without any trouble.
Job Outlook and Salary
Like just about every field and specialization in nursing, the field of forensic nursing has a very strong outlook for the foreseeable future. Job prospects are good for experienced RNs who have certifications or master's degrees in forensic nursing, so it is safe to say that the return on your educational investment should be considerable.
Forensic nurses generally earn a bit more than regular RNs. Their median annual salary in 2015 was $81,800 versus around $64,000 for regular RNs. This translates into a wage of $39 per hour. Since this is a median salary, around half of forensic nurses earn less while around half earn more. The top 10 percent earn a median annual salary of around $110,000.
Are you a good fit for forensic nursing? If strictly providing nursing care isn't enough for you, and if you need something a little different, you might be. That's especially true if you aren't squeamish and if you are genuinely interested in helping victims of trauma.