What Is Forensic Nursing?

Forensic nursing is a relatively new specialty in the nursing profession. Forensic nurses "provide specialized care for patients who are victims and/or perpetrators of trauma (both intentional and unintentional). They also have specialized knowledge of the legal system and skills in injury identification, evaluation and documentation," according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses.

Forensic nurses provide care for patients, while staying alert to abuse and gathering evidence when a crime is committed. They use their expertise and knowledge to consult and testify in court proceedings. A forensic nurse's job can be difficult and sometimes emotionally painful, but it can also be very rewarding when perpetrators of violence are stopped from causing more harm.

Overview of Forensic Nursing

Forensic nursing aids in crime investigations, which may include sexual and physical assault, accidental death, neglect, domestic violence, and child or elder abuse. This type of nursing uses scientific methods to collect evidence from a victim's body to solve a crime. Respect for the privacy and dignity of those affected by crime and trauma underpins the services that forensic nurses provide.

The Job of a Forensic Nurse

According to former Vice President Joe Biden, "Forensic nurses play an integral role in bridging the gap between the law and medicine. They should be in every emergency room."

Forensic nurses are critical to apprehending and prosecuting criminals. They administer care and offer emotional support to patients who may be victims of trauma. As criminal investigators for police departments, they know how to conduct an examination, collect and record evidence, and present information in court. Their skills include:

  • Observation
  • Documentation
  • Preservation of evidence

After providing care to patients, forensic nurses may evaluate them for signs of trauma or abuse, which may include rape, molestation or intent to murder. They look for cuts, wounds or bruises, and if they find suspicious injuries, they notify the police. As part of the examination, forensic nurses may collect blood, tissue or other bodily fluids. In addition, forensic nurses will gather any pertinent evidence by taking photographs and noting a patient's behavior and attitude. When the case is presented in court, a forensic nurse may be called as an expert witness. The nurse brings a perspective to the testimony based on both tangible evidence and compassionate care.

In addition to providing nursing care and having knowledge of the legal system, forensic nurses "continue to create and disseminate new and existing evidence-based and research-informed knowledge," according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses' 2017 publication titled Forensic Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice.

Education Needed to Become a Forensic Nurse

To practice forensic nursing, you must become a registered nurse (RN) by completing an associate or bachelor's degree and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

A BSN-prepared nurse can then pursue a Master of Science in Nursing to work as a specialized forensic nurse. The following are some positions for forensic nurses with a master's degree.

  • Forensic case nurse
  • Youth services nurse
  • Forensic community and liaison nurse
  • RN in forensic psychiatry
  • Forensic nurse supervisor

A nurse can enroll in continuing education to become certified as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). There are two distinctions: SANE-A and SANE-P. SANE-A is for nurses who work with adults and adolescents while SANE-P is for nurses in pediatrics. Nurses must pass an exam to receive certification.

The International Association of Forensic Nurses outlines the steps required to become a certified SANE-A or SANE-P.

Where Do You Find Forensic Nurses?

Forensic nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings. The majority of forensic nurses can be found in hospital emergency rooms and at urgent care centers. But they are also employed at community anti-violence organizations, medical examiners' offices, corrections institutions and psychiatric facilities.

Today's nurses are educated about the course of action they need to take when a patient is identified as a victim of a crime. Nurses collect evidence, conduct pelvic exams, provide care and comfort to trauma victims, take detailed notes and testify in court.

Kim Day, a project director with the International Association of Forensic Nursing, said, "Violence is a public health issue and hospitals can't ignore it." When hospitals lack BSN-prepared nurses educated in forensic nursing, they force victims to travel long distances in search of nurses who can help them.

Forensic nurses play a key role in providing care to victims of violent crimes and in facilitating successful outcomes in criminal cases. They also continue to create and propagate evidence-based and research-informed knowledge to further develop the forensic nursing practice.

Learn more about the URI RN to BS in Nursing program.


International Association of Forensic Nurses: What Is Forensic Nursing?

International Association of Forensic Nurses: Become a Forensic Nurse How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Johnson & Johnson: Forensic Nurse

Nurse Journal: Forensics Nursing Salary and Careers Outlook Mary Washington Hospital Forensic Nurses Hunt for Evidence on Living Crime Scenes

American Forensic Nurses: What Is Forensic Nursing?

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