5 Top Forensic Nurse Job and Career Paths

A Forensic Nurse Job and Career Path is one of the most in-demand developing fields of nursing. This highly dynamic advanced practice specialization changes all the time. The career path of a forensic nurse is someone who spends most of their time either with crime victims or behind the scenes of a crime laboratory. Collecting evidence, providing testimonies in court, and consulting with the legal authorities are just some of the most important job functions of a forensic nurse. Meeting the physical and emotional needs of victims is also the responsibility of the forensic nurse.

Forensic nurses provide nursing care to assault victims and collect physical evidence from them to aid in criminal investigations. They also aim to prevent future assaults through educational outreach programs. For those leaping into any nursing field, a strong skillset in detail-orientation, physical endurance, and decision-making is basic prerequisites.

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In addition, these nurses need technical skills, excellent communication, organizational, and assessment skills. There are several job career options for the forensic nurse to apply their skills and knowledge of forensics.

1. Forensic Psychiatric Nurse

Like other professionals in psychiatric and mental health nursing, forensic psychiatric nurses work with individuals and families that have mental health needs. However, forensic psychiatric nurses do so specifically in situations involving violent crime or abuse. Sometimes referred to as mental health specialists or PMH nurses, forensic psychiatric perform their duties with great care for their patients. Psychiatric and mental health nurses diagnose mental illness and also treat and perform rehabilitative measures. Experts in psychiatric and mental health nursing work to treat not only the body but the mind as well.

PMH nurses work in hospitals, mental health facilities, and also coroner’s offices. Working to comfort sexual assault victims and children abused or neglected are also the duties of the forensic psychiatric nurse. This job is very similar to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE certification), by providing psychosocial support to victims. The job outlook for the forensic psychiatric nurse is increasing, especially in regions of exceptional population growth, which creates greater demands for mental health treatment. So choosing the path of a forensic psychiatric nurse is well worth it.

2. Correctional Nurse Specialist

Correctional nurse specialists examine, diagnose and treat patients incarcerated in prisons, detention centers, or halfway houses. Nurses will tend to the sick, administer medications, and monitor medical supplies. Correctional nurses must learn to limit the use of potentially dangerous materials, like scalpels and intravenous drips for safety measures.

The correctional nurse specialist also does the assessment of the alleged suspect or perpetrator. So, this career path helps law enforcement authorities bring criminals to justice. Correctional nurses fall in the same category as RN and LPNS do. Hence, the job outlook is very similar.

3. Legal Nursing Consultant

Legal nursing consultants work as liaisons aiding attorneys, physicians, and their clients in civil cases. Examples of legal nursing include medical malpractice, workman’s compensation, and probate. LNCs apply their legal nursing education and experience to interpret, analyze, and research medically-related cases to light. Common places of employment for LNCs are Insurance companies, HMOs, Healthcare facilities, and forensic or criminal justice agencies. Furthermore, a Legal Nurse trains in a subset of public health nursing.

Some of the tasks of the legal nurse consultant are to review medical records, identify appropriate care for clients, and educate the legal team on medical terminology for court purposes. These nurses need knowledge of law enforcement policies. For LNCs interested more in the law side of the job, becoming nurse paralegals or nurse attorneys may be their first step.

4. Forensic Gerontology Specialist

For those interested in working closer to the elderly, a position as a forensic gerontology specialist would be a great career choice. Forensic gerontology specialists help with investigating cases of abuse, neglect, or exploitation of the elderly. Their priority goal is to bring awareness of legal and human rights issues for the elderly. As a type of geriatric nurse, the duties of the forensic gerontology nurse are similar to the average RN.

Assisting physicians with exams and procedures, administering medications to patients, and promoting self-care skills to loved ones are some of the duties of the forensic gerontology nurse. It is common knowledge that by the year 2030, close to twenty percent of Americans will be 65 years and over. In addition, older populations represent almost half of the hospital stays. With these statistics, nursing careers will become significantly popular, and much needed to address the growing population.

5. Nurse Coroner

A Nurse Coroner – also called a death investigator – works closely with crime scene investigators (CSI). Nurse coroners or autopsy nurses may also work closely with medical examiners, or take on the role of medical examiner themselves (see note below). A death investigator may be one of the first on the scene of a crime, analyzing the scene, examining the body, and determining the time and the cause of death like any other crime scene investigator. In other instances, the autopsy nurse may only examine a body later, in isolation from the crime scene, performing an examination and autopsy (this position is sometimes also called a nurse death investigator).

Many cases deal with victims of homicide and rape or attempted rape. The most common places of work are coroner’s and medical examiner’s offices. However, a nurse death investigator can find work in hospitals. As with any crime scene investigation career, nurses also need to understand ballistics, fingerprint evidence, and also how to read bloodstain patterns. Training as a nurse pathologist is also valuable.

Note: The role and title of a nurse coroner can occasionally be tricky because of the weirdness of local ordinances. In some municipalities, a coroner or medical examiner is an elected office, while in others, it’s an appointed job. Still, others treat coroner as a typical civil service job, with applicants vying for the position.

Education, Job Outlook, and Salary

To become a forensic nurse you need a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Adding courses in law, forensic science, and criminal justice is a plus. Forensic nursing is the way to connect law and medicine. In addition, most employers also prefer a forensic nursing certificate. Nursing in itself is one of the highest demanding career paths. However, adding specialties like forensic education and studies in Biology, Chemistry, and forensic engineering increases the job opportunities within the nursing field.

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, registered nurses earn an annual salary of around $75,000. Yet, nurses earn more in some states. For example, California and Massachusetts, reach estimates of $90,000, according to the BLS. However, whichever career path in forensic nursing you choose, the rewards are worth the time and experience you put into it. Many opportunities await you. So dive in, and let your career take off!

What is SANE Nursing?

Most nurses are sane (you need a strong emotional baseline to process the stress of nursing, after all), but SANE certification is something else. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification, from the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), signifies that a nurse has extensive training in sexual assault diagnosis, treatment, and prevention, and is qualified for SANE nurse jobs.

SANE certification (either SANE-A or SANE-P for adult or pediatric) is a high standard related to public health nursing and legal nursing.

How Can you Become a SANE Nurse?

For SANE certification, applicants must have a current RN license, at least two years of experience, and at least 300 recorded hours of SANE-related practice. The easiest path for how to become a SANE nurse is a certificate or RN to MSN bachelor’s completion degree in Forensic Nursing, which will usually provide the necessary hours.

What Does a SANE Nurse Do?

SANE nurse jobs are extremely variable. What does a SANE nurse do? Examining patients for evidence of sexual assault can happen in hospital settings, in law enforcement, in government agencies, even in insurance. SANE nurse jobs can also include community education, like public health nursing.

A SANE nurse’s salary depends entirely on the setting and job. So, there is no standard SANE nurse salary because SANE nurse salaries differ from location and employer. However, a SANE nurse’s annual salary is similar to other highly trained, specialized nursing positions and would be from $70,000 to $90,000.