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Top 5 Forensic Nurse Career Paths for 2019

Forensic nursing is one of the most in-demand developing fields of nursing, a highly dynamic advanced practice specialization that is changing 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 are also the responsibilities 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 skill set in detail-orientation, physical endurance, and decision-making are basic prerequisites. In addition to technical skills and expertise, excellent communication, organizational, and assessment skills are highly recommended. There are several job career options for a 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 nursing diagnoses mental illness; treatment and rehabilitative measures are also performed by the PMH nurse. Experts in psychiatric and mental health nursing work to treat not only the body, but the mind as well.

Employment can be found in hospitals, mental health facilities, and 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. Assessment of alleged suspect or perpetrator is also done by the correctional nurse specialist. This career path can also help law enforcement authorities bring criminals to justice. Correctional nurses fall in the same category as an 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, HMO’s, Healthcare facilities, and forensic or criminal justice agencies. Legal nursing is often trained as 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 of medical terminology for court purposes. Knowledge of law enforcement policies is recommended for legal nursing. For LNCs interested more on 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 is 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, almost half of hospital stays are represented by the older population. 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 investigators. 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, knowledge of ballistics and fingerprint evidence are needed for a nurse coroner, as is knowing how to read blood stain 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, 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

As a forensic nurse, acquiring an education of at least a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and Forensic nursing is required. Adding courses in law, forensic science, and criminal justice is a plus. Forensic nursing is the way to connects law and medicine. In addition, the forensic nursing certificate is recommended. 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’ salary is estimated as $70,000. Yet, higher wages have been reported in some states. For example, California and Massachusetts, reach estimates of $90,000, according to the BLS. No matter what career path in forensic nursing one chooses, the rewards are worth the time and experience that is put into it. Many opportunities await you. So dive in and let your career take off!

A Note on 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 to 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. SANE nurse salary depends entirely on the setting and job; there is no standard SANE nurse salary, because SANE nurse jobs happen in so many different areas, but a SANE nurse salary would typically be on par with other highly trained, specialized nursing positions – anywhere from $70,000 to $90,000.

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