If you’re wondering how to become a forensic nurse, you’re not alone; forensic nursing is a relatively new specialty within the nursing field. It combines legal, criminal justice, and medical fields as one entity. It’s complex, and the forensic nurse job description is still being written in many ways. To radically cut a long story short, forensic nurses are advanced practice nurses with highly specialized training in diagnosing and investigating physical evidence of crime: signs of sexual assault; child, domestic, and elder abuse; mysterious or unexplained patient death; and other situations that require both understanding of human health, and of law and criminology.
Obviously, forensic nursing isn’t for the faint of heart; even among nurses (who become quite accustomed to stress and learn to deal calmly with pain, gore, and death) investigating sexual assault and abuse requires a particular level of nerve and emotional stability. That’s probably why forensic nurses are in high demand, with the need far outpacing the number of nurses earning forensic nursing credentials. That’s also why nursing schools all over the US are finding more convenient and accessible ways to get nurses prepared for forensic nursing jobs and certification, including online degree programs, accelerated certificates, and other educational innovations. We need forensic nurses, and we need them now.
Methodology: Ranking the Best Forensic Nurse Program Options
To rank the Top 15 Forensic Nursing Programs, Nursing School Hub took a good long look at colleges and universities offering a path to become a specialist in forensic nursing, particularly those that prepare students for Advanced Forensic Nursing or SANE certification. Those programs were then ranked according to four criteria:
- Reputation (U.S. News Nursing School ranking)
- Student Reviews (Niche)
- Cost (IPEDS data)
- Return on Investment (College Scorecard alumni salary data)
With these criteria, NSH can promise working RNs that their choice to go back to school is the right one, sure to provide a solid return on their investment of time, energy, and money.
1. Texas A&M University Health Science Center
Texas A&M University’s MSN Forensic Nursing track is one of the most popular programs chosen by students entering the nursing field. Located in the Health Science Center of College Station (TAMU-BCS), the FNT program works to prepare graduates with the skills to handle traumatic events while caring for their patient’s safety. The MSN Forensic Nurse track helps also each student observe, collect, and document forensic evidence properly. For the forensic nurse program, TAMU-BCS offers online and on-campus courses. However, the NURS- 653 orientation class is a mandatory on-campus course for clinical reasons. The FNT program is a 36-credit hour degree, provided over six semesters, along with 45-hour clinical experience.
In fact, according to the US News and World report, Texas A & M University is one of the most affordable medical schools in the US for in-state tuition. Texas A &M University is home to more than 64,000 students and the forensic nursing program is on four of the 11 campus sites where TAMU is established. However, a brand new nursing and health science center at the Commerce campus will open by the spring of 2019.
Degree: MSN–Forensic Nursing track
2. Fitchburg State University
Fitchburg State University’s two online forensic nursing programs meet working nurses where they are – literally, and in their careers. The 21-credit online Forensic Nursing Certificate program is one of the most convenient and effective ways for advanced practice nurses with a BSN to use their passion for forensics. The online MSN Forensic program, in turn, is a full master’s program built around understanding prevention, scientific investigation, and treatment of victims of traumatic events.
Fitchburg State University had its beginning as a teacher’s college in 1894, but its mission as a regional public university has led FSU to expand its offerings to encompass the most in-demand fields of today. Recognize as one of the top online educators in New England, Fitchburg State is also committed to keeping tuition at a reasonable price, making Fitchburg State University one of the most affordable institutions in New England, and a top choice for forensic nurse practitioner students and nurses looking for the highest quality forensic nursing certificate programs.
Degree: MSN in Forensic Nursing; Forensic Graduate certificate
3. University of Alabama at Birmingham
University of Alabama at Birminghams’s Advanced Forensic Nurse program (AFN), is a 2-course (6 credits) subspecialization added on to an MSN. For graduate nurses working to advance their skills in a variety of forensic nursing settings, the AFN program promotes health, provides physical and emotional care, and prepares the AFN student for service to diverse communities and populations with forensic medical situations. The AFN also provides each student with an advanced primary care base to follow. The Advanced Forensic Nurse subspecialty courses are offered both in the fall and spring semesters.
UAB’s nursing programs are ranked high throughout the nation, and it’s no wonder. Originally a branch campus of the University of Alabama, the growth of Birmingham has helped turn UAB into an R1 research university. The UAB Health System, Alabama’s leading academic medical complex and one of the finest health systems in the Deep South, ensures that UAB nursing students have access to the highest level of resources, including one of the nation’s best forensic nursing programs. Tuition cost is low for in-state residents.
Degree: MSN – Advanced Forensic Nurse (AFN)
4. Xavier University
Xavier University’s online MSN Forensics Track is a 10-credit specialization included along with the MSN core curriculum. Both criminal and civil investigations are discussed, along with legal directives. The forensic nursing program also prepares graduates with possible employment options, such as a legal nurse, forensic psychiatric nurse, and coroner nurse positions. However, one of the most chosen in the field in nursing is the sexual assault nurse examiner position. Many graduate students choose the Forensic nursing track in addition to the dual MSN/MSCJ degree program.
Xavier University, a Jesuit Catholic college founded in 1831 in Cincinnati, OH, is known for the highest graduation rate in the Midwest, and has been honored as an up-and-coming university nationally. The school has a diverse religious campus for student living, with many community programs and clubs for social involvement. Xavier university in recent years was ranked in the top 5 regional universities in the MIdwest by U.S. News & World Report, and has earned exceptional recognition within the nursing field, as with its forensic nurse program.
Degree: MSN Forensics Track
5. University of California Riverside
The University of California, Riverside Professional Certificate in Forensic Nursing program is offered to all RN, LVN/LPN, physicians, or SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) workers. The forensic nursing certificate is a sixteen-unit program, available completely online, allowing nuses to take on forensic nursing jobs without earning a full MSN. Course subjects of interest are forensic approaches to health care, domestic violence, and mental health. Graduate students in the forensic nursing program will learn to review, analyze and interpret medical records, along with consulting on health care issues with the legal authorities. Depending on each student’s ability, the course program may take between nine to fifteen months to complete, making it one of the fastest ways to jump into a forensic nursing career.
University of California, Riverside began in 1954 as a citrus agricultural station, but in the half century since, it has grown into one of the most diverse and acclaimed public research universities in the West. UCR’s commitment to adult education has been crucial; from intensive short courses to a variety of weekend programs, UCR has made distance and adult education an uncomplicated and convenient approach to receiving a degree. UCR has become particularly known in the field of nursing, including the first online SANE certification program, and the current the Professional Certificate in Forensic Nursing, one of the best forensic nursing certificate programs in the nation.
Degree: Forensics Graduate Certificate (MUST hold a current RN)
6. Mount Mercy University
Mount Mercy University’s MSN Forensic Nursing emphasis is a thirty-six credit hour nursing program, available twice a year, and is collaborated with the MS in Criminal Justice program. The requirements of the MSN nursing program is that each recipient must be a licensed RN prior to admission. The program is approximately 18 months long. Students will be educated in the relationship between criminal justice and medicine, and trained to appropriately respond to trauma victims and the exploitation of women and children. Overall, the MSN with a forensic focus brings endless job opportunities for all graduates of the program.
Mount Mercy University, established in 1928 and located just a few hours from Chicago, provides more than forty-five degree programs within eight academic departments. The University is highly diverse, having students coming from several international countries and a variety of ethnic backgrounds. Mount Mercy University has put a strong emphasis on education for working professionals, allowing students to take one class at a time in online and on-campus formats. The University also has a variety of five-week accelerated courses for adult students interested in a fast track education. That includes the 18-month Forensic Nurse program, one of the fastest and most convenient in the Midwest.
Degree: MSN – Forensic focus
7. Cleveland State University
The Cleveland State University MSN Forensic Track is a forensic nurse program that prepares nurses in core subjects such as, law enforcement, mental health, health care, and the judicial system. Specializing in population health, the program shows students how to collect evidence properly, analyze results, and research methods of importance. The MSN forensic nursing track educates students on forensic pathology, criminal justice, and communication on public policy. The program consists of approximately twelve credits and can be completed in a matter of eighteen months.
Cleveland State University is considered a top public research institution, providing over 175 degree programs. Even with more than 17,000 students, CSU is committed to keeping the student/faculty ratio low enough for students to find mentorship, especially in graduate courses. CSU also offers a number of graduate programs as well as concentrations on a master’s level. The MSN forensic nurse program has opened the door for working nurses to move into a highly in-demand, and highly specialized, career.
Degree: MSN Forensic Track
Format: Online or On-campus
8. University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
The University of Texas Health Science Center’s Forensic Nursing Science post-master’s certificate is designed to be added to any of UTHealth MSN degree. That means the FNS 9-credit program teaches students to apply forensic techniques to FNP or Gerontology, to Nursing Leadership and Administration, to the dual MSN/MPH, or any other MSN speciality. The forensic nurse program requires 300 clinical practice hours for completion. By choosing UT Health’s forensic nursing program, students can become experts in prevention and safety whatever their career, including a Forensic Nurse Practitioner.
UTHealth, located in Houston, TX, is ranked in the top 5% of the top graduate nursing programs nationwide. Starting in 1972 with the consolidation of all of the University of Texas’ medical and healthcare programs, UTHealth may be the largest academic health complex in the nation. One of University of Texas Health primary goals is to advance the health and wellbeing of the diverse communities that surround its borders. UTHealth was also a pioneer in forensic nursing, making the graduate certificate in Forensic Nursing program a tried and true choice.
Degree: Forensic Nursing Graduate Certificate
9. Oakland University
Oakland University’s MSN: Forensic Nursing degree is a 39-credit program that provides the h skills necessary to deal with patients in situations ranging from trauma issues to sexual assault cases to criminal investigation of sudden deaths. Students in the Forensic Nurse program will learn how to act as a collaborator within law enforcement and criminal justice. What makes Oakland University’s forensic nursing program a great choice is that fact that it provides a strong work-study balance, giving students a chance to study fulltime or part time while getting a their degree.
Located in Rochester, MI, Oakland University began as a branch of Michigan State University in what was then a rural county north of metropolitan Detroit. As suburban Detroit has grown, so has Oakland University, developing crucial professional programs to meet the needs of a diverse region. OU has become particularly known for its medical and healthcare programs, including one of the best nursing schools in the Midwest. The forensic nurse program is just one example of OU’s outreach and opportunity.
Degree: MSN: Forensic Nursing
10. Duquesne University
Duquesne University’s online MSN in Forensic Nursing is a 36 credit master’s degree that prepares to identify new methods and approaches in the field of forensics. Background in law enforcement and criminal and civil justice, along with ethics, evidence-based practices, and healthcare policies, are all part of the forensic nursing program at Duquesne. With a MSN in forensic nursing from Duquesne, the career paths are endless. Working not only in hospitals and clinics, but also opportunities at law firms, police departments, and coroner’s offices are all possible places of employment. Tuition discounts are available to RN students working while going to school.
Duquesne University is one of the nation’s top Catholic universities, the first Catholic college in Pennsylvania, and the only Congregation of the Holy Spirit university in the world. Duquesne provides a low student to faculty ratio, offers over 80 bachelor’s degrees and 90 graduate degrees. Most degree programs are available online, making it a convenient and flexible option for working students. Duquesne University is also proud of their nursing department. The school has been serving nursing students for over eighty years and offering many new programs as well, including the MSN in Forensic Nursing.
Degree: Online MSN in Forensic Nursing
11. DeSales University
The DeSales University MSN in Forensic Nursing degree does much more than prepare graduate students for employment in forensic positions within the legal system, health system, and other organizations and agencies. Students are also qualified to apply for Advanced Forensic Nursing certification from the ANCC, as well as SANE certification. Studies in psychophysiology, behavioral criminology, and health policy are just but a few core courses of the program. The MSN forensic nurse program is a 15-course study equaling fifty-one credits and seventy-five clinical lab hours. Before completing the program, students are required to finish 375 clinical practicum hours as well.
DeSales University is a Catholic university devoted to creating strong leaders throughout society. Centrally located within the Tri-State region, DeSales was founded in just 1964 and has grown into one of the top-ranked regional colleges in the North. DeSales University is student centered, with a student/faculty ratio of 12:1 and over 95% job placement rate after graduation. Desales University has been offering graduate nursing programs since 1984, and has become one of Pennsylvania’s most trusted nursing schools, with one of the best forensic nurse programs in the nation.
Degree: MSN in Forensic Nursing with Advanced Forensic Nursing Certification
Format: Online or on-campus
12. Monmouth University
Monmouth University’s Forensic Nursing certificate programs prepare students to collaborate with the law system to apply forensic nursing science to legal proceedings that can protect victims of violence. Designed to be added to an existing MSN (or to Monmouth’s MSN program), the 24-credit Forensic Nursing certificate engages students in SANE informatics, child/elder abuse, and death investigation procedures. With the addition of a forensic nursing certificate, MSN graduates can become a forensic nurse practitioner or other forensic expert.
Monmouth University is centrally located within the massive commuting exurbs of both New York City and Philadelphia, attracting working nurses from both. From its founding in 1933 as a junior college, Monmouth has been a dominantly commuter college, dedicated to the needs of working adults, and that is especially true of its graduate programs. Monmouth’s Forensic Nursing Graduate Certificate is one of the best forensic nursing certificate programs out there, and a real benefit to any working nurse’s career.
Degree: Forensic Nursing Graduate Certificate
13. Fairleigh Dickinson University
Fairleigh Dickinson University’s MSN Adult Gerontology Forensic Nurse Practitioner concentration, comprised of 42 credit hours, prepares each student with advanced nursing practices that will provide exceptional knowledge of forensic science and the criminal justice system specific to the needs of senior patients. That may include investigating abuse in nursing homes, long-term care facilities, and families, or investigating unexplained deaths of elderly patients. Requirements of the forensic graduate program is that the applicant is a licenced New Jersey RN, have one year of clinical nursing experience, and passed the health assessment exam.
Fairleigh Dickinson University – founded in 1942 as a private junior college – is the largest private university in New Jersey. FDU is exceptionally dedicated to the needs of New Jersey students (in fact, the Hackensack River flows throughout the Metropolitan Campus grounds). The university provides many job opportunities for working students and has a diverse population, with minority students making up around a quarter of the population. FDU’s nursing program has become a leader in the Northeast, including its excellent Forensic Nurse Practitioner degree.
Degree: Forensic Graduate Certificate or MSN Adult Gerontology Forensic Nurse Practitioner
Format: On-campus (Metro) MSN
14. Penn State World Campus
Penn State World Campus’ online Nursing Forensics certificate program is a 12-credit course of study that prepares students for evidence collecting, interdisciplinary discussions on domestic violence, and how to perform in courtroom presentations. Designed to be added on to the RN to BSN program, the forensic nursing can also be a “stand alone” certificate for nurses who already have their BSN. With four crucial courses in subjects like violence, evidence collection, and the nurse’s role, it’s one of the best forensic nursing certificate programs in the nation, from an online education leader.
Penn State World Campus provides over 150 undergraduate and graduate programs to students. Since Penn State’s online campus launched in 1998, it has become one of the foremost names in distance education, building on a heritage of outreach that goes all the way back to the correspondence courses of the 19th century. Penn State provides high quality degree programs for students that encourages inquiry and an active learning style, from full degrees to certificates like the forensic nurse program.
Degree: Undergraduate Certificate in Forensic Nursing
15. Aspen University
Aspen University’s online MSN in Forensic Nursing program prepares working nurses for leadership roles in nurse management, education, forensics, and public heath. The program also discusses informatics and clinical practices. The Forensic Nursing MSN is a 12 course, 36-credit program focusing on health care systems, advanced pathophysiology and pharmacology, and correctional forensic nursing. To participate in the MSN forensic nursing program at Aspen University, a student must meet all requirements: be a licensed RN with at least one year of work experience in nursing.
Aspen University offers both online and on-campus degree programs, and certificates. Founded in the 1987, Aspen was built on the former International Academy, and operates today as a private, for-profit accredited university. Aspen provides four schools of interest: the School of Nursing, School of Business, School of Education, and School of Professional Studies. Aspen is well known for its appeal to working adults, and its CCNE-accredited School of Nursing provides accessible online opportunities for nursing professionals, such as the forensic nurse program.
Degree: MSN – Forensic Nursing
What are the Main Forensic Nurse Program Requirements? Are Any Offered Online?
Wondering how to become a forensic nurse? To become a forensic nurse, first you must go through the education, practical training, and have completed the license exam of a registered nurse (that’s the NCLEX-RN examination). Ncsbn.org A master’s degree in forensic nursing is highly recommended as well, for students who just want forensic nursing certificate programs. Some course requirements are crime scene investigation, forensic methodologies, and evidence collection. There are several forensic nurse program offerings available online, usually as part of an RN to MSN online degree program. Through the use of webinars and online classroom informatics, these programs make it a convenient and affordable choice.
How Long Will it Take to Get a Forensic Nursing Degree or Certificate? Are There Certifications I Will Need to Practice Forensic Nursing?
To apply for a forensic nursing program, an RN bachelor’s degree must be completed, along with one year of forensic training. Over all, the degree should take less than two years to complete, giving the graduate a master’s degree in Forensic Nursing. Total credits for the degree will depend on the school; anywhere from 38 to 45 is pretty standard for a specialized forensic nurse practitioner or similar MSN.
What is the Salary Range for Forensic Nurses?
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the forensic nurse salary is similar to a registered nurse’ s wage. The median is about $70,000 annually. Forensic nurse salary may be complicated by the wider range of occupational settings that forensic nurse jobs might take; forensic nurse jobs might be in law enforcement, in government agencies, and in other areas where nurses aren’t usually employed, which means a forensic nurse salary might be quite different from a conventional hospital or clinic nurse.
What Can I Do with a Forensic Nursing Specialization?
There are many career options for forensic nurse jobs. Some work in the coroner’s office, alongside a medical examiner (ME). Others will find employment as forensic clinical nurse specialists, working at hospitals and treatment centers. Still others may work in law enforcement at local, state, and federal levels, even for agencies like the FBI. Some forensic nurses might even work as nursing experts in law offices or as special legal consultants. Because the forensic nurse job description is so broad, jobs for a forensic nurse practitioner, forensic nurse investigator, forensic psychiatric nurse, and others, may place you in all kinds of settings, regions, and positions.