At the crossroads of law and medicine, forensic nursing is a fast-growing specialty area that is focused on providing healthcare to patients likely entering the court system. Forensic nurses work mostly in emergency care settings to provide care to victims of assault, rape, abuse, neglect, domestic violence, and other intentional crimes. As RNs, forensic nurses are often the first people victims speak to after the trauma and a critical resource for achieving justice. After addressing the patient’s immediate medical needs, forensic nurses collect evidence that can be later used in court testimony. Some forensic nurses may also work with victims who have died from their injuries or treat suspected criminal offenders. The following is a detailed job profile to highlight what nurses can expect from specializing in the interesting field of forensic nursing.
Salary data isn’t readily available for the relatively new specialty of forensic nursing, but the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average annual salary for all registered nurses in the United States is currently $69,790. According to the American Nurses Association (ANA), forensic nurses make a few dollars more per hour than the mean hourly RN wage of $33.55.
When first starting out in forensic nursing, registered nurses may land in the bottom tenth percentile of earnings with a yearly salary ranging from $45,880 to $54,620. However, with extra years of experience, it’s possible for forensic nurses to advance into supervisory roles and be rewarded with a six-figure salary of over $98,880 each year.
Forensic nurses have the primary responsibility of providing immediate trauma care to patients who have suffered from any act of violence. From there, forensic nurses will go beyond the normal duties of medical care to gather physical evidence like clothing, bullets, bodily fluid samples, and debris that can be used in a criminal investigation. Forensic nurses must photograph the injuries, interview the patients, conduct physical examinations, report the local authorities, and carefully document their findings. Many forensic nurses will advocate for the victims by arrange for counseling, making referrals to community services, and reviewing their legal options. Forensic nurses also give their testimony in court to apprehend perpetrators who are responsible for their patients’ injuries.
Being successful in forensic nursing requires a special kind of nurse. First and foremost, forensic nurses must have the emotional stability needed to work with patients suffering from a wide array of violent and heinous crimes. Clinical skills must be mastered for forensic nurses to promptly deliver competent trauma attention. Being detail-oriented with strong analytical skills is important for forensic nurses to give helpful insights into the criminal investigation. Forensic nurses should have the organizational skills to record evidence without threat of tampering. Having good interpersonal skills is another must because forensic nurses must clearly communicate their findings to law enforcement. Forensic nurses must also be caring and sympathetic to care for victims in their most terrifying moments.
Degree and Education Requirements
Before starting this career, you’ll obviously needed to become an RN by following one of two educational routes. In most states, it’s possible to work as a registered nurse by earning a two-year Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) from a junior college or a four-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at a university. It’s typically advised that forensic nurses maximize their career potential by pursuing the bachelor’s degree and taking complementary electives in criminal justice or legal studies. Attending graduate school for a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is helpful for nurses wishing to become a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) or Nurse Practitioner (NP) in forensic nursing.
Pros and Cons of the Position
As with any other nursing specialty, forensic nursing comes with its fair share of rewards and challenges that should be considered prior to choosing this career. Forensic nurses work in an in-demand field busting with job opportunities and take home an above-average salary. Most jobs offer great benefits packages with health insurance, pension plans, and even bonuses. Nurses working in forensics have the unique ability to stimulate their intelligence by discovering new evidence, playing detective, and making breaks in court cases. On the other hand, forensic nurses have very unpredictable schedules that include long shifts beyond the normal 9-to-5. Most are on-call and need to respond immediately day or night when a victim arrives. Forensic nurses have a physically and emotionally demanding job with the stress of working with severely injured victims, including some who may not recover.
After following one of the above educational routes, you’ll need to officially become a registered nurse by passing the National Council Licensure Exam (NCLEX-RN). You will then have the qualifications needed to begin applying for entry-level staff nursing positions and building your resume with relevant experience. It’s best to focus on developing your nursing skills working with trauma victims by taking on roles in emergency rooms, sexual assault clinics, ambulatory care centers, urgent care facilities, and other critical nursing settings. You may want to consider improving your credibility in the profession by receiving credentials from the International Association for Forensic Nurses (IAFN). There’s the option to become board certified as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner for Adults and Adolescents (SANE-A) or Pediatrics (SANE-P). Those with a graduate degree and at least 2,000 practice hours in forensics can also apply for Advanced Forensic Nursing Certification (AFN-BC) through the ANCC.
It’s estimated that around 1.2 million violent crimes are reported to law enforcement every year in the United States. Although this number is thankfully dropping, there’s still a large demand for forensic nurses to utilize their anti-violence advocacy efforts to achieve justice for these victims. As the large baby boomer population reaches late adulthood, it’s predicted that there will also be a spike in the number of elder care abuse cases needing attention in forensic nursing. In general, the employment of forensic nurses and other RNs is expected to grow rapidly by 19 percent over the next decade, thus creating over 526,000 new positions across specialties.
Forensic nursing is a unique new niche that allows nurses to help forensically solve crimes and catch criminals while providing compassionate care to recovering victims. Forensic nurses have a trained eye for finding the first signs of foul play and collecting medical evidence to provide expert witness testimony in court. If you decide to become a forensic nurse, you’ll lead a rewarding career using your nursing skills in police work to lock up bad guys and keep our communities safer.
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