How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Three Parts:Earning Your Degree as a Forensic NurseStarting Your Career as a Forensic NurseStaying Current in Your Field

Forensic nursing is one of the newest and fastest growing specialties in nursing; the Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts it will have a 26% growth rate in the next ten years[1]. As a forensic nurse, you will work at the intersections of healthcare and legal work by helping victims of trauma. You will collect evidence at crime scenes and in the emergency room (ER), often when your patient has been the victim of a sexual assault or another violent crime. Read on to learn how start a career as a forensic nurse.

Part 1
Earning Your Degree as a Forensic Nurse

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    Complete your high school education. As you complete high school, ask yourself if you enjoyed classes surrounding health and the human body, such as a biology, anatomy, and chemistry. If you do enjoy these classes and have done well in them, this is a strong sign forensic nursing might be a good field for you to enter.
    • Prepare for standardized tests. Most colleges require that students take the SAT or the ACT in order to be admitted. You should practice taking these tests using either a practice book, taking a test preparation course, or by working with your own tutor.
    • A high score will set you above other applicants and may even help you get additional financial aid and scholarships.
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    Apply to a college with a good nursing major. Earning your ASN (Associates of Science Degree in Nursing) in a two-year program or a BSN (Bachelors of Science in Nursing) in a four-year program is a requirement before you can work in any nursing speciality.[2] Both programs will qualify you to take the National Council of Licensure Exam, but a Bachelors will give you more thorough course work. As you research schools, consider the following factors:
    • Is the nursing program accredited by the The Accreditation Commission For Education in Nursing (ACEN)? This board of nurses gives accreditation for all associates and bachelors programs in nursing. Degrees from accredited programs are generally more respected by employers because they have been professionally endorsed.[3]
    • Does the program offer a clinical rotation option? Will it give you hands-on experience working with patients in a hospital or other health care setting? This direct experience will be very helpful in getting your first job.
    • What is the student-to-faculty ratio of the program? Will you be in very large classes or smaller ones? Do the faculty members give personalized support and attention to their students?
    • Does the program offer a focus on forensic nursing? This is an important question to ask; most forensic nursing programs are housed in graduate schools, but some undergraduate programs will offer certificates in forensic nursing.
    • Consider other general aspects of the college, such as cost, location, and the flexibility of its course offerings. Can you take courses early in the morning or in the evening if you need to?
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    Gain admission to a nursing program. Here are some preparatory measures you can take to make yourself a competitive candidate for admission to an accredited nursing program:
    • Take related courses outside of healthcare. Because you will be working in conjunction with police and lawyers as a forensic nurse, you should consider taking courses in criminal justice, political science and psychology to get a basic sense of how these professions operate.
    • Complete the prerequisites. Many nursing programs require you to complete a general range of courses before you are can advance into the specific nursing major. This might include college-level courses in biology, chemistry, anatomy and physiology, etc.[4]
    • Volunteer in a health care role. If you volunteer to help patients in a hospital, a nursing home, or another health care site, this will indicate to your faculty members that you are serious about your profession.
    • Improve your GPA. Many nursing programs require a GPA ranging between 2.5 and 3.0. If your GPA is below this range, you should attempt to improve it. Study hard in your general courses, use campus resources such as writing center or tutoring center, and design a study schedule that truly works for your daily life.
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    Become a licensed nurse (RN). After you graduate with your Associates or Bachelors degree, you should take the National Council Licensure Exam in Nursing (NCLEX-RN). Gaining a license will allow you to practice as a nurse in your state. This exam is distributed by your individual state's licensing board and the format of the exam will vary by state.[5]
    • On average, the licensing exam lasts 2.5 hours and the average number of questions is 119.
    • Your nursing school might be able to pay for you to take this exam.
    • If you fail the exam, you must wait a minimum of 45 days to retake it. There are no limits on the number of times you can take it.
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    Consider going to graduate school. Forensic nursing is a relatively new specialty; you might not gain actual experience in this specific subfield until you are on the job. However, an increasing number of graduate programs offer a focus on forensic nursing.
    • Study for the GRE or any other standardized test required by your program. Much like the SAT, you can prepare with a study guide book, a test preparation class or by working with a tutor to help you earn a high score on the test.
    • Review the course offerings. A graduate program in forensic science will generally offer courses on how to collect evidence and preserve a crime scene, how to treat patients who are also victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, how to give testimony as an expert witness, etc. Look through the course catalog of your program to make sure these kinds of classes are being offered.[6]
    • Examine the graduate program's practicum offerings. A practicum will give you hands-on experience working in the community. What sites does the program send its students to? Do they work with domestic violence shelters or rape crisis centers? Is it a practicum where you can gain experience helping patients who have suffered a violent crime or other kind of trauma?

Part 2
Starting Your Career as a Forensic Nurse

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    Find an area of focus. As a forensic nurse, you can work with patients in many different areas of treatment, from sexual assault and domestic violence victims to victims of natural disasters or other forms of trauma. Deciding which of these areas you wish to focus on will help you narrow your job search.
    • After a few years of working as a forensic nurse, you might decide that you want to become a certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). In order to become certified, you will take the Pediatric or Adolescent/Adult Sexual Assault Certification Examination.
    • The requirements for the exam vary from state to state. However, you will generally need to work as a forensic nurse for a few years before you can be approved to take this exam.
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    Consult your network. You should already have some experience working in a forensic nursing setting prior to getting your degree through your clinical rotations or your practicum experience. Use your connections from these experiences to look for jobs in your field.
    • Your professors and mentors in college or graduate school are also connected to the nursing community. Ask them for recommendations or job leads as your begin your career.
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    Use the internet. Check the job postings sections of local hospitals or health care facilities that you might be interested in working for. Many job ads for forensic nurses are also posted on forums like Indeed, Monster, Glassdoor, and LinkedIN.
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    Work in a hospital or medical facility. Many hospitals will need forensic nurses to be available in their emergency rooms to treat victims of crime or violent trauma. These positions will give you direct experience treating patients and their injuries while also analyzing their condition for evidence of a crime.
    • In these positions, you will often have to take photographs of the patient's wounds or injuries while also collecting blood and tissue samples.[7]
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    Take a position as a legal consultant. Some forensic nurses work more directly as private consultants for law firms or victim advocacy groups. By working as a legal consultant, you will help treat the patient, but also help the law firm build a case in favor of their client. You will generally need a couple years of experience working with trauma patients before you can take this kind of expertise-based position. [8]
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    Work with police or other local law enforcement groups. Many law enforcement groups will want to call in a forensic nurse to come to the scene of a crime or to help treat victims when they respond to calls.
    • While working with law enforcement, you might also be called on to investigate a death scene.[9]

Part 3
Staying Current in Your Field

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    Join the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). This professional organization is at the forefront of changes in the field of forensic nursing. Connecting with other forensic nurses in this group will help you grow in your knowledge of your field.
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    Keep your RN license current. There is no specific license or certification for forensic nursing, but you will need to keep your general RN license current according to the requirements of your state.
    • Generally, you will need to renew your license every 2-5 years, depending on your state's requirements. You will need to demonstrate a minimum number of contact hours, practicing hours, and you might also have to take a refresher course offered by your state's licensing board.
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    Mentor new nurses. Forensic nursing is a field that is still growing and defining its requirements. Strong mentorship is even more important in this context. As you advance in your career, consider supporting younger nurses who might want to do similar work.


  • Forensic nursing will require significant patience and compassion on your part. You will often be working with patients who are under extreme duress; they might not be able to clearly or quickly explain what has happened to them. Will you be able to support them in these instances?
  • Ask yourself how you respond to high-stress situations. Do you usually keep a cool head or do you panic? You will have to maintain a comforting and calm demeanor for your patients as a forensic nurse.
  • Do you have strong organizational skills? As a forensic nurse, you will have to be very methodical in your collection of evidence from the patient; you will also need to be able to clearly write reports of your findings as you will often be responsible for providing these materials to a court of law.
  • Consider your work-life balance. Because forensic nurses are often responding to violent crimes or disasters, you might not lead a typical 9-5 shift with predictable hours. Will you be able to work on this kind of schedule?

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