A forensic nurse is a Registered Nurse (RN) who specializes in the collection of evidence,
criminal proceedings, depositions and trial testimonies. The job of a forensic RN can
be particularly stressful. Evidence collection must be done with great care and detail
according to set procedures or it may be excluded in court or become contaminated.
Deposition and trial testimonies can also be stress-inducing as expert witnesses are
at times harshly treated by opposing attorneys. Confidence is key for a forensic RN
who may have his or her education, experience and expertise called into question during
depositions and testimonies. Forensic RNs must also be attentive to the patient, recognizing
that they have recently experienced an assault or injury which may cause trauma, grief or
Forensic Nurse Job Description
A forensic nurse can work in many different fields. Some forensic RNs work in the
hospitals, being available for evidence collection after sexual assaults or other
potential legal cases. They may also work as Life Care Planners, collecting and interpreting
future medical care recommendations for patients who have been catastrophically injured.
Many forensic RNs also work as expert witnesses, providing testimony during depositions
and trials. While some forensic RNs may work with the deceased, most work with living
patients. Many work nine to five hours during the week, but take calls in the evenings
and weekends to cover emergency cases. Time is of the essence with most evidence collection
so weekend, evening and holiday work may be required. Travel may be necessary to surrounding
hospitals or clinics. Unlike other nursing specialties, many forensic RNs work independently
and own their own businesses.
Forensic Nurse Training
Forensic RNs begin their careers earning an associate or bachelor degree in nursing.
Degree programs can be found across the country and range in length of study from two
to four years. Given the nature of forensic nursing, a bachelor degree is preferred
because it implies additional expertise. RNs must pass the NCLEX exam in order to become
licensed in their particular state. Most nursing programs do not include any course work
on forensic nursing. Some bachelor degree programs offer clinical rotations with community
nurse leaders in which it might be possible to precept with a forensic RN. Students
interested in this field should request an opportunity to work with a forensic nurse.
There are individual certifications for the various forensic nursing specialties.
Typically, nurses cannot practice as a forensic nurse without a certification. Most
specialties require between 40 to 120 additional hours of education, in addition to an
exam prior to awarding a certificate. Certification can be earned as a Life Care Planner,
Legal Nurse Consultant, and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner to name a few.
Forensic Nurse Salary
Salaries for forensic RNs vary widely based on specialty. Forensic nurses' salaries
ranged from $50,774 to $210,844 in 2012. Some forensic nurses command a higher rate of
pay for their expert opinion during testimony in depositions and trials where they may
charge $200 to $400 per hour. Forensic RNs who are on-call are often well-paid due to
commonly working more than 40 hours per week. While most types of forensic nurses need
to be certified to practice, those with multiple certifications may command a higher pay
rate. Additionally, those with more experience or with a specialized background, like
pediatrics, will be more highly paid.
Opportunities For Nursing Career Advancement
Forensic RNs can earn a master's degree or doctorate degree to advance their careers.
Graduate degrees do not necessarily need to be within the nursing field. They can retain
their nursing expertise and expand upon it with a degree in a complimentary field. Others
may choose to earn a graduate degree in nursing to advance their clinical practice, while
continuing to work in the forensic field. Forensic RNs with graduate degrees or advanced
training may be more sought after as expert witnesses than those without.
Forensic nursing can be an exciting and challenging career field. Forensic RNs aid
victims of assault, malpractice or other injury by collecting evidence, reviewing
medical records and forming expert opinions. Depending on the nurse's interests,
there are many different specialties to choose from in forensic nursing such as sexual
assault nurse, Life Care Planner and Legal Nurse Consultant. No matter what specialty
is chosen, forensic nurses must be compassionate and caring as they are interacting with
patients who have recently experienced a traumatic event or injury. Forensic RNs commonly
enjoy more autonomy and higher pay than many other nursing specialties. If helping people
who have been victims of injury or assault while working in a non-traditional setting
sounds intriguing, forensic nursing might be right for you!