Forensic nurses have a very important job. The men and women who are in this field help victims of crimes and the police with criminal investigations. The nurses are able to offer professional assistance for the investigations into assault and even accidental death. The work they do can help to collect and preserve evidence, which will assist with investigations and eventual prosecutions.
When it comes to forensic nursing, the majority of the time on the job will likely be spent in a hospital setting, often in an emergency room. The work can be chaotic, and can be mentally and emotionally draining. Helping victims of crimes during one of the most trying times in their life can be heartrending but has the potential to be rewarding as well.
Forensic nurses will spend time working with law enforcement, other nurses, and doctors, naturally. However, they will spend quite a large chunk of time working with actual victims, collecting evidence, speaking with them about their ordeal, and helping to encourage them. They may measure wounds, take photos, and take tissue or blood samples that can help in the investigation.
The 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics combines forensics nursing along with other forms of nursing. The actual outlook on the site looks quite good for nursing, as a growth rate of 26 percent for nursing in general is predicted between 2010 and 2020. This is faster than most of the other occupation fields, with an additional 711,900 jobs expected to be created in the field. Nursing is one of the fastest growing occupations. However, it is important to remember that this is for all areas of nursing. The number of jobs in forensic nursing is likely to be less, even though it is growing quickly. Still, the job opportunities in the forensic nursing field are likely to be quite robust for those who want to pursue the career path.
The International Association of Forensic Nurses is a professional organization for those in the field, and it offers a substantial amount of information about the field and the certifications that one can receive, such as board certification.
The top question that most people who are getting into the career will want to know is what the forensic nurse salary is. Again, the 2010 BLS report focuses on all nurses, but this can provide a good idea of the salary. The median wage for registered nurses in 2010 was $64,690 annually. Those in the lowest 10 percent earned as little as $44,190, while those in the top 10 percent earned as much as $95,130. One does need to remember that the salary is actually likely to vary based on a number of different things. The location of the job and the experience the nurse has are very important when determining the forensic nursing salary.
The first step to getting a job in the field is to obtain a degree in nursing. It is possible to get into the career with an ASN (Associate of Science in Nursing), or a BSN (Bachelor of Science in Nursing). Prospects will then have to receive their license to practice, and many go on to get certifications, which can help them in their career, as we will see later in the article. Those who get into the work will find there are actually a number of different specialties within the realm of forensic nursing that they may enter. For example, they are likely to be able to become a specialist in death investigation, sexual assault nursing, education, or even becoming an expert medical witness that will testify at trials.
Anyone entering forensic nursing should have a good idea of some of the skills he or she should have and develop. The field is very demanding. Nurses in the field need to be very detail oriented and have critical thinking skills, and they need to be full of compassion. They often work with people who are going through a traumatic time, so having compassion and patience is hugely important. Great communication skills are necessary as well, as the nurses are going to be communicating with other medical professionals, law enforcement, and victims of crimes.
All states require that registered nurses have a nursing license. Upon graduation from the nursing school, the nurse needs to take and pass the National Council Licensure Examination from the National Council of State Boards of Nursing. Becoming a Sexual Assault Nursing Examiner, or SANE, is a possibility upon certification, as well. The IAFN offers information on a number of different certificate programs, as does the American Nurses Credentialing Center, or ANCC. The forensic nurse can go back to school to receive a master’s degree focusing on forensics, or complete a certificate program in forensics.
Barry is Managing Editor of ForensicsColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Barry was previously VP for a financial software company, and currently sits on the board of a K-8 school and lives with his wife and daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.