If you already are working as a registered nurse and have an interest in protecting the welfare and health of others, you may want to consider training to become a forensic nurse examiner. As such, you will continue to work in nursing, but will learn to recognize and document the signs of abuse and violence that could be used to prosecute a criminal in a courtroom. As well, you could use your forensics skills to help in numerous other types of situations. These can include in the aftermath of mass disasters, in child abuse and neglect cases, corrections, domestic violence, elder abuse, and more.
As a forensic nurse, you’ll help to bridge the gap between the healthcare field and the courtroom. You’ll gain specific training, often through advanced certifications or graduate degree programs. The website of the International Association of Forensic Nurses contains a wealth of information about the field, including educational events and webinars, sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) training, and a career center. Most often, registered nurses do seek their SANE certification or a master’s or advanced degree in forensic nursing to be eligible to advance in the field.
Forensic nurse examiners can be registered nurses who have completed their SANE certification or who have even obtained an advanced degree. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, job opportunities for registered nurses are expected to grow by 26 percent from 2010 to 2020. This job growth is considered to be faster than average compared with the job growth for all occupations. In general, the BLS predicts that registered nurses who have at least a bachelor’s degree will find better job prospects that those without one.
The BLS notes that the median annual wages for registered nurses in the U.S. were $65,470 as of May 2012. However, some registered nurses earned as little as $45,040 while others earned as much as $94,720. The website indeed.com indicates that, as of December 2013, sexual assault nurse examiners working in the U.S. earned an average salary of $55,000 while salaries for forensic nurse examiners were listed at $60,000. Pay will also vary by state with the BLS showing that registered nurses, although not forensic nurse examiners specifically, earned the most in the states of California, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Alaska, and Oregon. Pay will also depend on the skills required for the job. Some positions may only seek registered nurses who are SANE certified while others may look for people who have advanced to the level of nurse practitioner, which typically requires a master’s degree.
Students wanting to pursue a career in the field of forensic nursing most often gain experience, and an interest, by working in an emergency room setting, in a crisis clinic, a women’s health or pregnancy facility, or similar environment. Most often they need to have at least two years of experience, and SANE certification can be an asset.
However, a variety of schools do offer educational programs to help nurses and other professionals enter this field. These include the University of California, Riverside, which offers a 16-unit online certificate in forensic nursing that trains registered nurses, licensed vocational nurses, and even paramedics to be able to properly identify and collect evidence so that it holds up in a court of law. Students also learn about violence and its intersection with agencies such as criminal justice and law enforcement departments.
Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, Pa., provides a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree in forensic nursing. Students take 20 credits of core nursing courses as well as 18 credits of specialty courses that include Advanced Practice Forensic Nursing, Theories of Violence and Trial Preparation and Clinical Law. The degree is available online, although nurses are required to come to campus to complete clinical laboratory work for one of the courses. As well, Xavier University, in Cincinnati, provides a MSN with a forensics track to help prepare students for occupations such as forensic psychiatric nurse, nurse coroner, and sexual assault nurse examiner. The courses in the forensics track are an additional 10 semester hours on top of the 26 semester hours required for the MSN program. Boston College offers a post-master’s specialty in forensic nursing. This 10-credit program features courses such as Forensics I and Forensics II as well as a Forensics Lab and SANE and Forensic Nursing Practicum.
You could seek any number of certificates that are helpful to entering the forensic nurse examiner field. SANE certification is given to nurses who have completed coursework specifically involving treatment in sexual assault and abuse cases. Requirements to become SANE certified vary by state, so it may be best to contact your state board of nursing. As a minimum, typically, at least 40 hours of classroom training and 40 hours of clinical training are required.
SANE coursework is offered through many different schools. The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs and the University of Iowa are among the schools offering SANE training. Many jurisdictional agencies, such as departments of public health and attorney generals offices, may also offer courses, and the certification is available for nurses working with adults/adolescents (SANE-A) as well as those working with children (SANE-P).
The American College of Forensic Examiners Institute also offers a Certified Forensic Nursing (CFN) certificate. To become eligible, you must be a registered nurse, become a member of the American College of Forensics Examiners, have at least three years of nursing experience, and then sit for the exam. If passed, CFNs are expected to complete 15 hours of forensic-related continuing education units each year to maintain their certification. Finally, the American Nurses Credentialing Center offers Advanced Forensic Nursing-Board Certified (AFN-BC) certification. Application for this certification is mostly portfolio based, but candidates must also have a graduate degree in forensic nursing and have completed at least 2,000 hours in the field within the past three years.
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.