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. These professionals learn how to recognize and document the signs of abuse and violence that could be used to prosecute a criminal in a courtroom. Additionally, one’s forensics skills can aid in 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.
Forensic nurses help to bridge the gap between the healthcare field and the courtroom. They 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 who aspire to become forensic nurse examiners 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 (BLS 2020), job opportunities for registered nurses are expected to grow by 7 percent from 2019 to 2029. This job growth is considered to be faster than average compared with the job growth for all occupations in the same timeframe (4 percent). In general, the BLS predicts that registered nurses who have at least a bachelor’s degree will find better job prospects than those without one.
The BLS (May 2019) notes that the mean annual salary for registered nurses in the U.S. was $77,460. However, registered nurses in the 10th percentile earned $52,080 or less, while those in the 90th percentile earned $111,220 or more. The median (50th percentile) pay was $73,300.
Pay also varies by state, with the BLS showing that registered nurses, although not forensic nurse examiners specifically, earned the most in the states of California, Hawaii, Alaska, Washington DC, and Oregon. Pay also depends 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 by working in an emergency room setting, in a crisis clinic, a women’s health or pregnancy facility, or a 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 (sponsor) 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 an 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 ten semester hours on top of the 26 semester hours required for the MSN program.
One can seek professional certification to demonstrate expertise and enter 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 offers a 12-credit graduate certificate in forensic nursing. All students take the required course Practice Paradigms in Forensic Nursing and choose three of four offered courses in healthcare policy and ethics, substance abuse, multi-facets of child maltreatment, and the epidemic of sexual assault, abuse, and exploitation. The University of Iowa offers a SANE program online which is divided into two parts: 40 hours of self-directed online clinical courses and a two-day on-campus live training session in Iowa City. As well, 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 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. This credential can be renewed every five years provided the applicant has met the renewal requirements.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).