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Becoming a Forensic Nurse Practitioner – Education, Certification & Salary

Forensic nurse practitioners (NPs) combine their expertise in nursing, forensics, and law, to play a crucial role in safeguarding the well-being of their patients while ensuring justice is served. They work in any setting where NPs are typically employed including primary care, mental health, women’s health, pediatrics, and acute care. Their specialized forensic knowledge and trauma-informed practices, helps ensure patients get the care they need at a very difficult time in their lives.

Forensic NPs are at the forefront of delivering comprehensive care to individuals who have experienced violence or victimization. Armed with advanced degrees in nursing, such as a master’s in nursing (MSN) degree, and a wealth of specialized training, these practitioners possess the knowledge and skills to address both acute and long-term health consequences associated with traumatic events. By providing immediate medical attention and ongoing support, forensic NPs aid in the healing process and fulfill a critical role in gathering evidence for legal proceedings.

A career as a forensic NP is well suited for individuals with a passion for justice, strong medical knowledge, attention to detail, empathy and compassion, good communication skills, critical thinking and problem-solving abilities, ethical conduct, and a willingness to continuously learn and adapt. These qualities allow forensic NPs to provide comprehensive care to victims of violence, gather and preserve evidence, collaborate with legal professionals, and contribute to a more equitable society.

Keep reading to discover what it takes to become a forensic NP, including educational requirements, certification, and average salaries.

Career Outlook for Forensic Nurse Practitioners

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2023) doesn’t differentiate forensic NPs from all NPs. Currently, all NPs are in high demand, and openings in this field are expected to grow 46 percent nationally between 2022 and 2032. This rate is much faster than the national average of 3 percent for all occupations. This increase will result in 118,600 new jobs for nurse practitioners in the coming decade.

Forensic NPs can join one of two professional associations. The first is the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) which includes NPs, registered nurses, and other healthcare professionals. They offer the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A) and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric/Adolescent (SANE-P) certification. The IAFN has over 6,000 members.

The second is the Academy of Forensic Nursing (AFN) which includes nurses, NPs, physicians, residents, physician’s assistants, psychologists, and other mental health providers. The AFN certification is through the Forensic Nursing Certification Board (FNCB).

Forensic Nurse Practitioner Salary Data – How Much Do Forensic Nurse Practitioners Make?

Forensic nurse practitioners earn wages that are much higher than the national average of $61,900 (BLS May 2022). At this time, the BLS doesn’t differentiate between nurse practitioner specializations. On average, NPs in the US earn $124,680 per year, with the following percentiles:

United States
Number employed 258,230
10th percentile $87,340
50th percentile (median) $121,610
90th percentile $165,240

ZipRecruiter (2023), an employment website, has more specific data for forensic NPs. They estimate that on average forensic NPs earn $131,543 per year. Location can be a significant factor in how much a forensic NP might earn. ZipRecruiter has identified the top 10 cities with the highest average salaries for forensic NPs. They are:

  • Federal Way, WA: $161,427
  • Santa Clara, CA: $158,117
  • San Francisco, CA: $157,177
  • Washington, DC: $154,746
  • Los Angeles, CA: $154,403
  • San Jose, CA: $152,941
  • Fremont, CA: $152,148
  • Kensington, NY: $151,407
  • Marysville, WA: $151,137
  • Oakland, CA: $150,970

How to Become a Forensic Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a forensic NP takes dedication to many years of school. Here are the typical steps professionals take to enter this field:

Step 1: Earn a High School Diploma or GED (Four Years)

Completing high school or earning a GED is the first step towards becoming a forensic NP. Students should focus on math and science classes to prepare them for additional studies.

Step 2: Earn a Nursing Degree (Two to Four Years)

All forensic NPs must first complete nursing school and become registered nurses (RNs). Students can choose to complete a two-year associate’s or four-year bachelor’s. A bachelor’s degree is highly recommended as it is required for most nurse practitioner degree programs.

Step 3: Obtain RN License (Timeline Varies)

After graduating nursing school, students will need to sit for the NCLEX-RN exam and apply to their state nursing board for licensing.

Step 4: Pursue NP Education (Two to Four Years)

To become an NP, RNs must complete a master’s of science or a doctor of nursing practice degree. These programs take two to four years depending on previous education and the level of education pursued. Most students complete a general NP degree and then pursue additional education and certification in forensics, such as the Advanced Practice Forensic Nursing Certificate at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center College of Nursing

Step 5: Obtain National Certification (Optional, Timeline Varies)

Professionals who want to stand out in this field can obtain optional certification through the Forensic Nurse Certification Board (FNCB) or the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN).

Forensic Nurse Practitioner Education and Experience Requirements

At a minimum forensic nurse practitioners must hold a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) degree, although a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) is highly recommended. Some MSN and DNP programs require that applicants have completed one to two years of work experience as an RN in order to be eligible for admission, although many programs do not have those requirements.

Certification as a forensic NP does have additional education and experience requirements. For example, the Advanced Forensic Nurse Certified (AFN-C) designation form the FNCB requires applicants to have 300 clinical hours and 12 credit-hours of forensic nursing coursework from an accredited nursing program or 90 continuing education hours.

Forensic Nurse Practitioner Tasks and Responsibilities

The duties and responsibilities of a forensic NP will vary based on their place of employment. Common locations include hospitals, sexual assault treatment centers, law enforcement agencies, correctional facilities, private practices, psychiatric clinics, and universities/research institutions. Typical duties for most forensic NPs will include:

  • Providing medical care by assessing and treating patients who have experienced violence or trauma, addressing both their immediate medical needs and long-term health consequences. This may involve performing physical examinations, collecting evidence, administering medications, and providing counseling or referrals to appropriate resources.
  • Collection, preservation, and documentation of forensic evidence from patients. This includes gathering samples, swabs, photographs, and other relevant evidence following standardized protocols and chain of custody procedures.
  • Maintaining thorough records of patient interactions, injuries, treatments provided, and evidence collected. They may also prepare reports, summaries, and expert witness testimony for legal proceedings.
  • Working closely with law enforcement, attorneys, and other legal professionals.
  • Collaborating in investigations, providing expert opinions, testifying in court, and assisting with interpreting medical findings for the legal system.
  • Supporting victims and survivors through emotional support, counseling, and resources. Addressing their physical and psychological needs, helping with safety planning, and connecting them with appropriate support services.
  • Engaging in community outreach and education programs to raise awareness about violence prevention, safety measures, and available resources. Conducting training sessions for healthcare professionals, law enforcement, and community organizations.
  • Participating in research studies and contributing to advancing forensic nursing practices. Advocating for policy changes, improved response systems, and increased access to care for victims within their communities or at a broader level.

Forensic Nurse Practitioner Professional Certification

Certification for forensic nurse practitioners is optional. However, it demonstrates a high level of competency in this field and may be required by employers. Obtaining certification can often help with employability as well as advancement opportunities. The two primary certifying agencies are the Forensic Nurse Certification Board (FNCB) or the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN).

The FNCB offers the Generalist Forensic Nurse Certified (GFN-C) and Advanced Forensic Nurse Certified (AFN-C) certifications. The eligibility requirements for the GFN-C include:

  • A bachelor’s in science in nursing degree
  • Current, active, and unencumbered nursing license
  • Either six credit hours of forensic nursing coursework or 60 continuing education hours in forensic nursing
  • One year of forensic nursing practice
  • At least 1000 forensic nursing practice within the five years before the date of application

To be eligible for the AFN-C certification, applicants must have:

  • A master’s or doctorate degree from a program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN)
  • Current, active, and unencumbered nursing license
  • Either 12 credit hours of forensic nursing coursework from an accredited nursing program and 300 clinical hours as part of the forensic nursing coursework or 90 continuing education hours and two years and 2,000 hours of practice as a forensic nurse

The IAFN also offers two certifications. They are Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner- Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A) and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner- Pediatric/Adolescent (SANE-P). Eligibility requirements include:

  • Current, active, and unencumbered nursing license
  • At least two years of work experience as an RN or NP for adult/adolescent or three years for pediatric/adolescent
  • Complete either an adult/adolescent or pediatric/adolescent sexual assault nurse examiner education program that grants a minimum of 40 hours of continuing nursing education contact hours from an accredited provider or educational institution or a combined adult/adolescent/pediatric sexual assault nurse examiner education program that grants a minimum of 64 hours of continuing nursing education from an accredited provider or educational institution
  • Complete a sexual assault nurse examiner clinical preceptorship
  • Have practiced as a sexual assault nurse examiner for a minimum of 300 hours within the past three years

Kimmy Gustafson

Kimmy Gustafson’s expertise and passion for investigative storytelling extends to the world of forensics, where she brings a wealth of knowledge and captivating narratives to readers seeking insights into this intriguing world. She has interviewed experts on little-known topics, such as how climate crimes are investigated and prosecuted, and has written for since 2019.

Kimmy has been a freelance writer for more than a decade, writing hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics such as startups, nonprofits, healthcare, kiteboarding, the outdoors, and higher education. She is passionate about seeing the world and has traveled to over 27 countries. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Oregon. When not working, she can be found outdoors, parenting, kiteboarding, or cooking.