Nursing is a profession integral to the practice of medicine. Nursing professionals perform various essential tasks in their daily work, including patient assessment and treatment, medication management, facilitation of collaborative relationships, and patient advocacy.
Nursing professionals interested in working on behalf of individuals harmed by violence, abuse or disasters can do so by acquiring additional skills to become forensic nurses. A forensic nurse is a registered or advanced practice nurse with special education and training.
Individuals seeking to become forensic nurses may come from several backgrounds. They may be RNs, LVN/LPNs, physician assistants, a SANE-certified nurse, or a licensed paramedic. Nurses who enjoy working as advocates for historically marginalized, underserved, or vulnerable populations such as children, the elderly, women, and victims of domestic violence may find a career as a forensic nurse to be especially appealing.
Forensic nursing is a nursing practice that typically incorporates the bio-psycho-social education typical of a professional nurse, the forensic aspects of healthcare, and disciplinary knowledge from major systems such as the legal, criminal justice, and welfare systems. Forensic nurses typically do not practice separately from other forms of medicine but instead integrate their skills into various work environments. Such nurses care for patients experiencing acute, short-term, and long-term health consequences.
Patients may be both perpetrators and victims of abuse and violence, including intimate partner violence, child neglect and abuse, and elder neglect and abuse. One particularly critical skill set a forensic nurse may use is collecting and preserving evidence associated with different criminal or violent incidents. Such evidence may prove vital in the ultimate outcome of legal actions to respond to such incidents.
Given the scope of their skills, forensic nurses may hold several duties such as patient assessment and treatment, evidence collection, consultation and testimony for civil and criminal proceedings, and advocacy within larger systems such as correctional and legal systems. The advanced training many forensic nurses possess equips them to effectively work in any number of settings, including hospitals, community anti-violence programs, coroner and medical examiner offices, correctional institutions, and psychiatric hospitals.
The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) is recognized as an authority on forensic nursing. The active practitioners among IAFN members work in many roles in both the private and public sectors. They treat victims of violence and abuse, advocate for policy change, influence the conceptualization and execution of related research, and may serve in influential government positions.
IAFN itself both defines and drives a research agenda designed to enhance the role of forensic nursing in meeting the needs of the populations this specialized profession serves. IAFN also influences standards of care and serves as a centralized information clearinghouse for forensic nursing professionals seeking information exchange, inspiration and continued education.
IAFN also plays a critical role in certification. Though certification is not a universal requirement for forensic nursing positions, certification is often interpreted as demonstrating a nurse’s ongoing commitment to professionalism and continued education. It is beyond the scope of this page to elaborate upon the large number of certifications and their related requirements that may prove of value to the forensic nursing profession.
However, one practice area of particular importance is domestic violence and assault. IAFN offers a certification valued by forensic nurses who wish to work as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs). Details of the educational and certification requirements necessary to become a practicing SANE can be found on the IAFN website.
Please note the programs listed below have varying admissions requirements. While many require a master’s in nursing, some only require the completion of an undergraduate degree.
Certificate in Forensic Nursing and Investigative Forensics, DeSales University
Students with a graduate nursing degree are eligible to complete a post-graduate certificate in forensic nursing at DeSales University. This program also offers students the opportunity to become certified in investigative forensics. Accepted students craft an individualized plan of study with the assistance of the Program Coordinator. The program consists of 29 to 39 total credits of study and a minimum of 375 clinical hours and can typically be completed in two years.
Upon completing 2,000 required practice hours within their specialization, certificate graduates are eligible to take the Advanced Forensic Nursing certification the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) offers. Students can also apply for SANE-A and/or SANE-P certification after completing related requirements.
Certificate in Forensic Nursing, Duquesne University
Duquesne University holds the distinction of creating one of the first forensic nursing programs in the United States. Forensic nursing faculty have worked as innovative leaders in online education since the early 2000s. This certificate program offers a multidisciplinary approach designed to produce graduates skilled in policy advocacy, care of diverse populations, collaboration across disciplines, and evidence-based practice. In addition, the program trains graduates to sit for the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification exam.
Forensic Nursing Certificate, East Tennessee State University
East Tennessee State University offers a forensic nurse certificate program built off a foundation of SANE training. This program, designed to accommodate the needs of working professionals, can be completed in as little as two semesters. Part-time students can complete one course per semester and ultimately complete the program in two years.
Courses provide students the skills to effectively partner with healthcare providers, the criminal justice system, and social service entities to provide effective care for their patients. Admission requirements include a baccalaureate degree and at least 41 hours of IAFN SANE-A training.
Certificate in Forensic Nursing, Fitchburg State University
Fitchburg State University offers a 21-credit program that can be completed in as little as two years. Students develop knowledge from various disciplines within the sciences and humanities to provide patient-centered care, strategize and implement initiatives to improve healthcare system performance, and policy advocacy.
Graduates will experience a broadened range of employment opportunities. They may ultimately work in positions with titles such as death investigator, legal nurse consultant, advocate, risk management specialist, and forensic nurse hospital-based expert.
Certificate in Nursing Forensics, Pennsylvania State University
Pennsylvania State University offers a 12-credit undergraduate certificate in nursing forensics. Students interested in further career development can use six of these 12 credits as elective credits toward the Penn State online RN-to-BSN degree requirements.
Successful graduates hold specialized skills in injury identification, evaluation and documentation, and evidence preservation. Such skill allows graduates to make vital contributions as advocates for victims of violence as these individuals interact with the criminal justice system.
Certificate in Forensic Healthcare, Texas A&M University
The Texas A&M University School of Nursing offers a graduate forensic healthcare certificate. This program is designed to provide registered nurses with the knowledge and skills to care and advocate for victims of violence.
Applicants must be registered nurses with a bachelor of science in nursing and an active, unencumbered RN license. This 12-credit program consists of ten credits derived from four core courses and two hours of elective coursework.
Professional Certificate in Forensic Nursing, University of California Riverside
The University of California Riverside offers a professional certificate in forensic nursing through its University Extension of Professional Studies. Coursework includes topics such as death investigation, correctional nursing, forensic psychiatry, and clinical forensic nursing. This 16-credit program is designed for registered nurses, LVNs, LPNs, and other licensed medical professionals. The program can typically be completed in nine to fifteen months.
Bernd Geels is a Berlin, Germany-based freelance writer and artist. He holds an undergraduate degree in atmospheric science and two graduate degrees. He completed his most recent graduate degree in international environmental studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies in 2011. He is interested in healthcare, climate change, marine conservation, indigenous science, and refugee issues. You can reach him directly at [email protected].