Nursing is a career where professionals can count on brightening people’s day, easing their pain and assisting them through difficult physical and mental situations. Certainly there are occasional downsides such as the long hours, stressful situations, and even some heartbreak, but it’s generally considered a positive, even noble calling for men and women. There is also part of the nursing profession that can go beyond assisting one’s fellow man, woman or child: the opportunity to help other nurses do their jobs better. Many veteran nurses enjoy serving as mentors, role models and instructors in how to administer certain procedures, along with sharing insights into relating to patients and making them feel better when they’re at their worst. The nursing profession has a variety of career tracks that convey different levels of knowledge and specialty skills. Extra education and additional credentials can potentially lead to higher pay plus greater levels of responsibility.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Oct. 2017), RNs earn an annual median pay of $68,450, and the number of RNs nationwide is expected to grow 15 percent between 2016 and 2026, considerably faster than average industry growth—the projected addition of 437,000 fresh openings nationwide. Specialty positions like nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners can command even more money for their advanced credentials, including median pay of $107,460 annually, and an expected 31 percent increase in openings around the U.S. during that same time period.
One subject area that may attract nurses wanting to learn more is the study of forensics, which blends advanced nursing instruction with detailed knowledge of science and law. Nurses with knowledge of forensic topics can be especially useful as instructors or leaders, and can ultimately benefit patient care and the legal system. These credentials can also be used to qualify for career positions in the legal or health care arenas, everything from a victim advocate to a risk management director to a nurse/coroner to a sexual assault investigator. Students who have pursued this area of training can also learn to work with different populations, including staff and inmates at correctional facilities.
Some nursing forensic courses take place in traditional classroom or clinical settings, but some training can be found online, which can be useful for working professionals who may not be able to return to school full-time but are interested in acquiring the knowledge on their own schedule.
Continue reading for more information about how an online master’s in forensic nursing can lead to a deeper understanding of the discipline, as well as opportunities in leadership and management.
Master of Science Forensic Nursing, Fitchburg State University
Students in this 39-credit online program go beyond their previous nursing experience and training by learning more advanced topics and theories. This includes how to work with different populations, as well as how to build proficiency in other aspects of the profession. The forensic focus includes a closer look at criminal law and science, including medical technology. Students are required to complete a research project as well. The program can be a prerequisite for students wanting to earn certification from the Advanced Forensic Nurse Board.
Master of Science Nursing, Forensic Track, Xavier University
Xavier’s School of Nursing has a wide selection of options for nurses, all the way up to a doctor of nursing practice degree plus dual-degree programs where students can earn their master’s in nursing simultaneously as they earn a master’s in business, education, or criminal justice. The online program includes 26 credit hours of general nursing curriculum, and those interested in the forensic program can add another ten credits. Students learn to integrate their nursing experience with other healthcare systems and the criminal justice system, recognize abuse and crime, and discuss the scientific process of investigating trauma and death.
Master of Science, Forensic Nursing, St. Petersburg College
Students who are already nurses can receive additional training in working with victims, suspects, and convicted criminals, along with learning methods to investigate trauma, violence, and death. Student nurses learn how their profession interacts with law enforcement, law and court systems. Through a University Partnership program, SPC students can take courses through Cleveland State University’s School of Nursing, including its master of nursing specialized populations program.
Master of Science Nursing/Advanced Forensic Subspecialty, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Students in the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program who want to work with different populations and settings than traditional nurses can consider this subspecialty. Advanced forensic nurses learn how to evaluate and diagnose patients and their families who have been involved in physical, mental or emotional trauma, including providing physical exams, putting together therapeutic plans, and consulting with other medical and legal resources. The program requires at least one specialty track, such as nurse practitioner for different patient types, plus at least one three-credit subspecialty such as palliative care, oncology, or emergency.
MSN, Forensic Specialization, Duquesne University School of Nursing
The MSN program at this private Catholic university includes 24 credit hours covering a variety of legal and medical foundations, with an emphasis on leadership and expertise. This is followed by 15 hours of a forensic specialization, which includes further information about the court system, policy creation, and general practice. Students emphasize being able to work independently, as part of a multi-disciplinary group or heading a program.
Master of Science Nursing, Forensics, Monmouth University
The goal of this online program is to create future leaders in the world of nursing, whether they want to be administrators, instructors, or work in law enforcement/legal capacities. The 36- to 48-credit program helps connect nurses with members of the legal professions, and helps them focus on areas such as care management, which looks at legal/policy topics; and interpersonal violence, that looks at abuse, death, assault, or activity in correctional facilities.
Master of Science, Forensic Nursing, Cleveland State University
With a focus on integrating nursing principles with other disciplines, this 34-credit program presents a bigger picture of available career opportunities, especially in legal and law enforcement fields. The forensic track is one of several available within the master of science in nursing program, and within it are several sub-tracks for even more specialty skills, including clinical forensic nursing, which covers sexual assault care, observation and evidence gathering; legal nurse consultation, which can involve testifying about healthcare issues and becoming a legal expert; forensic psychiatry nursing, which can provide care for inmates, witnesses and family members to evaluate competency; and death Investigation, which is working with law enforcement to collect evidence and testify about crimes.
Master of Science Nursing/Forensic Nursing, Aspen University
This 36-credit program focuses on providing students with opportunities to connect with law enforcement and help the greater good, whether it’s investigating, teaching, analyzing or leading. Programs discuss topics like legal testifying and consulting, working with corrections departments, reducing community violence, learning about sexual crime, and performing sexual assault examinations.
Forensic Certificates are also available online from:
The process of being accepted into an online master of science program varies by particular institutions, but generally candidates need a blend of professional experience in nursing plus solid academic credentials. Applications may request:
Nurses seeking advanced skills are encouraged to make sure a program follows current educational standards. Many schools receive accreditation from entities recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which is part of the U.S. Department of Education and includes six regional councils through the country.
However, the nursing profession has also developed its own standards and accreditation process, and many schools are recognized by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), which is part of the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.
The International Association of Forensic Nurses also provides continuing education plus employment resources and certification, including sexual assault examination training.
The following instructors are renowned for their forensic nursing expertise.
Dr. Sheridan began his academic career by studying journalism in the 1970s, but went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a master’s degree as a clinical nurse specializing in psychiatry/mental health. Today, he teaches a variety of classes at the school’s College of Nursing, including forensics, abuse assessment, violence prevention and assessing for abuse. His research includes how to use alternate light sources to identify subdermal bruising, sexual assault, and abuse/neglect of elders or people with disabilities. He also is active in several national and international forensic nursing associations.
Dr. Speck is the program director for the school’s global outreach program, an associate professor, and a working family practitioner. She’s considered an international expert in public health and forensic nursing. Her experience has included curriculum development and policy creation for nursing programs in a variety of countries. She has also responded to violence and health concerns in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. Topics of interest include global health, sexual assault, domestic violence and health disparities.
Dr. Sekula helped develop the school’s master of science program and now heads the forensic nursing program. She received her RN in 1964 and has continued to pursue more advanced credentials along with teaching undergraduate and graduate students. Her focus has been psychiatric mental health, which led her to develop the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner training program for nurses, which has helped reduce the rate of violence against nurses. She is part of the board of the International Association of Forensic Nurses.