Rachel Drummond, MEd
Nursing is a career where professionals can count on brightening people’s day, easing their pain, and assisting them through challenging physical and mental situations. Indeed, there are occasional downsides, such as the long hours, stressful situations, and even some heartbreak, but nursing is generally considered a positive, even noble calling. Forensic nurses go beyond helping people with their general health and offer health services when a patient is most vulnerable or needs advocacy beyond their lifespan.
Throughout their careers, many veteran nurses pivot into roles as mentors, role models, and instructors in administering specific procedures, sharing insights into relating to patients, and interacting with patients in their most vulnerable moments. Nursing has a variety of career tracks that convey different levels of knowledge and specialized skills. Extra education and credentials can lead to higher pay and greater levels of responsibility.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2022), RNs earn an annual median pay of $77,600, and the number of RNs nationwide is expected to grow 6 percent between 2021 and 2031, considerably faster than average industry growth—the projected addition of 195,400 fresh openings nationwide. In addition, specialty positions like nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives and nurse practitioners can command even more money for their advanced credentials, including median pay of $123,780 annually and an expected 40 percent increase in openings around the U.S. during that same 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 beneficial as instructors or leaders and ultimately benefit patient care and the legal system. Forensic nurses can also use these credentials to qualify for career positions in the legal or healthcare fields, everything from a victim advocate to a risk management director, coroner, or sexual assault investigator. Students who have pursued this training can also learn to work with different populations, including staff and inmates at correctional facilities.
Some nursing forensic courses take place in traditional classrooms or clinical settings. Still, some training can be found online, which can help work professionals who may not be able to return to school full-time but are interested in acquiring the knowledge on their schedule.
Continue reading for more information about how an online master’s in forensic nursing can lead to a deeper understanding of the discipline and opportunities in nursing leadership.
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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 consists of a closer look at criminal law and science, including medical technology.
Courses include scientific foundations for forensic nursing interventions, caring for perpetrators, advanced pathopharmacology, and epigenetics. Students in this program must have a current RN license and personal and professional liability insurance. The program includes 420 clinical hours and 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 offers several degrees 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 along with a master’s in business, education, or criminal justice.
The online MSN forensic track includes 36 general nursing curriculum credits. Those interested in the forensic program can add another ten credits with courses including sociology of crime and delinquency, psychological, social, and legal aspects of forensics, and interprofessional collaboration. 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. In addition, student nurses learn how their profession interacts with law enforcement and court systems.
SPC students can take courses through Cleveland State University’s School of Nursing through a University Partnership program, including its master of nursing specialized populations program. Courses include nursing research, legal system, and crisis theory.
Master of Science Nursing/Advanced Forensic Subspecialty, University of Alabama at Birmingham
Students in the 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 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. In addition, courses include medical examiner certification, office gynecology procedure training, and certified nurse education.
Master’s of Science Forensic Specialization, Duquesne University School of Nursing
The MSN program at this private Catholic university includes 24 credits covering a variety of legal and medical foundations, emphasizing leadership and expertise. This is followed by 15 credits of forensic specialization, which provides 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.
Courses include criminal law and the courts, forensic science and the legal system, clinical prevention, and population-based health promotion. Graduates from this program are ready to take the SANE (sexual assault nurse examiner) exam.
Master of Science Nursing, Forensics, Monmouth University
This hybrid and online program aims 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, which looks at abuse, death, assault, or activity in correctional facilities.
Courses include Interpersonal Violence, medicolegal death, pharmacology for advanced nursing, pathophysiology, and histology. Graduates from this program are eligible to take the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) exam.
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. 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 specialized skills. These include clinical forensic nursing, which covers sexual assault care, observation, evidence gathering, and testifying as a legal nurse expert.
Other specializations include forensic psychiatry nursing, which provides care for inmates, witnesses, and family members to evaluate competency, and death investigation, which works with law enforcement to collect evidence and testify about crimes. In addition, courses include evidence-based practice, forensic methodologies, and population assessment.
Master of Science Nursing, Forensic Nursing, Aspen University
This 36-credit program allows students to connect with law enforcement and help the greater good, whether it’s investigating, teaching, analyzing, or leading. Programs discuss legal testifying and consulting, working with corrections departments, reducing community violence, learning about sexual crime, and performing sexual assault examinations. Courses include legal and ethical issues in healthcare, advanced corrections, and advanced pharmacology.
Master of Science in Nursing – Forensic Nursing, Oakland University
The forensic nursing program at Oakland University is the first and only FN program in Michigan. The curriculum emphasizes interprofessional education related to the diverse roles and responsibilities of the forensic nurse. Graduates are prepared to serve as leaders in forensic nursing. The forensic nursing track is a 39-credit, 28-month plan of study that culminates in an MSN degree. The program includes coursework in forensic nursing concepts, advanced forensic sciences, and clinical practicum experiences.
Master of Science in Nursing – Forensic Nursing, DeSales University
The MSN in forensic nursing with certification in investigative forensics program prepares graduates for employment in investigative forensic positions found throughout the legal system, health system, and other organizations.
The program offers full- and part-time options through an online, in-class, or hybrid format, and provides clinical opportunities at hospitals and care facilities. Upon graduation, graduates can apply for the SANE-A and SANE-P certifications from the International Association of Forensic Nurses.
Forensic nursing certificate programs offer several advantages to those with master’s degrees. First, a certificate program is more affordable than investing in a second master’s degree. These programs can be completed in a fraction of the time and focus exclusively on forensic nursing. Students opting for these programs can take courses specializing in forensic nursing, such as sexual assault or death investigations. Most programs are nine to 24 credits and can be completed in approximately one year.
Here is a list of colleges and universities that offer online forensic nursing certificates, many of which share coursework with the aforementioned MSN programs.
The following instructors are renowned for their forensic nursing expertise.
Dr. Muna Bhattarai is a registered nurse in Texas and Nepal and a certified rehabilitation counselor. She has a PhD in Rehabilitation Counselor Education from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and is currently a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas A&M School of Nursing.
Her research interests include mental health and well-being of people with disabilities, psychosocial adaptation following disabilities, mindfulness, resilience, self-efficacy, and coping. Dr. Bhattarai teaches courses in mental health, evidence-based practice, health promotion, and positive psychology.
Dr. Patricia 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 various 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. Kathleen Sekula helped develop the school’s master of science program and now heads the forensic nursing program. She received her RN in 1964 and continued pursuing more advanced credentials while 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.
The process of being accepted into an online master of science program varies by institution. Still, generally, candidates need a blend of professional experience in nursing plus solid academic credentials. Applications may request:
Nurses seeking advanced skills are encouraged to ensure 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 nationwide.
The nursing profession has developed its standards and accreditation process, and the Commission recognizes many schools 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, employment resources, and certification, including Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) credentials.
Rachel Drummond, MEd
Rachel Drummond has given her writing expertise to ForensicsColleges.com since 2019, where she provides a unique perspective on the intersection of education, mindfulness, and the forensic sciences. Her work encourages those in the field to consider the role of mental and physical well-being in their professional success.
Rachel is a writer, educator, and coach from Oregon. She has a master’s degree in education (MEd) and has over 15 years of experience teaching English, public speaking, and mindfulness to international audiences in the United States, Japan, and Spain. She writes about the mind-body benefits of contemplative movement practices like yoga on her blog, inviting people to prioritize their unique version of well-being and empowering everyone to live healthier and more balanced lives.