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Forensic Nursing Certificates & Certifications

Chanel Miller, formerly known as Emily Doe in a high-profile sexual assault case at Stanford University in 2015, says of the nurses who treated her, “My clothes were confiscated and I stood naked while the nurses held a ruler to various abrasions on my body and photographed them. The three of us worked to comb the pine needles out of my hair, six hands to fill one paper bag. To calm me down, they said it’s just the flora and fauna, flora and fauna.”

Forensic nursing is an emerging field that is growing due to the increased number of sexual assault victims and survivors coming forward in the wake of the #metoo movement started by activist and community organizer Tarana Burke. As the title suggests, forensic nurses work with law enforcement and other legal professionals to provide medical care and support to victims of crime, including sexual assault and murder.

Who can become a forensic nurse? Registered nurses (RNs) and advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) can pursue a forensic nursing career through an educational certificate program or a professional certification. Colleges and universities offer academic certificate programs, while professional organizations provide certification training.

Once a university certificate program is complete, graduates can take a certification exam, such as the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) exam, which allows credential holders to specialize in adult, adolescent, or pediatric patients. To maintain certification, credential holders must complete continuing education credits every three years.

Forensic nurses work in various environments such as hospitals, clinics, law enforcement agencies, or private practice. Regardless of where they practice, forensic nurses provide a vital service to the justice system and play an essential role in investigating and prosecuting sexual assault crimes that often go unreported.

Pursuing forensic nursing is a great career option for nurses looking to specialize in a field that integrates the disciplines of healthcare and law. Read on for details on the differences between forensic nursing certificate programs and certificates, including a side-by-side comparison chart and information about educational and professional programs.

What’s the Difference Between Forensic Nursing Certificates & Certifications?

While forensic nursing certificates and certifications are similar, they are separate in many ways. Simply put: forensic nursing certificates are educational programs, and forensic nursing certifications are professional credentials.

Forensic Nursing Certificate Programs

Forensic nursing certificate programs are educational programs offered by colleges and universities. The first step to becoming a certified forensic nurse is completing an accredited nursing program at the BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) or MSN (master of science in nursing) and passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Forensic nursing programs are typically offered at the graduate level, but many universities also offer undergraduate programs, which are featured below.

For example, Drexel University offers an online certificate program in forensic trends and issues in contemporary healthcare. This post-baccalaureate certification is for healthcare providers and educators who work with victims and offenders in healthcare agencies. Admission is open to anyone with a bachelor’s degree and takes one year to complete.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,355 per credit

Forensic Nursing Certification Programs

On the other hand, forensic nursing certifications are credentials that nurses can earn once educational certificates and degrees are complete. Nurses can enroll in an accredited forensic nursing certification training program with two years of nursing experience and a current RN or APRN license. Most programs offer 40 to 60 hours of didactic training that culminates in a certification exam. To maintain certification, nurses must complete continuing education requirements and recertify every three years.

One of the most common certification programs is the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) offered by the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). The IAFN offers two credentials: SANE-A for adults and adolescents and SANE-P for pediatric patients.

To qualify for certification, nurses must complete a 40-hour didactic course and a clinical preceptorship, and have 200 to 300 documented hours of SANE-related clinical practice. Healthcare organizations and universities offer certification programs. Some BSN and MSN programs include SANE certification in their curriculum.

An example of a SANE certification program is Duquesne University’s online Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner adult and adolescent program, which results in a SANE-A credential. This program is available for currently enrolled and not currently enrolled students.

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Duration: One year
  • Accreditation: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Tuition: $1,568 per credit

In short: forensic nursing certificate programs require one to two years of college or university courses, while forensic nursing professional certification requires a 40-hour training program and a few years of forensic nursing experience.

Read on for a side-by-side comparison chart of educational programs that offer forensic nursing certificates and how they differ from professional forensic nursing certification programs.

Side-by-Side Comparison: Forensic Nursing Certificates & Certifications

Forensic Nursing Certificates Forensic Nursing Certification
Time to completion 12 to 15 months 40 hours
  • Post-baccalaureate undergraduate certificate in forensic nursing
  • Post-master’s graduate certificate in forensic nursing
  • SANE-A
  • SANE-P
  • Nurse Certified (AFN-C™)
  • Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC®)
Sample programs

Drexel University – post-baccalaureate certificate

Penn State University – post-master’s certificate

Fitchburg State University – graduate certificate

Duquesne University – SANE-A

University of California Riverside – professional certificate

Michigan State University – SANE

Accreditation Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Certifying organizations Not applicable; however, some MSN programs with forensic nursing concentrations include prerequisite coursework and clinical hours required for professional certification.

International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) – SANE-A & SANE-P credentials

Academy of Forensic Nurses (AFN) – Nurse Certified (AFN-C™) credential

American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants (AALNC) – Legal Nurse Consultant Certified (LNCC®) credential

Who should enroll
  • BSN or MSN degree holders
  • Registered n[urses (RNs) or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)
  • BSN or MSN degree holders
  • Registered nurses (RNs) or advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs)
  • Those with a minimum of 300 hours in sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) experience
Years of experience required to apply
  • Post-bachelor’s certificate programs: some nursing experience from a BSN program.
  • BSN programs: no previous experience required.
  • Post-master’s graduate programs: one year or less of previous experience.
  • MSN programs: typically, one year of RN experience is required.
  • Two to three years of forensic nursing experience to qualify for the exam
Clinical hour requirements Varies for each program 200-300 hours before the credential exam

$11,000 to $24,000 total, depending on residency status and undergraduate or graduate program.

$275 to $475, depending on membership and country of residence.
Renewal Not applicable; however, colleges and universities may offer continuing education courses required for SANE certification renewal.

Requirements vary, but most organizations require credential holders to:

  • Renew every three years
  • Prove a minimum number of clinical hours experience
  • Gain continuing education
  • Pay a fee

Rachel Drummond, MEd

Rachel Drummond has given her writing expertise to 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.