Nursing attracts talented and compassionate caretakers, but its true strength lies in its diversity of specialization. Earning a master’s degree in forensic nursing opens up career opportunities to support victims and healthcare workers. In addition, with a master’s of science degree (MSN) or certificate in forensic nursing, a registered nurse (RN) can advance their nursing and criminal justice skills and provide valuable services to vulnerable populations.
There are many pathways to becoming a forensic nurse, but one common way is to earn a master’s of science in forensic nursing degree or graduate certificate. MSN degree programs are designed for registered nurses (RNs) with bachelor’s degrees and may feature specialization tracks in forensic nursing. Forensic nursing certificate programs offer MSN degree-holders specialized training in working with victims, offenders, and even medicolegal investigation roles. This guide features online and on-campus master’s degree and certificate programs in forensic nursing.
No two forensic nursing positions are alike, but there is some career overlap after graduation. For example, Jessica Blahnik, MSN alumna of Cleveland State University’s online MSN program, currently works as a medical examiner and specializes in mass fatality preparedness as a Medical Examiner for Marathon Country, Wisconsin. According to Ms. Blahnik, “The [forensic nursing MSN] program offered a personalized focus on each student’s ideal population to enhance learning, combined with flexible courses being taught entirely online.”
Read on to learn more about online MSN degrees and graduate certificate programs in forensic nursing.
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Online certificate programs in forensic nursing degree programs typically admit candidates with MSN degrees who want to specialize in forensic nursing. Forensic nursing certificates may be offered as part of an MSN degree program or a stand-alone certificate. In addition, some certificate programs are available to BSN degree-holders.
Who should enroll in an online forensic nursing certificate program?
Any RN with an MSN or BSN degree who wants to specialize in forensic nursing while maintaining their current jobs should seek out an online forensic nursing certificate program.
Duquesne University in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, provides an online post-master’s certificate in nursing with six unique specializations, including forensic nursing. Graduates from this program pursue careers as forensic clinical nurse specialists, forensic corrections nurses, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), and forensic nurse death investigators.
This program is entirely online, with three start dates throughout the year. Applicants to this program must hold an MSN degree but do not need to pay an application fee or submit GRE scores.
Fitchburg State University in Massachusetts offers a 100 percent online graduate certificate in forensic nursing. This 21-credit program is designed for APRNs with a master’s degree in nursing to specialize in forensic nursing. Graduates from this program pursue careers in death investigation, legal nurse consultant, medicolegal investigation, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), and forensic mental health consultant.
Courses are offered in a two-year rotation. The program can be completed in as few as two years, and students have up to six years to finish.
The College of Nursing at Texas A&M University offers a fully online graduate certificate in forensic healthcare, preparing registered nurses to work with trauma victims. This 12-credit program includes four core courses and two hours of electives in foundations of forensic healthcare, victimology, the impact of violence across the lifespan, and forensic investigation of injury.
In addition, students submit an application, professional resume or CV, essay or personal statement, transcripts with an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher, and an interview with the admissions committee. The GRE nor the GMAT are required for admission to this program.
The University of California Riverside offers a fully-online 16-credit professional certificate in forensic nursing. Applicants to this program must have a bachelor’s degree, and the program is designed for newly graduated RNs and other licensed medical professionals who want to specialize in forensic nursing. In addition, this program provides continuing education credits for registered nurses in California.
Courses include forensic approaches to blunt forces and firearm injuries, sworn testimony for the healthcare specialist, occupational considerations in forensic nursing, and forensic nurse death investigation. Multiple start dates are offered throughout the year for convenience.
Forensic nursing degree programs are designed for RNs who want to earn advanced practice nursing degrees (APRNs). Admissions committees for online forensic nursing programs typically seek out RNs with bachelor’s degrees (BSN) and, in some cases, a minimum number of years of professional experience.
Who should enroll in an online forensic nursing degree program?
An ideal candidate for an online forensic nursing degree program is an RN who has experience or certificate coursework in forensic nursing and knows they want to work with patients identified as victims and offenders. Through these programs, RNs can increase their skills, experience, and earning potential by earning a degree while maintaining earning potential in their current jobs.
DeSales University in Center Valley, Pennsylvania, offers an MSN in forensic nursing with certification in investigative forensics. This program is coordinated across two departments: the division of nursing and the master of arts in criminal justice program. Students can attend classes on-campus or online in a hybrid format.
Applicants must have a baccalaureate degree in nursing from an ACEN- or CCNE-accredited institution with a GPA of 3.0 or higher, be an active RN, have 12 months of full-time experience, and a minimum of one year of experience as a practicing licensed registered nurse.
Duquesne University offers a fully online master’s of science in nursing (MSN) with a specialization in forensic nursing. The GRE nor an application fee is required to apply to this program and tuition discounts are available for military veterans and families.
This is a private Catholic school nursing program and has a long history of nursing education first: it was the first university in the U.S. to offer an online PhD in nursing in 1997 and the first university in Pennsylvania to grant a BSN (bachelor of science in nursing) in 1937.
Stevenson University offers an online master’s degree in nursing (MSN) with a concentration in forensic nursing. This 36-credit program prepares graduates with advanced nursing skills in treating patients and communities who have experienced trauma.
Students learn in cohorts with other working registered nurses, enabling working professionals to maintain employment while earning a master’s degree. Online courses are offered in six eight-week sessions and include advanced health assessment, foundations of justice, and socio-political and cultural influences on families, organizations, and communities.
On-campus certificate and degree programs in forensic nursing offer those with undergraduate or graduate degrees the opportunity to specialize in the field of nursing in person at a college or university. Most programs include didactic coursework, clinical experience, and the chance to sit for professional certification exams.
Binghamton University SUNY (State University of New York) offers a forensic health certificate for students with bachelor’s degrees. This nine-credit program is available to currently enrolled students; those seeking a stand-alone certification must apply to the graduate school.
All students take one required three-credit course titled forensic health of victims and choose two other courses with titles such as forensic health essentials, medicolegal death investigation, and forensic health of offenders.
DeSales University offers a post-master’s certificate in forensic nursing with a certificate in investigative forensics. Depending on an applicant’s previous coursework, this program requires nine to 12 courses and a minimum of 375 clinical hours.
This program is open to nurses with a graduate degree (e.g., MSN, FNP, NP) or higher (e.g., DNP). Graduates from this program are eligible to sit for SANE-A and SANE-P certification exams offered by the IAFN (see certification section below for more information).
Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is ranked in the top 100 in the U.S. News & World Report’s list of Best Nursing Schools for master’s degrees and offers several on-campus and online degree programs, including a certificate in forensic trends and issues in contemporary healthcare. This program is designed for bachelor’s degree holders who are providers and educators in health sciences and professionals who work with victims and offenders.
Drexel University also offers a hybrid emergency nurse practitioner post-master’s certificate for NPs wanting to work in emergency care. Upon completing this program, graduates are eligible to sit for the emergency nurse practitioner board certification exam offered by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP). Please see the section below for detailed information about certification for forensic nurses.
The School of Nursing at Cleveland State University offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN) with a specialization track in forensic nursing. Courses include theoretical foundations for population health, introduction to forensic nursing, and the legal system.
In addition, students must complete 500 hours of clinical hours in demography & epidemiology (100 hours), population assessment & intervention (200 hours), and capstone practicum (200 hours). Graduates from this program work as clinical forensic nurses, legal nurse consultants, forensic psychiatric and correctional nurses, and forensic nurse death investigators.
University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) offers several on-campus MSN programs with one-year subspecialty areas in advanced forensic nursing and emergency nurse practitioner. Ranked #13 by the U.S. News & World Report, these subspecialties require two courses in advanced forensic nursing and advanced nursing practice, which students can complete in two semesters.
In addition, UAB offers several on-campus master’s programs, including an accelerated master’s in nursing, MSN nurse practitioner pathway, MSN nursing health systems leadership, a post-graduate APRN certificate, and an RN to MSN pathway.
Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio, offers a master of science in nursing (MSN) with a forensic Students can complete this 36-credit program on-campus or online. This is an advanced degree program that intersects the fields of nursing and criminal justice and prepares graduates to serve as advocates for patients of all ages in clinical and courtroom settings.
Xavier University also offers a dual degree MSN/MSCJ (masters of science in criminal justice) program for aspiring forensic nurses who want in-depth experience and knowledge in both disciplines. Graduates from this program go on to pursue careers as forensic psychiatric nurses, legal nurse consultants, forensic gerontology specialists, forensic correctional nurses, forensic nurse death investigators, and certified Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE).
Accreditation is an essential factor to consider when researching academic degree programs. Aspiring forensic nurses should research colleges and universities thoroughly to ensure the institutions and professional programs they’re applying to hold programmatic (discipline-specific) and institutional (holistic evaluation) accreditation.
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) is recognized by the U.S. Secretary of Education and is the leading accrediting body dedicated to ensuring “the quality and integrity of baccalaureate, graduate, and residency/fellowship programs in nursing”. Nursing programs accredited by CCNE undergo a voluntary, self-assessment and self-regulatory process to ensure continuous growth and improvement in nursing degrees, including curriculum and clinical education.
Students seeking admission to all levels of nursing programs are advised to ensure their top-choice schools are CCNE-accredited. Students can find an up-to-date list of accredited programs and programs seeking accreditation on the CCNE website.
The Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) is an accrediting body for all levels of nursing programs in the United States. ACEN is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and accredits nursing programs at the certificate, undergraduate, graduate, doctoral, and clinical levels.
Institutional accreditation bodies verify that an entire school has met nationally-set standards of quality and excellence. A regional organization grants institutional accreditation for colleges and universities. Students who plan on applying for federal aid can only use loan money to attend schools that hold institutional accreditation.
The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), on behalf of the U.S. Department of Education, endorses these institutional accrediting bodies:
Certification may not be required for all positions but is highly recommended to verify professional abilities and bring awareness to forensic nursing. Read on to learn about two professional organizations offering forensic nursing certifications.
The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) is a global professional community and authority on forensic nursing. The IAFN “is the catalyst for universal access to forensic nursing care for patients impacted by violence and trauma.” In addition, the organization advocates for sexual assault awareness and sets standards for forensic nursing patient care in various clinical settings.
The IAFN offers two Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certifications:
SANE certification exams are offered twice yearly in April and September. Applicants are eligible to apply if they meet the following criteria:
The exams cost $275 for IAFN members and $425 for non-members in the U.S. and Canada. Exam fees for international members are $350 and $475 for non-members.
Certification is valid for three years, and in 2020, the IAFN awarded a record number of 393 renewal certifications.
For family nurse practitioners (FNPs), the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Program (AANPCP) offers certification exams, including the emergency nurse practitioner exam (ENP). This competency-based exam certifies an FNP’s skill sets in the domains of:
The ENP exam includes 150 questions of which 135 are competency-based, and 15 are ungraded pre-test questions. This certification verifies professional competencies and skills required for patient evaluation and care in emergency healthcare settings.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @racheldrummondyoga).