How Do You Become a Forensic Nurse?

Forensic NursingIf you’re looking for an exciting, in-demand career that blends medicine with criminal justice, then you could be the perfect fit to become a forensic nurse. As a relatively new field, forensic nursing is an RN specialty that focuses on providing competent medical treatment while collecting physical evidence that can be used against criminals, according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses. Forensic nurses usually work in hospital emergency rooms, urgent care facilities, rape crisis centers, and forensic labs as the first responders helping law enforcement officers investigate crimes. A forensic nurse will be involved in documenting injuries, collecting fluid samples, taking photographs, measuring wounds, and giving expert testimony in court. The following is a step-by-step guide that should be followed for successfully becoming a forensic nurse.

Get an Undergraduate Nursing Degree

Before you can become a forensic nurse, you’ll first need to become an RN by earning your undergraduate degree in nursing. Depending on your state of residence, you may be allowed to practice with an Associate’s in Nursing degree (ADN). However, it’s often recommended that future forensic nurses attend a four-year college or university to acquire their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Not only will the bachelor’s degree develop a well-rounded nursing education, but it will also provide greater opportunity for hands-on practice in clinical rotations. You may want to supplement your BSN with a minor in criminal justice, forensic science, law enforcement, or legal studies too.

Start Practicing as a Registered Nurse

Next, all 50 states in the United States will require that you become a registered nurse to legally provide patient care in any medical setting. Specific requirements will vary, but most states mandate that RN candidates have an accredited degree, a certain number of supervised practice hours, and a passing score on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN). Once you pass with flying colors, you can start applying for open registered nursing positions. Many employers will only hire forensic nurses with two or more years of experience, so you may need to begin as a generalist staff nurse first. With time, you can move into the role of forensics to assess and treat traumatized victims of criminal acts.

Pursue Forensic Nursing Certification

Although not yet required, working towards professional certification in forensic nursing is advised to unlock new specialized training courses and job opportunities. Through the International Association of Forensic Nurses, there’s the option to become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) with 30 hours of advanced clinical training. You can elect to further specialize your career with Adults and Adolescents (SANE-A) or Pediatrics (SANE-P). The American Nurses Credentialing Center also recently created the Advanced Forensic Nursing Board Certified (AFN-BC) credential. You’ll need to hold RN licensure, have two years of full-time experience, possess at least 2,000 practice hours in forensic nursing, and pass a portfolio review process.

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Overall, forensic nursing was initially founded in 1992 to bridge the widening gap between healthcare services and law enforcement. Forensic nurses are placed in a high-stress position to collect evidence from potentially dangerous criminal offenders and provide medical support to emotionally distraught victims of violence. Although the road to become a forensic nurse isn’t easy or for the faint of heart, this career gives the rewarding opportunity for RNs to keep our communities safer and advocate for justice against crimes committed.