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Is Forensic Nursing Right for You?

From CSI to Dexter to Bones, the number of television shows and movies that portray forensic work seem to be endless. (Remember Silence of the Lambs?) But what about forensic nursing? Well, like most things, it’s not exactly the same as what you see in popular culture. What is true is that forensic nursing is a fast-growing career option or subspecialty that is perfect for people who are interested in caring for patients who are victims of violent crime, abuse, domestic violence, or neglect.

It’s at the intersection of the medical field and the legal system and can include collecting evidence for  a criminal prosecution. However, it’s also about caring for living victims of a crime, as opposed to a post-mortem  or crime scene analysis conducted by forensic scientists, medical examiners, or forensic pathologists. That said, you might interact with people in those professions, as well as testify in court, or consult with law enforcement officials for a criminal prosecution. It can also be a wider role including responding to disasters or crisis situations in a community.

Forensic nurses may be employed by hospitals, correction facilities, psychiatric hospitals, or medical examiner or coroner’s offices, among other options.

If you are thinking about becoming a forensic nurse, an excellent resource is the International Association of Forensic Nurses, or IAFP. People who go into forensic nursing are usually already registered nurses or advanced practice nurses who have at least two years of clinical practice. Although board certification is not required to become one, most forensic nurses undergo additional training and sometimes a certificate program for this subspecialty. (Make sure to check with your local Board of Nursing, as requirements may vary.)

The first step in certification is typically Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) training, which requires at least 40 hours of classroom training plus clinical experience in the subspecialty, according to the IAFP.  You can get a certification to be a sexual assault nurse examiner who works with adults or adolescents, or a SANE-A, or certification to work with pediatric patients, or a SANE-P, certification, or both.. These certification exams are given twice a year, in April and September, according to the IAFP.

There are other areas of specialization or certification including Forensic Nurse Death Investigator, Intimate Partner Violence Nurse Examiner, and Advanced Practice Forensic Nursing.

You can also get a master’s degree or certification in forensic nursing from universities like Texas A&M College of Nursing, Boston College, and many others.

So how much do forensic nurses make? Because it’s a relatively new specialty, it’s hard to predict and will vary with you experience and training. notes that nurse practitioners made from $72,420 to $140,930 in 2016, according to  the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and registered nurses made from $47,120 to $102,990. says the median salary is about $81,800 for forensic nurses, or about $39 per hour, although it ranges from $50,000 to $140,000.

Forensic nursing is a rapidly-growing subspecialty that be challenging and rewarding. This job might be right for you have an interest and willingness to help crime victims; are interested in how medicine, science, and the legal system interact, and are comfortable collecting DNA and other evidence to potentially be used in a court of law, as well as interacting with law enforcement.


Top 15 Forensic Nursing Programs for 2019, Nursing School Hub.
Career Guide Series: Forensic Nurse,

Last updated on 9/27/19.

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