How to Become a Forensic Nurse

What is a forensic nurse?

The combination of general nursing and legal specialist.

Forensic nurses provide the bridge between the realms of medicine and law.  They care for victims mental and physical health and also participate in legal proceedings against criminal perpetrators. When a crime is committed—especially those that are sensitive in nature such as sexual assault or domestic violence—it’s necessary to have a multi-trained professional to bridge the gap between the immediate needs of medical attention of victims and the important collection of evidence from traumatic events. They provide the time-sensitive treatment that can save lives, help with healing and recovery, and assist the legal system in bringing criminals to justice.

A New Field of Nursing

As a relatively newer field of nursing it is gaining momentum and demand for forensic nurses is expected to increase. These nurses have a specialized knowledge of health and legal knowledge as well. It is this specialized group of nurses the are called in to examine victims of assault or abuse.

Who Do Forensic Nurses Aid?

Victims know no age, thus children to adults can fall under the care of these forensic nurses.

Responsibilities of a Forensic Nurse

  • Treating minor injuries
  • Examine victims of trauma
  • Examine physical and mental health of victims
  • Collect evidence (hair, blood, semen etc.)
  • Interview victims
  • Work with authorities and legal professionals
  • Prepare medical examines used in court
  • Testify in court proceedings

Employment Opportunities for Forensic Nurses

  • General Nurse in Hospital, usually in ER
  • Death Investigators
  • Nurses in Psychiatric hospitals
  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE)
  • Nurse Coroners
  • Trauma Nurses
  • Nurse Investigators
  • Legal Nurse Consultants

How Do I Become A Forensic Nurse

  • Earn a ADN or ASN in nursing (required)
  • Earn a BSN (strongly recommended)
  • Pass NCLEX-RN
  • MSN (specialization in forensics) (optional)

You must be a licensed nurse with a current unrestricted RN license.

It is strongly recommended to have clinical hours and experience with treating victims of trauma in an ER.

Currently there is no legal requirement for additional education, experience, or formal training to enter the field of forensics. Take continuing education courses while you continue to work in the field gaining experience.

Legally a formal forensic education is not required but in an employers eyes and in the court, specialized training will be much to your advantage and have more credibility. Specialized training in the forensics field is offered as an advanced degree such as a master’s degree or doctorate in forensic nursing. Many graduate programs offer internships that expand participant’s practical knowledge and experience. A forensic nurse with an advanced degree will take on expanded duties.

Certification Options:

  • Certified Forensic Nurse Credential
  • SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner)
  • SANE-A (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Adult and Adolescent)
  • SANE-P (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatrics)
  • MSN (specialization in forensics)
  • DNP (specialization in forensics)

The American College of Forensic Examiners International offers a Certified Forensic Nurse credential. To be eligible to take this exam one must have a current RN license and have three years’ nursing experience and must have completed an education program in forensic nursing. There are other certifying agencies with slightly different experience requirements. Please check with your state to see what requirements they have and what certifications are necessary to have to be employed as a forensic nurse. Several states have state-specific certifications for those involved in the examination of sexual abuse victims. Note that individual employers may also have different preferences with regard to certification.

Forensic Nurse Salary and Career Outlook
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean salary for a registered nurse is $32.56 an hour or $67,720 a year. Advanced practice nurses (with graduate degrees) earn well above the mean. Nurses with specialized training tend to earn more than those without. Many forensic nurses have the opportunity to increase their earnings by being on call.

What Do I Need Before I Enroll In a Program
Current LVN, LNP, or RN license
Any prerequisites required (program specific)
Minimum clinical hours required (program specific)

Forensic Education and Certification Programs

Penn State

Currently Penn Sate offers an online, 12-credit forensic nursing certificate. Participants in this program will learn how to document, collect, and analyze evidence from delicate crimes, while being sensitive to the legal and ethical considerations of the field. This undergraduate certificate helps prepare students for a variety of careers including medical examining, nursing in a correctional institution, and becoming a legal nurse consultant.

  • Campus: Online
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: ACEN
  • Tuition: $584 per credit or $7,129 for 12+ credits
  • Minimum time commitment: 12 credits
  • Degree requirements: Associate’s or BSN, RN License
  • Programs and Certifications: Certificate in Nursing Forensics

Drexel University

Drexel University offers a very unique post-baccalaureate certification in forensic trends and issues in contemporary heath care. This one year interdisciplinary program aims to prepare students to conduct targeted and sensitive assessment of victims and offenders of interpersonal violence and other crime, and also to provide appropriate clinical and medico-legal responses. Upon completion of the certificate, graduates are prepared to deal with situations involving both victims and offenders in a variety of settings.

  • Campus: Online
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition:
  • Minimum time commitment: 9 credits
  • Degree requirements: BSN
  • Programs and Certifications: Certificate in Forensic Trends and Issues in Contemporary Healthcare

The University of California at Riverside (UCR) Extension

The University of California at Riverside (UCR) Extension offers an online professional certificate program in forensic nursing. IN as little as 9 months and only 14 units of required coursework and students can be qualified and certified to work as a forensic nurse. Areas of focus in the program are areas such as forensic approaches to blunt force and firearm injuries, courtroom testimony by a health care specialist, and forensic approaches to mental health assessments, UCR prepares its students for the delicate work of identifying, collecting, and documenting evidence of traumatic injuries and communicating the findings to multidisciplinary teams. These courses also qualify for the California Board of Registered Nursing’s continuing education which is required to maintain licensure.

  • Campus: Online
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: ACEN
  • Tuition: $4,200
  • Minimum time commitment: 9 to 18 months
  • Degree requirements: LVN, LPN, or RN
  • Programs and Certifications: Professional Certificate in Forensic Nursing

Duquesne University

Duquesne University offers an online certificate program in forensic nursing prepares advanced practice nurses for this line of work following their masters program. The program is comprised of 24 credits in courses such as pathophysiology for advanced practice nurses, forensic science and the legal system, and a capstone project for students to conduct their own original research thus contributing to the advancement of this specialized discipline.

  • Campus: Online
  • Type: Public
  • Accreditation: CCNE
  • Tuition: Contact Program
  • Minimum time commitment: 24 credits
  • Degree requirements: MSN
  • Programs and Certifications: Forensic Nursing Certificate

Please note that some online programs require limited on-campus requirements.

Online Advanced Degrees in Forensic Nursing

What Do I Need Before I Enroll In An Advanced Program

    • Current, unrestricted RN license
    • BSN from accredited school
    • Prerequisites (program specific)
    • Minimum GPA (program specific)
    • Letters of Recommendation
    • Entrance Essay
    • Resume
    • Any required test scores (MAT, GRE)
    • Valid CPR certification
    • Official Transcripts
    • Application

Accredited MSN Forensic Specialty Programs

Fitchburg State University

Fitchburg State University located in Massachusetts offers an online master of science in nursing (MSN) degree in forensic nursing. This 39-credit program is an entirely online educational track with classes including scientific foundations for forensic nursing interventions, caring for victims, and a supervised clinical practicum to be completed at an approved preceptor site. Graduates of this program qualify to be employed as a Death investigator, Legal Nurse Consultant, Medico-legal Investigator, Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE), among other areas within this specialized area of healthcare.

      • Campus: Online
      • Type: Public
      • Accreditation: CCNE
      • Tuition: $319 per credit
      • Minimum time commitment: 39 Credits
      • Degree requirements: BSN
      • Programs and Certifications: MSN in Forensic Nursing

Duquesne University

The MSN program at Duquesne University offers a broad-based curriculum that includes hands-on, supervised clinical work at an approved preceptor, completion of a capstone project, and didactic instruction in areas such as criminal law and the courts, health care ethics, and forensic science and the legal system. Our master’s in forensic nursing program teaches skills for healing wounds, treating trauma patients, as well as skills for helping law enforcement and legal professionals do their jobs effectively. In addition to this program Duquesne offers one of the few PhD and DNP forensic programs in the country.

      • Campus: Online
      • Type: Public
      • Accreditation: CCNE
      • Tuition: Contact Student Accounts
      • Minimum time commitment: 2 years
      • Degree requirements: BSN
      • Programs and Certifications: MSN in Forensics, PhD in Forensics, DNP in Forensics

Cleveland State University

The MSN in Forensic Nursing program track combines the art and science of nursing, the law, and forensic science, to adequately prepare participants to provide care to forensic patients in criminal and civil legal matters. Coursework for this program include classes such as forensic methodologies, theory development in nursing, and the legal system. Students have the option to conduct original research through the completion of a thesis.

      • Campus: Online
      • Type: Public
      • Accreditation: CCNE
      • Tuition: Contact School
      • Minimum time commitment: 34 Credits
      • Degree requirements: BSN, RN license, GPA of 3.0
      • Programs and Certifications: MSN in Forensics

Traditional On-Campus Forensic Nursing Programs

Binghamton University

Located in New York, Binghamton University offers a post-baccalaureate certificate in forensic health which can be ideal for entry-level instruction in the basics. There are currently four specializations available in forensic health: focus on adults, focus on children, forensic health across the lifespan, and forensic health and medicolegal death investigation.

      • Campus: Online
      • Type: Public
      • Accreditation: CCNE
      • Tuition: Contact College
      • Minimum time commitment: 9 credit hours
      • Degree requirements: BSN
      • Programs and Certifications: Forensic Health Advanced Certification

The University of Colorado at Colorado Springs (UCCS)

The intersection of patient care and medico-legal system is where you find forensic nurses and their niche of practice. In past years there was a gap between the office of the medical examiner, the police department and the hospital emergency room or hospitalized patient. Now forensic nursing bridges that gap with professional nurses trained to not only care for victims, but properly recognize, acquire and collect forensic evidence necessary for criminal investigations where injury, trauma or violent crimes have occurred.

Whether you are a seasoned student in an MSN program or a little newer to the field of nursing as a undergraduate student, UCCS has a forensic certification program to fit your level. Each program is 12 credit hours. The program designed for undergraduate students provides courses such as practice paradigms in forensic nursing, substance abuse, and the many facets of child maltreatment. The other program is designed for post graduate certification for nurses with some nursing experience. It includes classes such as healthcare policy, ethics, and legal aspects of forensic nursing.

      • Campus: Colorado Springs, CO
      • Type: Public
      • Accreditation: CCNE
      • Tuition:
      • Minimum time commitment: 12 credit hours
      • Degree requirements:
      • Programs and Certifications: Undergraduate and Graduate Forensic Certification

Xavier University

Students admitted to the MSN program that choose the forensics track will gain advanced study of forensic nursing practice. Forensic nursing is the application of science and the art of nursing to both criminal and civil investigations and legal matters according to the American Board of Forensic Nursing. This specialty prepares nurses to receive further education and extend their clinical roles in areas such as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, Forensic Psychiatric Nurse, Legal Nurse Consultant, Forensic Nursing Death Investigator and/or Nurse Coroner. Participants receive individualized education and in-depth knowledge in application of nursing principles in both criminal and civil investigations and legal matters.

The master of science in nursing (MSN) degree in forensic nursing at Xavier generally takes two years to complete. With rigorous coursework in criminalistics, interprofessional collaboration, and foundations of forensic nursing, Xavier prepares its graduates for careers in forensic psychiatric nursing, legal nurse consulting, and death investigation. Another option offered at Xavier is a dual master’s degree, an MSN can be pursued jointly with a master of science in criminal justice (MSCJ) degree.

      • Campus: Cincinnati
      • Type: Public
      • Accreditation: CCNE
      • Tuition: Contact Program
      • Minimum time commitment: 10 credit hours in addition to 26 credit hours of MSN
      • Degree requirements: BSN admitted to MSN program
      • Programs and Certifications: MSN Forensic Certification/Specialization

Boston College (BC)

Boston College offers their MS program to RN’s with an associate’s degree, Nurses with a BSN and also those with bachelor’s degrees in disciplines other than nursing. The program is designed to offer a variety of tracks, each associated with an advanced nursing patient population, and also specialize in areas like forensic nursing. Student’s benefit from an evidence-based, experience-driven curriculum that give them both the skills and confidence to excel in the field of forensic nursing. Note that students interested in the forensic nursing specialization remember that this program offers forensic courses as electives that they may take as they work toward their MS degree. Graduates will have a solid foundation built from supervised clinical experience, they will be prepared to work in emergency and acute care, adult protective services, medicolegal death investigation, and related fields.

      • Campus: Boston
      • Type: Public
      • Accreditation: ACEN
      • Tuition: Contact Program
      • Minimum time commitment: 2 years
      • Degree requirements: RN, BSN, or Bachelor Degree in another field
      • Programs and Certifications: Forensic Electives as part of MSN

Forensic Nursing School Program Accreditation

Make sure program is accredited by on of the following:

  • CCNE (Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education)
  • ACEN (Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing)
  • HLC-NCA (Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools)
  • MSCHE (Middle States Commission on Higher Education)
  • WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges)
  • NWCCU (New England Association of Schools and Colleges)
  • NEASC (New England Association of Schools and Colleges )
  • SACS (Southern Association of Colleges and Schools)

Verify accreditation of the programs prior to enrolling. Programs that have not earned accredited status lose credibility, as will participants of such programs. For a school to earn accredited status, agencies look at factors such as program outcomes, quality of curricula, institutional finances, student-to-instructor ratios, and condition of physical facilities in order to gauge the overall effectiveness of the program.

Checklist Prior to Seeking Professional Forensic Certification

Upon completion of an accredited forensic nursing program it would be highly beneficial for one to also seek professional certification. These additional certifications can enhance one’s employment prospects as well as credibility in a court setting.

  • Current, unrestricted RN license
  • Graduate Degree in nursing
  • Minimum of 2 years experience as a registered nurse
  • Verified 200 hours experience in forensic nursing
  • 30 hours completed of continued education
  • Original research paper, professional service, or delivering presentations

Upon completing those requirements Forensic Nurses may contact The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) that is over providing the advanced forensic nursing board certification (AFN-BC) and they will evaluate the candidate’s portfolio for advanced certification.