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Do Forensic Nurses Go To Crime Scenes?

Forensic nurses specialize in providing support, care, and education to individuals who have experienced violence, abuse, or trauma. They are involved with criminal investigations and some types of forensic nurses are tasked with gathering evidence and examining bodies at crime scenes.

If you're interested in crime scene investigations and want to help victims of crime, forensic nursing could be the perfect vocation for you.

In this guide, we'll take a deep dive into the subject of forensic nursing and how it pertains to crime scenes and criminal investigations, covering topics such as:

  • What is a Forensic Nurse?
  • What are the Types of Forensic Nurses?
  • What is a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner?
  • How Much Do Forensic Nurses Make?
  • How Can I Become a Forensic Nurse?
  • Where Do Forensic Nurses Work?

What is a Forensic Nurse?

Forensic nurses are registered nurses or advanced practice nurses who deal with the challenges of violence, abuse, and trauma.

They deliver care to victims of crime, gather crime scene evidence, conduct medical forensic exams, and provide courtroom testimony. In essence, they intersect the fields of nursing and criminal justice, and there are several areas of specialization.

What Are The Different Types Of Forensic Nurses?

There are several main specializations in the field of forensic nursing. They all perform a key role in supporting patients and the justice system, but the qualifications/certifications and job specifics can differ considerably.

Forensic Psychiatric Nurses

A forensic psychiatric nurse assists victims of crime by providing mental health services. They may also treat offenders with mental health issues and provide assessments, treatments, and counseling where needed.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs)

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners or "SANEs" are registered nurses (RNs) with at least 2 years of experience in areas relating to critical care or emergency care.

A SANE is tasked with evaluating injuries relating to sexual crime, as well as collecting evidence and representing the victim in court.

The exact specifications for a sexual assault nurse examiner vary from state to state, but due to the delicate and challenging nature of the work, it is best reserved for compassionate, experienced nurses capable of delivering the highest level of care.

Nurse Coroner/Forensic Nurse Death Investigator (FNDI)

Forensic nurses keen to work crime scenes should specialize as a forensic nurse death investigator or nurse coroner. They are the first forensic specialists to arrive on the crime scene and can assist in all cases where a suspicious death has been recorded.

The forensic nurse will examine the scene and the body to determine the time of death and look for other medical clues to assist law enforcement.

A legal forensic nurse consultant assists attorneys and may be asked to help with personal injury and malpractice claims, providing a legal connection to the medical field.

Forensic Gerontology Specialists

Gerontology specialists assist in cases relating to elderly abuse and often work in nursing homes, as well as hospitals.

Forensic Clinical Nurse Specialists

An advanced forensic nursing specialization that requires a doctoral forensic nursing degree or master's degree. Forensic clinical nurse specialists are teachers, consultants, administrators, and clinicians working in a range of clinical settings.

Correctional Nursing Specialists

Correctional nurses deal with patients who have been detained, including prisoners and juvenile offenders. They are tasked with administering medication, performing examinations, and generally looking after the health needs of detainees.

Can Forensic Nurses Prescribe Medicine?

It depends on the state, but generally, the nurse must hold a nurse practitioner's license and master's degree to prescribe controlled medications.

Where Do Forensic Nurses Work?

Forensic nurses work in a variety of clinical settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Law firms
  • Mental health facilities
  • Nursing homes
  • Psychiatric institutions
  • Prisons and juvenile offender facilities
  • Emergency rooms
  • A coroner's office

Can A Forensic Nurse Work For The FBI?

There is no such thing as an FBI Registered Nurse or an FBI Forensic Nurse, at least not officially. However, the FBI does hire forensic nurses as part of criminal investigations and if you're qualified as a forensic nurse, you may be hired by the FBI or find yourself working with them indirectly.

What is a Forensic Nurse Investigator?

A forensic nurse investigator performs an array of duties relating to serious crimes, such as helping with autopsies, collecting evidence, and determining a cause of death. They are often employed in a coroner's office or medical examiner's office.

How Much Do Forensic Nurses Make?

The average forensic nurse makes around $80,000 to $85,000 a year, with more experienced nurses earning upwards of $130,000.

However, your salary as a forensic nurse will depend on a number of variables, including your chosen specialty and your level of experience. Your location is also key, and you can expect to earn a lot more in some states than you will in others.

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

There are a few steps to becoming a forensic nurse:

Step One: Earn a Nursing Degree

You can become a forensic nurse by completing an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN). You can also enter via a diploma in nursing completed through a hospital program.

Step Two: Complete the Exam to Become a Registered Nurse (RN)

The NCLEX-RN is a standardized test for registered nurses (RNs) and must be completed before you receive your RN license.

The test runs for 6 hours and covers up to 265 questions, but it will finish sooner if you have a higher pass or fail percentage. It costs $200 and you will receive your results online after 2 days of completing the test.

Step Three: Gain Experience

As with other major specialist nursing professions, many employees will expect you to have nursing experience before you are employed.

You can learn a lot in a clinical setting and will be thrown into the chaotic and stressful world of nursing, allowing you to put your skills to the test.

If you wish to specialize in psychiatric nursing, it helps to have some experience in that area. Other specializations in forensic nursing may also require relevant experience.

Step Four: Obtain a Forensic Nursing Certificate

Certificate programs like the SANE-A and SANE-P (for a sexual assault nurse examiner working with adults and children respectively) can prepare you for your future role. They are not mandatory for all forensic nurses, but they could make a big difference.

Step Five: Consider an Advanced Degree

A doctoral degree or master's degree is not essential for a job in forensic nursing, but it will open more doors for you and prepare you for higher-paying specializations, including legal nurse consulting.

If you wish to acquire an advanced degree, take a look at the following forensic nursing tuition programs.

Program ProviderProgram LengthAnnual Tuition
Xaxier University2 to 3 Years$12,204
Cleveland State University2 years$13,620
DeSales University3 years$15,045
Fairleigh Dickinson University3 years$15,400
Duquesne University2.5 years$27,162
Texas A and M University3 years$12,581
Mount Mercy University18 to 24 months$11,484
Penn State World Campus9 months$6,912
University of California Riverside9 to 15 months$4,500
Aspen University2 to 3 years$13,219

How Long Does It Take To Become A Forensic Nurse?

It can take anywhere from 2 to 4 years to become a forensic nurse, depending on whether you opt for an ADN or BSN. You will need to add a few more years onto that if you want to acquire an advanced degree.

Forensic Nursing Organizations

There are a few organizations geared toward forensic nursing, and you can use these to learn more about the profession, connect with fellow nurses, and educate yourself on the latest research.

The International Association of Forensic Nurses is the biggest and the best-known. It has over 6,000 members and spans more than 26 countries. You can sign up, take advantage of continuing education programs, and network through the organization's local chapter events.

The Academy of Forensic Nursing is another one worth considering. It is based in Massachusetts and focuses on US forensic nurses.

find nursing schools near you

find nursing schools near you