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What Do I Need to Do in Order to Become a Forensic Nurse?

Career News July 16, 2014

If you are considering a career in the nursing field, or if you are already a nurse and seeking additional professional challenges, a job as a forensic nurse might be just what you’re looking for. One of many incredible options open to nurses opting to specialize, this career combines nursing and law in a rewarding and challenging new healthcare field. You’ll be able to work with victims of crimes and sexual assaults, assist in death inquiries, and help with criminal evidence investigations. Strong candidates will be compassionate, emotionally stable, well-organized and detail-oriented.

Educational Requirements

Depending on which state you live in, certification requirements may vary, but the first step is to acquire a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, or BSN. Nurses wishing to advance to more specialized position of forensic nurse must either earn a postgraduate certificate in the field or a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a specialization in area of forensics. [1]

Undergraduate Work

A BSN program provides a strong background not only in clinical assessment, but in critical thinking and situational analysis, which is vital for work in this fast-paced and exciting field. Clinical rotations provide an opportunity to experience different types of nursing specialties from critical care to obstetrics and pediatrics, giving candidates a good idea of where their strengths and interests lie. The Registered Nurse credential itself is awarded upon passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX).

Postgraduate Training

You can get certified as a forensic nurse in one of two ways. The quickest route is to acquire a postgraduate certificate, often found in the continuing education department of nursing schools. Requirements vary from program to program and may include anything from a selection of lectures to several semesters of class work combining education in law, forensic science and nursing.

Alternately, a two-year MSN program with a specialization may be pursued. The course of study for an MSN in the forensic specialty opens a broad variety of career options, including legal nursing consultant, nurse coroner, forensic psychiatric nurse or death investigator. Nurses with this degree can effectively identify and help prevent all forms of domestic abuse, assist in legal investigations and help investigate suspicious deaths.


Various forms of credentialing are available for nurses wishing to specialize in forensic nursing, and they can be obtained through the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). The two available specialties are Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult/Adolescent certification (SANE-A) and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner – Pediatric certification (SANE-P), both requiring a written examination and renewal every three years. Continuing education credits are required to keep your license current.

Employment Opportunities

There are numerous opportunities within the field of forensic nursing. Corrections facilities, emergency rooms, morgues and attorney’s offices are some of the major sites of employment, and a broad range of duties may include evidence collection, victim assessment and treatment, autopsy assistance, and rehabilitation of criminals.

Licensing and Professional Organizations

Licensing at the state level is required. You may also want to join a professional organization such as the IAFN. Not only does membership give a leg up in gaining employment, but it provides access to continuing education, online publications, listings in professional directories and opportunities for networking.

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