Forensic nursing is a relatively new field that combines the health care profession with the judicial system. In 1995 the American Nurses Association officially recognized it as a specialty of nursing. As the incidence of violent crime increases, the need for forensic nurses expands as well. Forensic nursing encompasses the ability to provide care to crime victims, collecting evidence, and providing health care services within the prison system.

Specialty areas within this field include clinical nurse specialists, nurse investigators, nurse coroner/death investigator, sexual assault nurse examiner, legal nurse consultant, gerontology specialist psychiatric nurse and correctional nursing specialist. The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) is the professional organization for the field. The main advantage of this field is that this field is in its infancy. Forensic nurses often have the advantage of helping to create their own positions, and even whole forensic nursing departments.

Duties of a Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses work with law enforcement officials as well as with perpetrators and crime victims. Duties may include collection of clinical evidence, determination of origin or circumstances of trauma, evaluation and alleviation of crime victims’ injuries and rehabilitation of criminals. Forensic nurses can find employment in arenas such as correctional facilities, community health centers, psychiatric facilities, hospitals, public health departments and law firms. Many forensic nurses work with victims of other types of interpersonal abuse, including domestic violence, child and elder abuse/neglect and physiological/psychological abuse. Forensic nurses can examine victims of near-fatal or fatal traumas, such as shootings or stabbings. Some even work as death investigators. Often they work in environments that lead them straight into surgical units to finish collecting evidence.

SANE nurses, or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, provide another venue within forensic nursing. SANE nurses are specifically trained in how to collect forensic evidence and to listen to the victims. These nurses have filled a valuable niche that was originally occupied only by busy physicians. Now, women who have been sexually assaulted may have the advantage and comfort of working with a SANE operative in hospital environments.

Related Types of Nurses

Nursing occupations that are similar to forensic nursing may include medical-surgical nurses, military nurses and triage nursing. Domestic violence nursing is another occupation similar to forensic nursing.

Forensic Nursing Degrees

A forensic nurse must be at least an RN and must complete specialized training to meet the standards IAFN outlines for forensic nurses. National standards include 40 hours of didactics and 40 hours of clinical work. Nurses are trained in handling and collecting evidence, such as hairs, fibers and swabs of fluids collected for DNA testing. Additional forensic training is required to work with children. Forensic nurses also need to learn how to handle specific tools in order to help document a victim’s injuries for court cases. This equipment ranges from digital cameras for photographing visible injuries to an Omnichrome, which can detect bruising beneath the skin’s surface.