Forensic Nursing: An Emerging Field

Forensic nursing is a new specialty in nursing which combines nursing and the law. According to Virginia Lynch, a pioneer in this field, it is “the application of the nursing process to public or legal proceedings, and the application of forensic health care in the scientific investigation of trauma and/or death related to abuse, violence, criminal activity, liability and accidents.”

Nurses have long been involved in various capacities in medico-legal matters and collaborated with law enforcement and the criminal justice system in dealing with victims of crime. But it was not until the 1990s that the discipline was formally acknowledged as a distinct field of nursing practice.

Forensic nurses provide care to victims of violence and crime. They collect forensic evidence such as blood or DNA samples. Nurses also interview victims, identify and treat injuries, and provide counseling.

They document health information, collect pieces of evidence and share them with physicians and law enforcement authorities. The work of nurses is an important part of a medico-legal report which can form the basis of litigation. Nurses may be summoned by the court to provide expert testimony to shed light on a case.

This field involves taking care of victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and elder or child abuse. The sensitive nature of the working environment requires that forensic nurses be mentally tough and thorough.

If you want to enter this field, you should have the strong desire to help victims cope with the traumatic event and be skilled enough in forensic science and investigation to help authorities bring criminals to justice.

The forensic nurse must have excellent communication skills to connect with the patient, lawyers and the police. Victims of sexual assault are often reluctant to speak about their ordeal and may not be cooperative during the investigation. The therapeutic and professional approach of the nurse helps patients to open up and discuss the incident.

For those interested, you can enter this field by earning your nursing degree and professional license. After working for a few years as a general nurse or in another specialty, you can enroll in forensic certification courses. Alternatively, you can take a master’s degree with a focus on forensics.

As a student, you will learn about forensic science, victimology, psychological and sexual abuse, jurisprudence, drug abuse, forensic photography, death investigation, deviant behavior along with nursing and EMT skills.

Work roles include clinical forensic nurse, forensic nurse examiner, forensic nurse investigator, forensic psychiatric nurse, sexual assault nurse or examiner. Other positions are legal nurse consultant, nurse attorney, nurse coroner, and forensic correctional nurse.

These nurses work in emergency departments, medical examiner’s office, police departments, the FBI, correctional facilities and crime labs. On average, they are paid a relatively higher hourly wage than general nurses. Depending on their role, they are paid between $5 and $300 per hour according to the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN).

Nurses can improve their earning potential and negotiate for higher salaries by gaining extra credentials. The Forensic Nursing Certification Board (FNCB) offers two types of certification: the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A) and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric (SANE-P). A master’s degree or relevant experience will also help career prospects.

This field is unique because it merges nursing, forensic science and the criminal justice system. The growing incidence of violent crime in our communities will fuel the demand for nurses who want to work in this specialty. They will have the opportunity to be advocates of victims of abuse and violence and become instrumental in bringing criminals to justice.

Trailblazing nurses who want a unique challenge and fulfillment can choose to enter the growing specialty of forensic nursing.

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