Healthcare and Law Enforcement Join Forces In the Field of Forensic Nursing.

By S. Eggers

A tolerance for the intolerable. Being able to look at police photos of Jeffrey Dahmer’s victims without squeamishness but with scientific scrutiny. Then the ability to document horrific acts objectively, dispassionately, so the evidence can stand up in court, the perpetrators are convicted and justice is served.

If you read the above paragraph and said to yourself:  “Wow, that sounds interesting” or “Yes, I can do this,” you may be a good candidate for forensic nursing.

A relatively new field, forensic nursing got its start in the summer of 1992 when 72 nurses, most practicing as sexual assault nurse examiners, met at a meeting in Minneapolis hosted by the Sexual Assault Resource Service and the University of Minnesota’s School of Nursing. At that meeting these nurses formed the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). A mere three years later, in 1995, the American Nurses Association officially recognized forensic nursing as a nursing specialty and the IAFN as its official organization.

Forensic nursing spans a wide and diverse group of nurses who practice within the legal system. They include nurses who serve as death investigators, correctional nurse specialists, forensic psychiatric nurses, legal nurse consultants, forensic geriatric specialist, nurse attorneys, forensic clinical nurse specialists, and forensic gynecology nurses.

Forensic nurses may find themselves working on cases that involve, for instance:  abuse or neglect issues of children or the elderly; automobile and pedestrian accidents; public health and safety situations; environmental hazards; food and drug tampering; epidemiological issues; and mass disasters.

What unites all of these niche practices is the ability to apply law enforcement techniques, such as evidence gathering, wound interpretation and crime scene analysis, in the examination of a crime victim, thereby preserving valuable evidence to for the investigation.

In June 2009 the American Nurses Association and the IAFN announced the creation of a comprehensive guide, Forensic Nursing:  Scope and Standards of Practice.  

To work in the field of forensic nursing, you must first be a registered nurse. There are many accredited online degree programs, so you could easily receive an online nursing degree.

Then to become credentialed in the field of forensic nursing there are numerous online college degree programs available at universities such as Johns Hopkins, Binghamton University, Boston College and others.

Since forensic nursing spans so many diverse practices, employment situations and job duties, it is difficult to provide a salary range for this particular specialty. The closest comparison would be in the field of registered nursing.

According to the most recent statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual earnings of registered nurses were $57,280 in May 2006. The middle 50 percent earned between $47,710 and $69,850.

The future of forensic nursing is extremely bright, however, for several reasons. According to the latest Occupational Outlook Handbook (2008-09) published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, an occupational area that will show the greatest growth is nursing and one of the 30 fastest-growing occupations is forensic sciences. Put those two disciplines together in forensic nursing and employment prospects are very good, indeed.

In addition, forensic nurses could also find employment in Department of Homeland Security, since one of areas forensic nurses work is in mass disasters. For more information on homeland security careers, go to ((link to other article) or the department’s website.


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