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Forensic Nurse Career Guide

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Nurses—they’re critical members of any healthcare organization and vital to a patient’s successful recovery. Forensic nurses, though, play an especially important role in the field.

Forensic nursing is an important nursing speciality that deals with trauma victims. Forensics experts are crucial in helping identify and treat victims, and they’re also important in legal matters as witnesses and experts for the case. 

Learn more about forensic nursing in the healthcare field, the average salary and job opportunities, and how you can become one.

A man in a suit talks to a group of doctors.

What Is a Forensic Nurse?

A forensic nurse is a specialty nurse who focuses on where the worlds of health and legal meet. In short, a forensic nurse is a link between the healthcare system and the law. Often forensic nurses work with crime and abuse victims, but they also work to collect physical evidence (often from the dead) for criminal investigation.

What Does a Forensic Nurse Do?

Forensic nurses are specially trained registered nurses (RNs) and serve victims of abuse, violence, human trafficking, and more. Their job responsibilities may include: 

  • Collecting evidence 
  • Photographing injuries for evidence 
  • Working with victims of domestic abuse or violence
  • Connecting with law enforcement and legal teams to help victims
  • Providing testimony in court cases
  • Working with medical examiners when victims die

Forensic nurses may also be involved in other nursing duties. Traditional nursing responsibilities will usually include recording vitals, administering medication and treatment, talking to patients about their health history, assisting doctors in their procedures, and more.

How Do I Become a Forensic Nurse?

The first step to becoming a forensic nurse is to become a licensed nurse or RN.  A bachelor’s degree can help you become licensed as a registered nurse, or if you already are a registered nurse, it can help you be more competitive. Many hospitals are wanting registered nurses who also have a nursing degree, so earning yours can make you a better candidate. 

Nurses are required to get extensive education, clinical hands-on experience, and pass the NCLEX exam before getting licensed. 

Forensic Nurse Education Requirements

Registered nurses hoping to get into forensic nursing should consider getting certified in a subspecialty. There are many certification options including SAFE (Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner), SANE (Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner), FNE (Forensic Nurse Examiner), SANC (Sexual Assault Nurse Clinician), and the latest SAE (Sexual Assault Examiner). These specialties can help nurses be qualified and experienced in the different areas of trauma they may face as a forensic nurse. 

Nurses must also renew their licenses and certification in accordance with the state where they work, and pursue continuing education so they are up-to-date in the field. There are often specific types of training involved like how to handle fluids for DNA testing, communication with victims, sexual trauma training, and more. 

If you’re interested in pursuing a career as a forensic nurse, get started today with a bachelor’s degree from WGU. This crucial first step will help you get the skills and credentials you need to pursue this specialty nursing career.

What Degrees are Best for a Forensic Nurse?

Nursing (Prelicensure) – B.S.

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you...

A one-of-a-kind nursing program that prepares you to be an RN and a baccalaureate-prepared nurse:

  • Locations: offered in FL, IN, TX, MO, and UT only.
  • Tuition and fees: $6,575 per 6-month term.

WGU offers the prelicensure program in areas where we have partnerships with healthcare employers to provide practice sites and clinical coaches to help teach you and inspire you on your path to becoming a nurse.

If you don't live in one of our prelicensure states or don't qualify to apply, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry, while also working directly with patients who need help.

Nursing – Leadership and Management (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S.

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree...

For registered nurses with a bachelor's degree who are ready for greater responsibility:

  • Time: 82% of grads finish within 24 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,385 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Compare degrees

This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

Nursing Leadership and Management – Post-Master's Certificate

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in...

A certificate for registered nurses with a...

A certificate for registered nurses with a master's degree in nursing who are ready for greater responsibility in a leadership and management role.

  • Time: 12 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,385 per 6-month term, plus a one-time Health Professions Fee of $350. The cost to sit for the NAHQ Certified Professional in Healthcare Quality (CPHQ) exam is included in tuition.

Sample careers and jobs this degree program will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment of medical and health services managers to grow 17% by 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations.

Nursing (RN-to-BSN Online) – B.S.

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking...

An online BSN degree program for registered...

An online BSN degree program for registered nurses (RNs) seeking the added theoretical depth, employability, and respect that a bachelor's degree brings:

  • Time: 66% of graduates finish within 18 months.
  • Tuition and Fees: $3,795 per 6-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.
  • Transfers: On average, students transfer 81 credits.

With over 35,000 BSN alumni, this is one of WGU's most popular online degree programs. View our RN to BSN degree guide.

If you don't currently have an RN and don't qualify for your nursing prelicensure program, consider getting our Bachelor's Degree in Health Services Coordination instead. This degree allows you to work inside the healthcare industry in a unique way.

Nursing – Leadership and Management (RN-to-MSN) – M.S.

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and...

This program for RNs includes a BSN component and is a substantial leap toward becoming a nurse leader.

  • Time: 75% of RN-to-MSN grads finish within 42 months.
  • Tuition and fees: $3,795 per 6-month term during undergraduate portion, $4,385 per 6-month term during graduate portion, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Some careers and jobs this degree will prepare you for:

  • Director of Nursing
  • Chief Nursing Officer
  • Quality Director
  • Clinical Nurse Leader
  • Project Manager

If you're driven to lead, this online nursing degree will provide you everything needed to make that career a reality.

Compare degrees
This program is not the only degree WGU offers designed to create leaders in the field of healthcare. Compare our health leadership degrees by clicking the button below.

Compare Similar Degrees

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Doctor diagnose patient symptoms at the hospital

What are Some Examples of Forensic Nursing Jobs?

There are many places where a forensic nurse can work. They can function in traditional nursing roles and in areas outside the hospital setting, including:

  • Anti-violence programs. Forensic nurses are great speakers and advocates and may work in anti-violence programs in their community or state. They often work with non-profit organizations to help victims as well.
  • Correctional facilities. Many forensic nurses are the nurses at correctional facilities so they can help victims of violence, and work with law enforcement in with their forensic needs.
  • Medical examiner’s office. Forensic nurses may assist coroners and medical examiners in analyzing bodies of victims to help in legal cases for violent crime.
  • Communities after natural disasters. When natural disasters have happened nurses with forensic experience may be called on to help treat injuries. Forensic nurses in these situations may be sent to communities in need of help to give their expertise.
  • Psychiatric institutions. In these kinds of facilities forensic nurses are responsible for helping mental health victims with violence or crime they may have experienced.
  • Hospitals. Forensic nurses are needed in traditional hospital settings to help with crime, violence, human trafficking, and more. From emergency rooms to women's clinics, nurses with forensic specialties are vital in hospital settings.
  • Colleges or universities. Some nurses with forensics experience go on to teach in forensic nursing programs to help pass on what they know.

How Much Does a Forensic Nurse Make?

$62,000

According to ZipRecruiter, the national average annual salary for forensic nurses in 2021 is $62,253. The top two percent can make as much as $121,500 or more per year. Pay can vary depending on the state and level of education and experience.

What Is the Job Growth for a Forensic Nurse?

9%

The BLS projects that the demand for registered nurses will grow by 9% from 2020 to 2030, resulting in more than 276,000 additional jobs in the field. Forensic nurses may be in even greater demand, particularly in areas with high crime rates.

Where Does a Forensic Nurse Work?

Varies

Forensic nurses may work in locations like:

Hospitals

Coroner’s offices

Corrections institutions

Psychiatric hospitals

 

Interested in Becoming a Forensic Nurse?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

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