Looking At Forensic Nursing As A Career Path

Forensic Nursing

As an LPN you may not have realized that there are a number of nursing-related options available for you out there if you are looking for a way to spice up your career a little bit. One of the things that you could become as a nurse is a forensic nurse. This is just one of the many nursing specialties that are open to you to consider, and it is certainly considered to be one of the more interesting options.

What Is Forensic Nursing?

Forensic nursing involves providing emergency care to victims and perpetrators of crime. As a result it can be one of the more dangerous career paths that you could choose to pursue as an LPN. Because you will almost always be dealing with someone who has been affected by crime in some way, the program that you will complete will combine aspects of law into the medical training that you receive. This is essential in understanding what the correct procedures are and ensuring that the proper methods are used so as not to contaminate evidence and so on. You will have to collect samples for the police and you will be required from time to time to testify in a court as an expert witness.

Nature Of The Work/Duties

The nature of the work you will do depends on the area of forensic nursing that you choose to work in:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner: In this role you will work with victims of crime and sexual assault in a hospital setting, providing them with immediate physical and emotional care and collecting samples needed for the investigation.
  • Correctional Nurse: You will be required to deal with the short and long term health care needs of inmates in a prison facility
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse: In this role you will work with patients that have mental health problems, providing them with treatment and care
  • Death Investigator: Here you will work with dead rather than living patients in order to determine the cause of death
  • Forensic Gerontology Specialist: Here you will identify, treat and testify about abuse or neglect cases involving the elderly


There are a number of different employment opportunities for a forensic nurse in a number of different settings depending on what qualification you aim for. Depending on your title you could work in anything form hospitals to old age nursing homes to coroners’ offices: Forensic Nurse

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner: In this role you will work in hospital emergency rooms
  • Correctional Nurse: In this role you will work in jails, prisons, and correctional facilities
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse: In this role you will work in hospitals, mental health agencies, and correctional facilities
  • Death Investigator: In this role you will work in coroners’ offices or hospitals
  • Forensic Gerontology Specialist: In this role you will work in hospitals or nursing homes

Forensic Nursing Requirements

In order to become a forensic nurse you need to be prepared to devote 3 to 6 years of your life to the task. This is something that you cannot hope to avoid as it is a time consuming process. You have to first become an RN before you can be a forensic nurse. So it is interesting to note that you, as an LPN, can do an LPN to RN bridging course and continue working at the same time. This will make it easier for you to become a forensic nurse sooner. Once you have an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree in nursing you will have to do a forensic nursing course which will take anything from 4 to 12 months to complete depending on your original degree.

Personality Traits

There are a number of personality traits that will benefit you in a career as a forensic nurse:

  • You need to pay close attention to detail. In many cases a criminal investigation may depend on the evidence you provide or the testimony that you give in court, so you cannot afford to make mistakes or overlook anything.
  • You need to be able to show your compassion for the person that you are dealing with while at the same time maintaining the level of objectivity that is required in order to ensure that the investigation proceeds smoothly.
  • You will need to place value in the justice system and b a naturally empathetic listener as your patient may want to speak to you about his or her ordeal.

Educational Requirements

There are a number of prerequisite educational requirements that you will have to meet before you can enter a program to become a forensic nurse.

  • You have to be an RN, or a registered nurse, in order to specialize in forensic nursing. As you are already an LPN you can simply do an LPN to RN bridge program to achieve this educational prerequisite.
  • You will have to have passed the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses in order to become licensed as a registered nurse.
  • Before you are able to enter an RN program you will need to have as a minimum a high school diploma. If you are already working as an LPN you will need to provide proof of your qualification and training.


To be licensed as a forensic nurse you first have to be licensed as an RN. This requires that you write the RN exam and apply for licensure form your state board of nursing. Additional training and licensure is then required. The requirements differ from state to state and situation to situation so it is important that you look carefully into what is required of you before deciding to become one of the following:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner
  • Correctional Nurse
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse
  • Death Investigator
  • Forensic Gerontology Specialist

There are different characteristics involved in each of these specialties and it is important that you meet the specific licensure opportunities for the area of forensic nursing that you are most interested in.

How To Become A Forensic Nurse

Training, Advancement And Other Qualifications

There are several different qualifications you can earn in this field:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner: associates (2 years) or bachelors (4 years) and graduate certificate (40 – 80 hours plus short-term clinical experience)
  • Correctional Nurse: associates (2 years) or bachelors (4 years)
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse: bachelors (4 years)
  • Death Investigator: varies by state from associates (2 years) to bachelors (4 years) plus graduate certificate (4 – 12 months); emergency room experience highly recommended
  • Forensic Gerontology Specialist: associates (2 years) or bachelors (4 years) and graduate certificate (4 – 12 months)

The qualification that you choose to pursue depends on your specific interests in this field. Ensure that you have the time and resources to devote to your choice.

Source An Accredited Education Program

When looking for a program through which to do your forensic nursing training it is essential that you find one that is in fact accredited by the appropriate bodes. If it is not accredited you will be wasting your time and money as your qualification at the end of the day will not be taken very seriously by your prospective employers. This is a very important thing to remember when looking for a school to study through and you cannot afford to skip this bit of research. The program that you choose to do your training through will affect you and your career for the rest of your life, so choose as wisely as possible.

Earn your Associate’s Degree

Before you can become a forensic nurse you need to earn an associate’s degree in nursing. This will make you a registered nurse, or an RN. This is an essential step in the process as it is impossible to go on to becoming a forensic nurse without at least an associate’s degree in nursing (although you have the option to earn a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree in nursing as well). As an LPN you cannot skip the step of becoming licensed as an RN. In some cases you also have to get a little bit of experience in this regard. There are numerous schools that offer RN training that you could attend on your path to becoming a forensic nurse.

Obtain your Licensure

If you specifically want to be a Sexual Assault nursing examiner you will need to earn you Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) credential. There are a number of things to keep in mind here:

  • You will have to complete 40 hours of theoretical training
  • You will have to complete 40- to 60-hours of supervised clinical experience
  • You can specialize in adult or pediatric examination
  • You can take a 64-hour course that trains you to examine both juveniles and adults
  • You will be required to pass a written exam

This is an example of licensure that you will have to achieve. You will need to get a different type of license for each of the forensic nursing roles that are available to you as an option.

Online/Distance Education Programs

There are some programs that offer online or distance learning in order to help you become a forensic nurse. It is important to remember, however, that these programs are not necessarily of the best quality, even if they are more convenient for you. Like all aspects of nursing this qualification requires a large amount of practical, hands-on training, something that you simply cannot get online. If you attend a brisk and mortar based program you will have more opportunities to be exposed to this kind of training in a controlled setting that you can be sure is directly related to the work that you will one day do. As this is a specialization you really should be giving it the highest priority and attention possible.

Job Outlook

There is not a lot of information regarding the job outlook for forensic nurses. This is because, in comparison to other nursing professions, this one is very new and reliable statistics about it are yet to be determined. However, as you are required to be an RN in order to become a forensic nurse it is interesting to note that the job outlook for RNs is extremely good. This is one of the most stable careers to get involved in as there is a high demand. In addition, the industry is always growing which means that there is always work for you to do.

Forensic Nurse Earnings

There are a number of factors that affect how much you will be paid as a forensic nurse. For example the field you choose in forensic nursing plays a big role:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner: $82,000
  • Correctional Nurse: $64,000
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse: $69,000
  • Death Investigator: $53,000
  • Forensic Gerontology Specialist: $37,000

The actual salary that you earn in any of these roles, however, will vary significantly from state to state and even from city to city within the same state. Adequate research into your state will be required. Your level of education as well as the amount of experience that you have in this field will also play a big role when it comes to the salary you can earn.

As you can see there are a number of considerations to keep in mind when looking into the field of forensic nursing. Before you make a decision about whether or not this is the right field for you, you need to make sure that you are willing to devote the time required to getting the qualification and that you have the right personality and drive to do the job well. It is an admirable career that brings with it many advancement opportunities, so it is well worth considering if you have yet to choose a nursing specialization. As nursing specialties go you must remember that this is one of the more dangerous options, so make your decision carefully.