How to become a forensic nurse: A step-by-step guide

Updated 16 May 2023

Nurses often play a vital role in the care of patients. While there are many specialities of nursing, working as a forensic nurse can be a very rewarding career path. Forensic nurses often work to provide high levels of care to vulnerable patients and sensitive cases. In this article, we describe what a forensic nurse is, explain what their duties are, provide a list of skills that can benefit forensic nurses and outline steps you can take to pursue a career as a forensic nurse.

What is a forensic nurse?

A forensic nurse is a healthcare professional who specialises in caring for victims of violent crimes. They are often responsible for collecting evidence and presenting their findings during legal proceedings. Typically, forensic nurses work with survivors in hospital settings and anti-violence centres. They might also work in medical examiner or coroners' offices where they collect evidence from deceased victims.

Forensic nurses typically work closely with courts and law enforcement on sensitive case details. They might also work as patient advocates or help care for them as they heal from a traumatic injury.

Image description

A forensic nurse wearing scrubs and a stethoscope looks at a file in her hand, next to floating objects that relate to the career, including a book, a syringe, a text bubble and a clipboard.

A list entitled, "What does a forensic nurse do?" offers the following job duties:

-Administer medicine and intravenous fluids to ease patients' pain

-Assess patients' conditions immediately after accidents

-Provide emotional support to patients recovering from trauma

-Offer information, education and advocacy to patients' families

What does a forensic nurse do?

Forensic nurses often perform a variety of duties depending on where they work and the nature of their role. Usually, forensic nurses' work involves both criminal justice and nursing aspects.

Here are some common duties a forensic nurse might perform:

  • Providing care to victims of violent crimes

  • Administering medicines for patient pain management

  • Communicating with patients and their family members

  • Speaking with law enforcement about medical evidence that could apply to their case

  • Collecting evidence from the victim's body

  • Appearing in court proceedings to present their findings

  • Assisting coroners with deceased patients

Related: 10 Nursing Interview Questions (With Sample Answers)

Forensic nursing skills

The following skills can help you in your role as a forensic nurse:

  • Empathy: Empathy and compassion are highly useful in this role. Because their patients are most often victims of traumatic crimes, forensic nurses who can comfort and assure patients in vulnerable states are often more successful at providing proper patient care and earning patient trust and cooperation.

  • Coping: Forensic cases can often be traumatic for both victims and their care teams. Having healthy coping skills can help you stay separate from cases and continue providing quality care to your patients.

  • Advocacy: Forensic nurses may sometimes be asked to appear as witnesses in court. The court might ask them to describe the victim's condition to determine the full effects of their traumatic event.

  • Communication: Written and oral communication skills can help forensic nurses write reports, communicate with patients and relay important information to patients, police, patients' families and the court.

  • Attention to detail: The evidence forensic nurses collect can play a huge role in patients' cases, meaning that attention to detail can help ensure they miss nothing important. Sample collection, medical photography, extractions and identifying residues can all require training, focus and high attention to detail.

  • Confidentiality: Being reliable and trustworthy can help patients know they are safe with their forensic nurse. Since they're often dealing with sensitive cases, confidentiality and trust can be essential.

How much does a forensic nurse make?

Nurses' salaries can vary greatly depending on their geographic location, employer and years of experience. While there isn't data available for forensic nurses specifically, their salary expectations are likely similar to that of other nursing professionals. Nurses can expect to earn an average salary of £30,971 per year. Since forensic nurses are specialised, their earning potential might be higher depending on their education and experience.

Related: Highest Paying Jobs in the UK

How to become a forensic nurse

If you're interested in becoming a forensic nurse, there are a few viable paths you can take. The two most common specialities are sexual assault nurse examiners and custody nurses. However, depending on where you work, you might find unique needs for your specific skills and expertise.

Regardless of the direction you wish to pursue in forensic nursing, here are some steps you can take to get started with a career in the field:

1. Qualify for a nursing degree program

While each university has its own admittance standards, most nursing schools usually require around five general certificates of secondary education (GCSEs) and two A-levels or equivalent. Many institutions also like their students to show their proficiency in numeracy and literacy. Typically, accredited schools bar those who have past criminal records from attending their nursing programmes. Taking an interest in health care in your secondary education can help you develop experience before your courses begin. Emphasising certain studies like science and communication can help you on your journey as well.

2. Become a nurse

Nursing is a regulated profession, meaning that the law requires nurses to be registered with a regulatory body to practise legally. There are many nursing programmes available, including online and in-person opportunities. Consider researching available programmes to find one that seems like a good fit for you and your career goals. As you pursue your degree, keep your forensic nursing goals in mind. Taking additional courses in sexual health, gynaecology and forensics can help prepare you for a career as a forensic nurse.

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3. Gain experience in the field

To become a forensic nurse, you need to have at least three years of experience after becoming a registered nurse. Ask your employer to assign you to sensitive cases so you can gain relevant forensic experience. This might mean assisting women's health doctors, aiding patients who are victims of crimes or dealing with traumatic or violent injuries. The experience can prepare you for some cases you might see in the field.

4. Complete provider-specific training

After you've completed your education and an additional three years in the field, your next step may be to find a provider willing to offer role-specific instruction. The requirements for the level of supervision you receive and the length of your instruction can vary depending on your specific workplace. However, you can expect some sort of supervisory period as a new Forensic Nurse Examiner (FNE) or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE).

Usually, the continued education under the supervision of a qualified FNE can teach you additional skills in:

  • Treating minor injuries

  • Assessing patient mental health and suicide risk

  • Clinical examination procedures

  • Physical assessments

  • Sexual health

  • Safeguarding

5. Pursue post-graduate studies

While optional, post-graduate studies can propel your career and advance your skills as a forensic nurse. Currently, Staffordshire University is the only programme currently offering postgraduate training that the UK Association of Forensic Nurses and Paramedics (UKAFN) approves. However, if you want to pursue a diploma, postgraduate certificate, or Master of Science (MSc) in Advanced Forensic Practice, exploring options within the institution might be a helpful choice for your career. They currently offer two streams: custody and sexual offences. After successful completion of the programme, you can receive UKAFN's Advanced Standards in Education and Training (ASET) certificate.

Post-graduate studies can help you advance your clinical knowledge and gain worthwhile experience in crime scene investigation, forensic science, legal skills and mock court trials.

5. Prepare your CV

As you prepare your CV, consider any relevant skills, courses or experience you have that could be beneficial to your role as a forensic nurse. Highlight your nursing experience and list the efforts you've made to become more familiar with the forensic nursing field. Including prior experience with law enforcement, sensitive cases or court proceedings can help identify you as a qualified and dedicated candidate.

As you search for opportunities, try to emulate the language and values of specific postings in your CV. Using optimised keywords can alert recruiters to your CV and ensure they see your qualifications and experience.

Related: What Is a CV? Curriculum Vitae Definition and Examples

6. Apply for jobs in the field

With your CV and experience, you're ready to apply for jobs as a forensic nurse. By this time, you likely know what your expectations and preferences for work are. Look for opportunities that fit your expectations and offer you room for advancement if you're interested in later pursuing supervisory or management roles. Finding a good workplace fit can ensure you have a fulfilling career as a forensic nurse.

Please note that none of the institutions or associations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.


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