Being A Student

I’m interested in studying this subject. What can you tell me?

It is a healthcare profession that focuses on providing emergency treatment to both victims and suspects of violent crime. Most of a the nurse’s patients are affected by crime, so these types of programs combine elements of medicine and law. The nurses cooperate with medical staff and the police to collect and preserve biological samples like blood or semen that can be used as evidence in a criminal trial. Sometimes they are asked to be expert witnesses in court, so these programs teach students about the criminal justice system and how to make ethical decisions. As a field, it has emerged only within the last 20 years, so there are only a few educational options to choose from. You can either earn a masters degree or an undergraduate degree, plus a graduate certificate. No matter what degree you earn, you will need to be licensed as a registered nurse before you can receive specialized training.

Let's hear some other perspectives

An Interview with Bryan Hansen

Bryan Hansen

Student, Certificate in Forensic Nursing,Johns Hopkins University

“To be successful in online learning, it is just as important to have a virtual environment that is free of distractions as it is to have a home environment free of them.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Kristen Panico

Kristen Panico

Student, Master of Science in Forensic Nursing,Fitchburg State University

“To be a good student and professional you need to be flexible. In any graduate program, you need to be able to adapt to any challenges that may appear along the way.”Read the Full Interview

An Interview with Annie Lewis-O

Annie Lewis-O'Connor

Professor of Forensic Nursing,Boston College

“In order to succeed, students need to be sensitive. Because they often work with victims of trauma, whether from a natural disaster or gender-based violence, nurses must be considerate of a patient's history.”Read the Full Interview


Forensic Nurse,Kelly MorrisWatch Her Story

What exactly is a forensic nurse?

They are registered nurses who is specially trained to treat the victims and suspects of violent crimes like domestic abuse, rape and trauma. In addition to giving emergency medical care, they help conduct criminal investigations by documenting scientific evidence of a violent crime. They typically work in hospitals under stressful emergency room conditions. Some work in nursing homes to detect and prevent abuse of the elderly, or in correctional facilities to provide medical care to inmates.

Let's hear from other perspectives

An Interview with Joyce Williams

Joyce Williams

Nurse, Specialization in Forensic Nursing,Safe Place

“To succeed, you must be ethical and hardworking. If you are somebody who tends to cut corners and skip steps, you won’t do well in this field because you must be willing and able to follow the different criteria, protocols for examinations, and documentation. If you don’t, you will miss critical evidence and the victims you are supposed to serve will not be treated properly.”Read the Full Interview

Personality Quiz

How do I know if this career path would be a good fit for me?

Here is a quick quiz to help you decide if you have the personality it takes to succeed. Rate, on a scale from 1 to 5, how well each of the following statements describes you.

I am compassionate and caring towards others.

They frequently interact with traumatized victims of crime. It is crucial that you treat patients with sympathy in order to thrive.

I do not judge others.

They are commonly responsible for providing medical treatment to inmates and suspected criminals. You must set bias aside and treat all patients as equals.

I am able to stay calm in a crisis.

Victims of severe violence and trauma end up in the emergency room. You will need to control your emotions as you respond to those cases to minimize your patient’s distress.

I am emotionally stable.

They work under demanding and taxing conditions as they interact with wounded and grieving people. The ability to express your feelings in healthy ways outside of work will help you to cope with high levels of stress.

I pay close attention to detail.

They are responsible for collecting biological evidence that is often used in legal cases. Evidence must be carefully preserved, so if you tend to overlook details, you will not make an accurate investigator.

I take a logical and scientific approach to problems.

They analyze patients who show indications of violence to identify the cause of trauma and determine the best medical solution. If you reason well, you may enjoy forensic investigation.

I communicate clearly and effectively.

Because forensic nurses are frequently called to testify in court, they need to be able to explain their expert opinions for a judge and jury. You must be comfortable with written and verbal communication to succeed in this job.

I am ethical and moral.

The expert witness testimony that a these nurses offers can determine a suspect’s guilt or innocence in a criminal trial. It is crucial that you give honest and accurate testimony.

I am not squeamish about bodily fluids.

They are required to preserve biological samples like saliva, blood and semen for use in police investigation. If bodily fluids make you uncomfortable, this might be a poor career choice for you.

I can keep track of many things at the same time.

The emergency room can be chaotic. As a nurse in forensics, you must be able to manage several tasks simultaneously to treat patients efficiently.

Get My Score

*Note that this is not a scientific quiz. The result is simply my rough estimate of how well I believe your personality matches that of a successful professional in this field.

By my assessment, a career in this field is probably not a good fit for your personality. Please go to the Admissions Advisor homepage for a listing of other careers you may want to consider.

By my assessment, although a career in this field may not be an ideal fit for your personality, if you are willing to adapt in a few areas, you can still find success in the field. Please see the list to the right for information on the areas that you may need to work on.

By my assessment, your personality is a good fit for a career in this field. Scroll through our site to gain valuable insight into what it will take you to earn the necessary credentials.

Making the Right Choice

Is there anything else I should consider in deciding if this is the right career choice for me?

If you are considering a career in this specialized field, you are in for several years of medical training. You will need to earn your nursing credentials before you can specialize in forensics and you will need to continually update your education throughout your career.

Prerequisite Education and Licensing

Before you can specialize in this field, you must become a licensed registered nurse. All states require nursing students to graduate from an approved nursing program, which takes 2 to 4 years to complete, depending on the educational path that you choose.

You must also pass the national licensing examination, which is called the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). The NCLEX-RN measures your knowledge of safe and effective nursing procedures. As of 2012, nursing students pay $200 to register for the exam. A registered nursing license needs to be renewed periodically. The process and frequency of renewal varies by state, so it is important to know the guidelines of your state.

Continuing Education

Registered nurses need to be lifelong learners, because they are required to take continuing education credits throughout their careers. Continuing education requirements ensure that nurses stay up to date with medical progress. In addition, nurses with further education are more likely to advance in the field. Exact continuing education requirements for nurses vary by state, so you will need to check with your employer to make sure that you are following the appropriate guidelines.

Forensic Nursing Professions

What specializations/professions can I choose from?

Some of the most common professions for those who specialize in this field are:

Education Required:

Associates (2 years) or bachelors (4 years) and graduate certificate (40 – 80 hours plus short-term clinical experience)

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Hospital emergency rooms

Job Description:

Sexual assault nurse examiners respond to the physical and emotional needs of sexual assault victims. They provide emergency medical treatment and direct victims to follow-up care services. They are specially trained to examine victims and collect biological and physical evidence of assault. Sexual assault nurse examiners are also frequently called to testify in court.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years) or bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Jails, prisons, correctional facilities

Job Description:

Correctional nurses work primarily in jails and prisons to provide medical care to inmates. They perform physical exams, administer medication and respond to healthcare emergencies inside correctional facilities. They sometimes treat inmates who have long-term physical and mental health problems.

Education Required:

Bachelors (4 years)

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Hospitals, mental health agencies, correctional facilities

Job Description:

Forensic psychiatric nurses manage inmates with mental health issues including social, psychological and behavioral disorders. They determine the mental health needs of patients, develop treatment plans and supervise rehabilitation efforts.

Education Required:

Varies by state from associates (2 years) to bachelors (4 years) plus graduate certificate (4 – 12 months); emergency room experience highly recommended

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Coroners’ offices or hospitals

Job Description:

Death investigators are professionals who work with medical examiners or coroners to determine cause of death. Death investigation teams assess the medical history of the deceased, examine the body and inspect the scene of death.

Education Required:

Associates (2 years) or bachelors (4 years) and graduate certificate (4 – 12 months)

Average Salary:


Work Environment:

Hospitals or nursing homes

Job Description:

Forensic gerontology specialists manage cases involving the abuse or neglect of the elderly. Forensic gerontology specialists provide medical care to victims and collect evidence for use in police investigations. They are also sometimes called to testify in court.

Job Outlook

What is the job outlook for this field?

Because this is a new and specialized field, few statistics are available about the job outlook. Remember that before you can specialize in this field, you must become a registered nurse. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job outlook for registered nurses is excellent. In 2008, there were 2,618,700 registered nurses in the United States. Job growth for registered nurses is expected to grow by 22% through 2018, which is faster than the expected growth for all occupations. The best employment opportunities will be in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, where jobs are expected to grow by 25% through 2018. In addition, registered nurses who hold bachelors degrees will have more opportunities than those with associates degrees.
Profession Employment Projected Average Growth

Average Salary Growth 2006 - 2011

Profession 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Salary By Percentile

Profession 10th 25th 50th 75th 90th

Education Requirements

How long would it take me to finish school and join this career field?

It takes about 3 to 6 years, depending on the educational path that you choose. No matter what, you must become a licensed registered nurse before you can pursue this specialization. After you are licensed, you can earn the qualifications by completing a graduate certificate or a masters degree.

A graduate certificate will take between 4 and 12 months to earn. The quickest way to become a forensic nurse is to earn a graduate certificate after you graduate with an Associate of Science in Nursing, which typically takes 2 years. You can also earn a graduate certificate after you graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Bachelors degree programs typically take 4 years to complete.

Another option is to earn a masters degree, which requires 1 to 2 years of study. To be admitted into a masters program, you must hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.

Areas of Study

What can I expect to learn while studying?

As a student in this field, you can expect to grow in both knowledge and skills.


Anatomy & Physiology

Anatomy is the study of the structure of the body, while physiology is a related discipline that studies the way that bodily systems function. Together, these branches of science explain how components of the body work together in a healthy person. Examples of bodily systems include the skeletal, muscular, nervous and cardiovascular systems.

Criminal Justice Process

The American criminal justice system is divided into 3 parts: lawmaking, courts and corrections. Study of the criminal justice system includes knowledge of a citizen’s right to a fair trial, the responsibilities of police and the role of correctional facilities like jails. The criminal justice process is meant to protect the public by removing lawbreakers from society and rehabilitating them.

Injury Pathology

Injury pathology is the science of determining the causes and effects of wounds. In programs related to this field, injury pathology will focus on identifying, documenting and treating wounds caused by abuse, neglect and sexual violence.

Nursing Theory

Nursing theory provides an overview of the way that nursing has evolved from its beginning to its current state. This subject helps nurses understand their role in the larger world of medical care. Topics of nursing theory include various ideas about nursing practices, healthcare administration and nursing education.

Healthcare Ethics

Healthcare ethics is a system of principles that medical staff use to make moral decisions. Ethical discussions will center on medical values, like a patient’s right to refuse treatment and to know about the risks of different treatment options. Some examples of ethical considerations include confidentiality, cultural values, equality and a patient’s right to make healthcare decisions.


Emergency Clinical Procedures

During your nursing training, you will learn clinical procedures to use in emergency situations. You will use your knowledge of anatomy and physiology to determine what actions to take to treat a patient. Some of the clinical skills that you will learn include ways to manage pain, clean wounds and stop bleeding.

Decision Making

You will often work independently by relying on your own judgment to make decisions about medical care. Your curriculum will teach you how to assess the potential outcomes of different actions so that you can choose the most appropriate treatment procedures for each emergency situation.

Sexual Assault Examination

You will learn how to handle cases of sexual assault in order to treat the patient and preserve biological evidence of the crime. You will discover how to physically examine male and female patients for signs of sexual assault. You will also be able to safely collect and store samples of bodily fluids that can be used as evidence if an assault case goes to trial.

Time Management

As you progress through your nursing courses, you will discover that time management is central to effective treatment of patients. Patients in the emergency room need immediate medical attention, so you will learn how to perform clinical procedures efficiently in order to save a life or preserve biological evidence of a crime.

Interpersonal Communication

A degree in this subject will give you tools to communicate with and relate to victims and perpetrators of crime in a healthcare setting. You will also learn how to listen actively to your patients so that you can treat them in the best way possible. In addition, you will learn to communicate with people in related professions like law enforcement officials, corrections officers and other medical staff.

Academic Degrees

What academic levels are available in this field?

Credentials in this field are available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. After you complete an undergraduate program at the associates or bachelors level, you can earn a graduate certificate. Or, you can enter a masters degree program. In either case, you may not enter a program until you have become a licensed registered nurse.

Select the degree level you are interested in:

  • Certificate
  • Bachelor’s
  • Master’s


A graduate certificate is the fastest way to enter this career path. To earn a graduate certificate, you will first have to complete an Associate of Science in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing and obtain a registered nursing license.

How long will I have to study to earn my graduate certificate?

After you complete your associates or bachelors degree in nursing, a graduate certificate can be earned in 12 to 20 credit hours, or in 1 year or less.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my certificate?

You will take a variety of courses relating to both the medical field and the criminal justice field. Exact courses vary by program, but you are likely to take medical classes like injury identification, biological evidence collection and nursing law and ethics. You will also take classes that introduce you to the fundamentals of forensic science, the criminal justice system and patterns of domestic violence. Many programs also require a short-term clinical practicum of 40 to 60 hours.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a certificate?

With a certificate, you can work as a correctional nurse, a legal nurse consultant or a forensic gerontology specialist. In some jurisdictions you will be eligible to work as a death investigator or a sexual assault nurse examiner.

What are the requirements for admission to a certificate program?

Before you can enroll in a certificate program, you will need to earn:

• an Associate of Science in Nursing or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing
• a registered nursing license through your state’s nursing board

Some graduate certificate programs also require nursing experience before you enter the program, but many do not.

What about getting a certificate online?

Several schools offer programs online. Earning a certificate online is a viable option if it includes an offline, clinical practicum. Most clinical practicums require 40 to 60 hours of supervised experience. The clinical practicum is essential because it brings the theory-based aspects of an online certificate program in this subject to life in the emergency room. There is no way to test your skills if you do not partake in a clinical practicum, so online certificate programs in this subject that do not require practical experience in a hospital are not recommended.

Bachelors Degree

Bachelors degree programs in this subject are extremely rare. If you want to enter the field, you need to get a graduate certificate or a masters degree.

Masters Degree

A masters degree in this subject takes longer to earn than a graduate certificate, but it will qualify you for a better salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurses who possess a masters degree have better job prospects and receive higher pay than nurses without graduate degrees.

What are the different types of masters degrees that I can earn in this subject?

The only masters degree program available in this area is a Master of Science. A masters degree requires students to take a scientific approach to studying nursing using methods of research and evaluation.

How long will I have to study to earn my masters degree?

A masters degree typically requires 36 to 40 credit hours to complete, including a clinical practicum. You can graduate from a masters program in about 2 years.

What types of courses will I take while studying for my masters degree?

As you pursue a masters degree in forensic science, you will take classes that help you develop a theoretical understanding of nursing and the criminal justice system. Although specific courses vary by program, you will take healthcare classes like nursing theory, research methods and healthcare ethics. You will also take classes related to criminal justice like sociology, forensic science, criminal law and theories of violence. Many programs also require a short-term clinical practicum of 40 to 60 hours.

What types of jobs can I hope to secure with a masters degree?

A masters degree will qualify you to work in nearly every area of nursing in forensics. Some career options include correctional nurse, legal nurse consultant, forensic psychiatric nurse and forensic gerontology specialist. You will also be able to work as a death investigator or a sexual assault nurse examiner in certain jurisdictions.

What are the requirements for admission to a masters degree program?

Before you can enroll in a forensic science masters degree program, you will need to earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing. You are also required to be a licensed registered nurse to be admitted.

What about getting an online masters degree?

Some schools offer an online masters degree. As long as your online masters degree includes an offline clinical practicum, there are no drawbacks to pursuing an online program. Most clinical forensic nursing practicums require 40 to 60 hours of supervised experience. The supervised clinical experience helps students to understand the reality of working in traumatic situations. You will not be prepared to work in the emergency room without a clinical practicum.

Licensing Information

What else should I keep in mind when considering studying forensic nursing?

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Certification

If you want to become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, you need to earn a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) credential. SANE courses typically require 40 hours of theoretical training and a 40- to 60-hour supervised clinical experience. You can specialize in adult or pediatric examination, or take a 64-hour course that trains you to examine both juveniles and adults. At the end of your training, you will be required to pass a written exam.

To be eligible to earn SANE certification, you must be a registered nurse. Although the SANE certificate will not qualify you for other forensic nursing jobs like corrections nurse or death investigator, it will significantly boost your resume and will qualify you for the most common position in the field of forensic nursing.


What are some other resources that can help me learn more about pursuing a degree or certificate in forensic nursing?

International Association of Forensic Nurses

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner and Sexual Assault Response Team

American Institute of Health Care Professionals – Forensic Nurse Specialist

Bureau of Labor Statistics – Registered Nurses

National Council of State Boards of Nursing

American Nurses Association