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Who Is a Forensic Nurse And Is This Job Right For You?

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May 2, 2022

Since the 1980s, forensic nursing has been justified as a bridge between medicine and the law in healthcare. Not until 1995 was the International Association of Forensic Nurses instituted and recognized by the American Nurses Association.

In 2009, International Association of Forensic Nurses and the ANA drafted scope and operational standards guiding forensic nursing practice within the country.

It all started with Virginia Lynch (popularly referred to as the mother of Forensic Nursing). In 1982, while visiting a crime lab, she discovered that evidence such as clothing and other specimens went missing while a victim was being treated. This ignited her passion for the field.

According to Lynch, each time she asked the police if the culprit who abused the victims would face the wrath of the law, the police said it was unlikely because all evidence required to prove the case had been destroyed during medical care.

At this point, she realized that healthcare professionals were unintentionally obstructing justice.

Say you need more knowledge on this fast-evolving field of nursing, or you want to transition into a career in forensic nursing. In that case, this article will detail everything you need to know about forensic nursing.

What is a Forensic Nurse?

The International Association of Forensic Nurses defines forensic nursing as nurses who treat patients who have been physically or emotionally victimized or patients traumatized by what happened to them.

They are registered nurses trained and certified to provide care to patients that experienced victimization, sexual assault, domestic violence, or even victims of unpredictable catastrophic events.

As they are the first point of contact between crime victims and the healthcare facility, they provide services in various fields where healthcare and the Law intersect. 

What does a Forensic Nurse Do?

The forensic nurse is the first practitioner to deal with victims of violence or abuse. Examples include; domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, homicide, human trafficking assault, etc.  

Forensic nurses are sometimes called to collect evidence from the perpetrators at the crime scenes. Examples of evidence they collect include; digitized photographs of injuries, blood samples, semen, hair strands for DNA analysis, bullets, clothing, etc.

Their psychological skills come in handy when providing comfort to the victims, particularly during physical examinations, interviews, or evidence collection. When the nurse has collected all evidence relevant to the investigations, the nurse can refer the patients to the next level of care.

Before treatment, it is necessary to investigate the patients' trauma or injury. The forensic nurse is often the first healthcare worker to attend to such patients. Some key evidence might be lost during treatment.

Another unusual job description of forensic nurses is that they ‘speak for the dead. In their bid to answer all questions and ensure justice is served for the victim, they investigate the causes of sudden suspicious or violent deaths. In particular, if the death occurred under mysterious or violent circumstances.

Where do Forensic Nurses Practice?

Forensic nurses work in hospitals. They also work in correctional institutions, community anti-violence programs, psychiatric hospitals, medical examiner offices, etc. Their services are also required in mass disasters or community crises. 

Most forensic nurses in the United States work as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) in the emergency wards of hospitals. Working in this capacity, they deal with victims of rape and molestation. 

Forensic nurses can also work in organizations that deal with violence and ill-treatment of the elderly.

At a higher level, forensic nurses may work directly within legal systems and legal nurse consultants, called to investigate and provide expert opinion to lawyers investigating their cases.

Steps and Requirements to Become a Forensic Nurse 

Generally, forensic nursing can be very tedious and emotionally draining. Seeing that you will be working with many trauma victims, you will see and hear so many dreadful cases that can be detrimental to your mental health. 

Therefore, extra-recommended qualities are needed for forensic nurses. These include a high level of coordination, emotional stability, great analytical skill, excellent communication skill, and the ability to give great attention to detail.

For starters, The IAFN requires that intending forensic nurses undergo a postgraduate certificate course to qualify as a SANE. The course is divided into 40 hours of theoretical coursework and another  40 hours of clinical training in SANE-P (pediatrics and adolescents) or SANE-A (adult).

To become a forensic nurse and contribute to the justice system, you can either pursue a bachelor's degree in forensic nursing from an accredited university or supplement your nursing degree with further educational courses.  Some forensic nursing academic courses and programs include; 

  • Forensic science, mental health, and law
  • The study of victimology and criminology
  •  An overview of the criminal justice system.

 To qualify for advanced practice as a forensic nurse investigator, you can also obtain a master's degree in forensic nursing. Nurses in this category prepare to work as nurse coroners, consultants, and death investigators.

 Is Forensic Nursing Right For You?

Working with victimized and abused patients and watching them recover physically and emotionally while bringing the culprits to justice can be exhilarating. You have the opportunity to see your patients through a crisis state and make such a difference in their life.

If you are interested in bridging the gap between medicine and the criminal justice system, Forensic nursing might just be the path for you.

Exciting as it sounds, you need to understand what you are signing up for. More than healing patients, you are charged with the responsibility of seeing to the fact that justice is brought to your patients. This can be emotionally draining.

While no nursing field is free from seeing traumatized patients, a forensic nurse’s job requires them to see traumatized patients daily. Therefore, forensic nurses are prone to burnout and other psychological conditions.

If you opt for this career path, you need to be particularly mindful of your mental health. If you are easily triggered emotionally or fall into depression easily, forensic nursing might not be a good career path. 

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