Forensic nursing programs are available to registered nurses who would want to branch out into this relatively new field of nursing. Like general nurses, forensic nurses offer patient care and assistance but in a more medical-legal capacity. They efficiently work with not only healthcare workers, but with legislators, policy makers and government agencies like public health departments and protective services.
Registered nurses have the option of enrolling in graduate or undergraduate forensic nursing programs. Once you have finished an undergrad program either at the bachelor’s or associate’s level, you will be qualified to get a forensic nursing graduate certificate or a forensic nursing master’s degree. Note though that only licensed RNs can enroll in forensic nursing programs. Below are some useful details you need to know before applying to a forensic nursing program:
• Forensic Nursing Graduate Certificate
Undoubtedly, the quickest route to become a forensic nurse is to earn a graduate certificate. To do this, you have to have either an ASN or Associate of Science in Nursing Degree or a BSN or Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree, as well as a license. Given that you have a BSN or ASN degree, you can earn your graduate certificate in forensic nursing in around less than one year to a year or in 12 – 20 credit hours.
Depending on the forensic nursing graduate certificate program, you may be required to have work experience as a nurse. While earning your graduate certificate, you will be taught special courses associated with both the criminal justice and medical fields. The specific curriculum will of course depend on the educational institution you enrolled with, but common courses include nursing law, nursing ethics, identification of injuries, and collection of biological evidence.
Likewise, you’ll have classes about the basics of criminal justice, domestic violence patterns, and of course, forensic science. In addition, majority of forensic nursing programs will include clinical practice for 40 to 60 hours.
• Bachelor’s and Master’s Degrees in Forensic Nursing
Forensic nursing bachelor’s degrees are currently considered rare, but they do exist. On the other hand, forensic nursing master’s degrees require more time than a certificate but will be worth it in the long run since master’s holders can get better-paying job prospects. Specifically speaking, the most common forensic nursing master’s degree is the Master of Science in Forensic Nursing. This forensic nursing program will require that students implement a scientific model or approach when studying specialized evaluation and research methods.
Before being qualified for enrollment in this forensic nursing program, you have to have a BSN or Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Additionally, you have to be a licensed registered nurse; majority of programs will require that you have nursing work experience. This type of forensic nursing degree can be finished in around 36 to 40 credit hours, which includes clinical practice. Depending on your schedule, you can expect to earn your master’s degree in around two years time.
While pursuing a forensic nursing master’s degree, you’ll be involved in classes that take up the inner workings of the criminal justice system and nursing. While specific classes will depend on the curriculum of the school you are enrolled in, you can expect to have classes on healthcare ethics, methods of research, and nursing theory. Likewise, you will classes on forensic science, violence theories, criminal law, and sociology to name a few. Required clinical practice can last from 40 to 60 hours.
• Forensic Nursing Programs – Job Prospects
Although relatively new to the healthcare field, statistics show that the job outlook for forensic nursing graduates is steadily rising. Below are some of the more common job prospects for graduates of forensic nursing programs.
1. SANE or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner - SANEs are responsible for addressing the emotional and physical needs of victims of sexual assault. They are knowledgeable on emergency treatments and other post-trauma patient care offerings. Likewise, SANEs are expertly trained to be capable of assessing the conditions of victims, as well as collecting physical and biological evidence. In most cases, they can also provide testimonies when a case goes to court.
For those who want to be a sexual assault nurse examiner, you should also have a SANE license. To do this, you are required to undergo 40 hours of theory training, as well as 40 to 60 hours of supervised clinical practicum. You have the option of specializing in pediatric or adult examinations, or alternatively enroll in a course teaching both pediatric and adult examinations. You should also pass a written test after training. Only registered nurses can qualify for a SANE certificate.
2. Forensic Psychiatric Nurse – These nurses handle mentally unstable inmates with behavioral, psychological, or social disorders. Forensic psychiatric nurses assess requirements of mental patients in order to effectively manage rehabilitation measures.
3. Investigator of Death – These are forensic nurses who closely work with coroners or medical examiners in order to verify a patient’s COD or cause of death. Tasks may also include evaluating the deceased’s medical background, examining the place of death, and inspecting the body.
4. Correctional Nursing Specialist – Also called correctional nurses, these nurses offer medical services to inmates in prisons or jails. They are responsible for giving medicines, conducting physical examinations, and offering emergency treatment. They can also attend to the needs of the mentally and physically ill inmates.
5. Forensic Gerontology Specialist – These forensic nurses handle neglect or abuse cases concerning the elderly. They offer patient care to elderly victims, collect evidence, and sometimes, bear witness in court proceedings.
6. Legal Nurse Consultants – These kinds of forensic nurses are focused on forensic science’s legal aspects. They assist lawyers or policy makers with medical-related cases. They can also give testimonies in court when called upon.
Now that you know the basic, but very useful facts concerning forensic nursing programs, your next step is to decide which program to enroll in and what area to specialize in.