Whether you are already a nurse or just beginning to explore the nursing profession, you may be interested in learning what a forensic nurse does. You might be especially interested in that question if you've heard how fast this particular nursing specialty is growing. According to the International Association of Forensic Nursing (IAFN), it is the most rapidly growing sub-specialty in the profession. It takes a special commitment to become a forensic nurse. Read on to learn more about this unique and important nursing role.

The Role of a Forensic Nurse

A forensic nurse is a registered nurse (RN) who specializes in helping trauma victims. These may be people who have been victimized purposefully or unintentionally through acts of violence. Forensic nurses sometimes also take care of the perpetrators of violent acts who have become injured or ill. Although the role of a forensic nurse is primarily medical, a nurse in this role also needs to be well-versed in legal matters. Forensic nurses are sometimes called upon to collect or present medical evidence as a consultant or in a courtroom setting. As a forensic nurse, you could work in a variety of settings including hospitals, psychiatric offices, medical examiner offices, correctional facilities, coroners offices or in a community program that reaches out to victims of abuse or other violence.

Becoming a Forensic Nurse

As you can see from the above description, this is a highly important nursing role. Becoming a forensic nurse will mean gaining education and special skills to help patients during times of terrible stress and trauma. Many nurses interested in this field begin by taking a class to become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE). The IAFN, which offers two kinds of board certification for SANEs (one for those working with adolescents and adults, and one for those working with children) recommends a minimum amount of 80 hours of initial training, divided into 40 clinical and 40 classroom hours. Not all forensic nurses are board certified, but the certification can often help nurses to find positions and maintain their roles on a hospital or clinical staff. Those who wish to become board certified as SANEs must take and pass an exam offered by the Commission for Forensic Nursing Certification (CFNC) which is given two times annually, in the spring and fall. Those who pass are initially certified for three years.

Some forensic nurses may have other important roles, including work as a death investigator. Generally, medical examiners are called in to determine the cause of a person's death when there has been an accident or crime. Sometimes medical examiners or coroners (who are not necessarily medically trained) need to consult with a trained forensic nurse or doctor who can help them determine cause of death. This is not always an easy task, and any forensic nurse who works in such a role will likely need to have experience in emergency room nursing or work in intensive care units.

Related Resource: Different Nursing Specializations

Many people see forensic nurses as an important link between the medical and legal worlds. Though it is not easy work, it is very important work. If you're interested in learning more about what a forensic nurse does, the IAFN recommends that you spend time talking with someone who already has experience in the role.