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Forensic Nursing Careers

What Does a Forensic Nurse Do, and How Do I Become A Forensic Nurse?

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Forensic nursing is a relatively new aspect of the nursing field. While forensic nursing is a rapidly growing segment of the nursing profession, many nursing schools have yet to provide significant coursework in forensic nursing.

One school that has a comprehensive program in forensic nursing is Cleveland State University's nursing school in Ohio. Vida Lock, the Director of CSU's nursing school, provides some excellent information for an in-depth look at Forensic Nursing:

What is forensic nursing, and why is forensic nursing important?
Forensic nursing bridges the gap between health care and law enforcement. It’s the application of the science and art of nursing to criminal and civil investigations and legal matters. Forensic nurses provide care to victims and perpetrators of trauma or death due to traumatic events or criminal acts. Not only do forensic nurses assist with their patients' physical and emotional recoveries, but they are trained to recognize and collect evidence while treating a patient’s wounds. This is an extremely delicate and crucial aspect to their job.

What is the history of the forensic nursing training program?
CSU created its Forensic Nursing Program in 2002 in order to educate nurses that were treating victims of pediatric trauma, sexual assault and domestic violence. After speaking with a variety of nurses, CSU discovered that the nurses wanted a program that educated them about how the legal system worked, how to document information and what evidence looked like. According to Vida Lock, who is the director of Cleveland State University’s School of Nursing, Forensic Nursing at CSU is a very specialized track within the University’s Master of Science (MSN) program.

How many nursing school programs offer courses in forensic nursing?
CSU’s forensic nursing program is the only one of its kind in the region. According to Vida Lock, 26 of the 84 Master of Nursing students are in the forensic track, accounting for 30% of the nursing school’s Master’s program enrollment.

Which employers typically hire forensic nurses? How does the compensation for forensic nurses compare to other types of nurses?
Most forensically trained nurses work in, or with, hospitals, correction departments, and jails. Forensic nurses can also work independently as private consultants for law enforcement agencies or insurance companies.

Although salary tends to depend on location and specialty, forensic nurses usually earn more than registered nurses do because of their higher education. Pay can also increase if a nurse is working in hospital risk management or prevention, for a coroner, attorney or insurance company or in a fee-for-service practice.

How is forensic nursing education different from other nursing education programs?
Forensic nursing is different from other types of nursing education because students acquire the in-depth knowledge and skill that interfaces nursing with the law, law enforcement, forensic science, mental health and the health care and judicial systems. In addition to learning basic theory and concepts, students are introduced to the real-world aspects of forensic nursing and interacting with the law enforcement and legal systems.

CSU’s program is structured so that students receive the core courses in the MSN: Specialized Population major. This allows students to gain a strong foundation in population health as well as theory and research. In addition, the students are required to take courses specifically related to the population of victims/perpetrators of crime, violence, or traumatic events. Students get hands-on experience in the second phase of the program which can include stints in local coroner’s offices, hospital ERs and critical care units, law offices, police departments, correctional facilities or other places forensic nurses could end up working.

What is the work environment like for forensic nursing careers?
As far as patients go, forensic nurses can work with victims of rape, sexual assault, domestic violence, pediatric trauma, as well as victims of other violent or traumatic events.

Forensic nurses often work with hospitals, prisons and law enforcement to collect and document evidence, and act as aids in a crime scene investigation. They can also provide expert testimony in court helping the police to catch and convict criminals.

Why would someone want to work in forensic nursing?
Many students in forensic nursing work full time as emergency room, critical care and/or intensive care nurses. They’re already working with victims and want to be able to assist them in a legal way.

What are some of the challenges of a forensic nursing careers?
One of the challenges of forensic nursing is to stay focused and calm in a fast-paced, chaotic and often upsetting environment. Forensic nurses need to be able to comfort victims while gathering evidence.

Often, forensic nurses work in the emergency room on a separate team from the other ER staff so that they can perform thorough examinations and devote their time to the patients’ mental and physical recovery.

Since patients of a physical crime are not always willing to come forward, forensic nurses often need to study markings on their bodies in order to decipher what type of crime was committed and how the patient was injured.

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