Within the field of nursing, specialties like forensic nursing exist to give professionals more specific options for using their careers in their own areas of interest. According to the International Association of Forensic Nursing or IAFN, nursing that focuses on forensics is the “fastest growing nursing subspecialty,” but employers may not necessarily know much about what the job entails due to its relative newness as a specialization. Forensic nurses assist in legal investigations as expert or fact witnesses, but they may also perform a wide range of jobs as described below.
What They Do
Like all nurses, forensic nurses focus on patient care, but they combine this training with keen observation skills to assist police and legal professionals with criminal investigations. Forensic nurses are skilled at recognizing inconsistencies that help resolve medical issues, and they act as a bridge between health care and law enforcement. Typical subspecialties within the field include sexual assault, child abuse or neglect, elder abuse, domestic violence, corrections, mass disasters and death investigations among others. These nurses use their medical and criminology training to evaluate and document suspicious behaviors and activities. They may also act as expert witnesses during trials or during a legal investigation.
How to Become One
Currently, educational certification isn’t available for forensic nurses. DiscoverNursing.com, an extension of the Johnson & Johnson Campaign for Nursing’s Future, notes that despite the lack of educational degree in this field, “you can get certified as a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner.” The IAFN offers this type of certification as a written credentialing program, but nurses who want to specialize in this field may find similar programs in their area or online. The bottom line is that nurses who earn a bachelor’s degree will automatically have most of the skills necessary to practice forensics. Experience matters more in this field. To become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner, nurses need to meet the requirements of the program and pass licensing exams in their state.
A Growing Need
Because of their work in relation to criminal activity, nurses with forensic credentialing may see an increase in demand once employers understand their unique specialty. Unfortunately, the IAFN points out forensic health care professionals often must advocate for their positions without community support due to a lack of widespread understanding about their jobs. Still, the field of forensics is popular and growing. Nurses nationwide will enjoy steady growth regardless of specialty, and those in the forensic field should see a good return on their educational investment in the long run. Violent crime units that focus on sexual assault in particular have great need of health care professionals with forensic training.
Nursing as a profession continues to gain ground as one of the most diverse careers available largely due to the myriad possibilities within the field. As health care professionals working closely with doctors, lawyers, police officers and other specialists, forensic nurses have a distinct opportunity to hone their skills and develop critical observation techniques that will serve them well regardless of the specialty they choose. Not only do health care professionals who specialize in forensic nursing make a difference in the lives of their patients, but they also work actively to improve the lives of other patients by bringing to justice those who attempt to circumvent the legal system.