Forensic Nursing Degree and Certificate Program Summaries

Oct 20, 2021

Essential Information

Many universities offer certificate programs in forensic nursing as extension or continuing education courses. These programs are not limited to registered nurses, but are open to many types of licensed medical personnel, including paramedics, physicians, and practical nurses. Students learn to gather and record forensic evidence, treat patients at the scene of a crime, testify in court, and work with law enforcement and medical teams. Certificate programs require about 25 credit hours to complete.

Master's degree programs in forensic nursing admit only registered nurses with bachelor's degrees in nursing. These programs include most of the instruction offered in a certificate program, but may also offer additional courses in subjects such as nursing theory, perpetrator care, criminal law, and clinical care, as well as clinical experience. Most programs require about 36 credit hours. Online programs may be available.

Forensic Nursing Certificate

Forensic nursing certificate programs are often offered through the extension or continuing education departments of 4-year universities and are designed for registered nurses or other certified healthcare professionals. They provide students with the educational background and training necessary to assist at crime scenes. Students enrolled in forensic nursing certificate programs learn to:

  • Collect and sort forensic evidence
  • Determine immediate treatment plans for victims at the scene
  • Identify and execute the procedures necessary to treat various types of trauma
  • Work within law enforcement and medical teams

The courses included within a forensic nursing certificate program are designed to provide students with an understanding of how to apply forensic practices within a healthcare setting and vice versa. Some specific examples include:

  • Introduction to forensic science
  • Forensic approaches to firearm injury
  • Forensic approaches to domestic violence
  • Crime scene preservation
  • Courtroom testimony procedures
  • Forensic photography and healthcare

Master of Science in Forensic Nursing

Master of Science (MSN) in Forensic Nursing programs are designed for individuals who are interested in specializing in forensic nursing through the completion of a graduate program. MSN programs in the field incorporate advanced courses in nursing practice, nursing theory, and clinical nursing.

An institution may allow students to choose to complete either a thesis or a research project. They may also be required to participate in a practicum experience. Core courses may include:

  • Nursing theory and research
  • Advanced clinical concepts
  • Forensic nursing and victim care
  • Forensic nursing and perpetrator care
  • Forensic nursing interventions
  • Introduction to criminal law

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Healthcare professionals who have an educational background in forensic nursing may take positions in advanced practice nursing, clinical nursing, education or research. Types of positions include (may require additional education):

  • Nurse investigator
  • Nurse coroner
  • Forensic psychiatric nurse
  • Clinical nurse specialist
  • Sexual assault nurse

All registered nurses, including nurse specialists, earned median salaries of $75,330 as of 2020, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The number of employed registered nurses is projected to grow 7% during the 2019-2029 decade, reports the BLS, which is faster than the average for all job sectors.

Continuing Education

The International Association of Forensic Nurses' Forensic Nursing Certification Board offers two different types of certification for professionals in the field. They award the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner - Adult/Adolescent credential and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner - Pediatric credential. Forensic nurses must complete an examination to gain certification.

To become a forensic nurse, students must earn either a forensic nursing certificate or a Master of Science in Forensic Nursing degree. In addition, students can earn professional certification to become sexual assault nurse examiners.

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