The Exciting Field of Forensic Nursing
Forensic nursing is a relatively young specialization in the nursing field. A forensic nurse generally does not participate in traditional patient treatment. Instead they examine and care for patients who have injuries as a result of abuse, crime, or a traumatic and/or violent accident.
Some of the skills required for a forensic nurse include:
- Able to communicate in court
- Able to communicate with victims who may be mentally or physically traumatized
- Attention to detail
- Excellent memory
- Observational skills
- Precise following of a routine
Because a forensic nurse may be treating a victim of a crime, it is crucial that they be able to follow evidence collection protocols every time. Failure to do so may result in contaminated or inadmissible evidence. They also must be able to collect evidence without disturbing or upsetting victims who may be in a fragile state of mind.
Most forensic nurses will complete their choice of degrees and then may choose a sub-specialty within forensic nursing. Some sub-specialties are:
- Death investigation
- Forensic psychiatric nursing
- Medical-legal consulting
- Sexual assault
Sub-specialties can increase the chances of a promotion or raise. They also increase a forensic nurse’s knowledge and can help them improve some of their technical skills. Because the competition for jobs may be fierce at top tier facilities, having a sub-specialty on the resume can help a forensic nurse be noticed.
As with any other nursing specialty, a forensic nurse must have their nursing license. A license will need to be renewed on a regular basis in most states. License renewal typically has certain conditions tied to its approval such as continuing education. Certification courses and seminars will likely need to be taken on a regular basis as laws may change in each state periodically.
Specific responsibilities may vary depending upon the employer, with smaller facilities asking forensic nurses to handle more duties related to traditional nursing. Generally forensic nurses are at least responsible for:
- Evidence collection
- Evidence documentation
- Testifying in court
Testimony by forensic nurses may be given as either a fact witness or an expert witness. A fact witness will have seen the event, situation, or the victim themselves. An expert witness is called to give their opinion of an event, situation, or victim. Witnesses must have impeccable credibility and be able to give and recall their testimony accurately every time.
Most forensic nurses are employed by major hospitals in urban locations. Smaller or rural hospitals may only have one or a few forensic nurse positions, depending upon staffing requirements and state law. Like nursing overall, forensic nursing is expected to experience considerable job growth from 2008 to 2018. Urban areas will have the greatest need for forensic nurses. Professionals who can speak multiple languages will have the best job opportunities.
For professionals who may not have felt entirely comfortable with a traditional nursing specialization, forensic nursing combines patient care and investigation. While the position may not be for everyone, forensic nurses fill a valuable niche between traditional medical care and the criminal justice system.