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What is a forensic nurse and how do you become one?

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Cameren’s Answer

According to forensicnurses.org, a forensic nurse is an RN or advanced practice nurse that has undergone specialized training and education beyond that of a standard RN. Forensic nurses are focused on providing care unique to patients who have "acute and long-term health consequences" associated with victimization or those have not yet met evidentiary needs related to victimization.

These types of nurses also provide consultation and and testimony for civil and criminal proceedings as it relates to their patients. They normally workin hospitals, community anti-violence programs, and corrections institutions. The fields that forensic nurses are able to work in include sexual assault, domestic violence, death investigations and elder mistreatment to name a few.

So basically a forensic nurse goes through the same steps someone would take to become a RN but then continues their education into this specialty. I hope this was helpful!

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Michelle’s Answer

Hi Zemira,

To be a Forensic Nurse, you must first be a nurse. This means you must have a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing from an accredited university. You will also need to be licensed in your state (passing the Nursing Board). You will also need to have been a nurse for several years - working in the hospital setting, a specialization is not required. The information I know about this area of nursing is from working and training with the Forensic Nurses I work with. I am a Certified Crime Scene Investigator and I work for the Sheriff's Office here in El Paso, TX. I have been a CSI for 13 years and have worked many sexual assault cases.

A Forensic Nurse provides a medical examination of the victim of a sexual assault. This examination is invasive and can be traumatic for the victim as well. The examination is external (looking for bruising, lacerations, wounds, burns, etc) and photos are taken as documentation. The internal examine is gynecological and is also documented any injuries. The victim is checked medically via pap smear for possible STDs and given preventive treatment for pregnancy. Swabs are taken vaginally and anally for fluids left by the suspect. It is psychologically traumatic to be assaulted, and the examination is also psychologically intense. The victim is asked to relive the assault by explaining what occurred and how things were done, and so the Forensic Nurse must also treat the victim mentally, with care and compassion. The examination is very lengthy and can take several hours, and then will take longer since the victim will still need to discuss the incident with police/law enforcement. The nurse and the victim are usually together for the examination, but I have also been briefly present to document injuries and collect clothing or other items. However, the Detective and any support services (victim services, advocates or counseling) comes after this examination.

I know that most universities do not have course work in Forensic Nursing available in their Nursing Schools. This course tends to be an elective, but if you find a school that does have one, you should take it or ask to review it (and not be charged /receive credit for it) if you are interested. There are a few course books out there on this topic, but it is mostly word of mouth that gets this area of interest within the Nursing field acknowledgement. Both my parents were nurses, and my father taught nursing at the University of Texas at El Paso for over 20 years. I introduced him to this area of Nursing since it was very new and he hadn't heard of it. That was about 30 years ago, and it has since grown into a bigger interest. I hope someday it will be it's own specialization, but until then, it is performed by nurses who want to give back selflessly to the community they live and work in, and feel that the victims need quality care and consideration during their most traumatic moment in life.

I hope this information was beneficial to you. Best of luck.

Just to clarify, you do not need a bachelors of science in nursing (BSN) to become a nurse. The minimum requirement is an associates degree in nursing (ADN). After completing an ADN program the student is ready for the state board. He or she then has the option to pursue a BSN if desired. Hope this helps, Melissa Melissa Haltom, MSN, APRN, FNP-C