With the continuing popularity of crime television shows, and the increasingly volatile nature of society, it isn’t surprising that forensic nursing is here to stay.
Though forensic nursing has been around in infant form since the 1970’s, it didn’t really begin coming unique nursing discipline until the 1990’s. The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN), the first professional organization for the field was established during this time.
Forensic nursing now comprises many specialty areas including: forensic clinical nurse specialists, forensic nurse investigators, nurse coroner/death investigators, sexual assault nurse examiners (SANEs), legal nurse consultants, forensic gerontology specialists, forensic psychiatric nurses and correctional nursing specialists. Most of these forensic nurses don’t spend their days identifying corpses and investigating crime scenes. They are more likely to be working with the living. The most common place to find a forensic nurse is in the emergency room. Just as in the beginning, working with sexual assault victims is the most common specialization among forensic nurses. It takes a special kind of nurse to work with rape and sexual abuse victims, gathering evidence and training other nurses to treat these fragile patients. This area is generally considered the entry point into forensic nursing.
Forensic nurses also gather information about morbidity and mortality from many different sources. They can be found taking care of domestic violence patients, investigating and counseling in child and elder abuse, working in emergency trauma, correctional facilities, counseling school children or serving as legal consultants. It’s a whole new way of looking at nursing that focuses on many legal aspects. For instance, a natural course of action when a trauma victim arrives in the ER would be to cleanse their wounds to be able to see the extent of the trauma underneath and prevent as much infection and contamination as possible. A forensic nurse would have you understand that what you just washed away was evidence: clues to a bigger story than just the injury alone can tell. Forensic nurses are specially trained to collect these pieces of evidence as well as deal with the individual on a personal level. In fact, many foresee a time when a forensic nurse will need to be employed by every major hospital in the United States. As crime continues to go up, the unfortunate result is an increased need for those in all fields who know how to deal with these types of situations.
So, what exactly do these nurses earn? Their salaries are as varied as their roles, depending on the type of environment they work in their salary can be paid as an “on call” basis, a regular hourly salary, or a commission basis in which they own their own consulting business. Forensic nurses working as independent consultants may be on call 24 hours a day and as a result, may earn high hourly rates. Those employed full time in emergency rooms or the medical examiners’ office may work regular shifts and earn lower salaries. In general a starting salary appears to be about $25 an hour.
If you have an interest in becoming a forensic nurse, the best starting place is generally obtaining training as a SANE. Courses for nurses working in sexual assault are becoming readily available. After training, SANE nurses generally continue to work their regular shifts, often in emergency departments, while taking call time and building up experience as a SANE. It is also important to begin establishing a network with law enforcement officials, district attorneys, victim advocacy groups and coroners. These will all provide valuable experience and connections. Additional training can also be obtained in certification programs associated with universities. Courses can be included as electives in undergraduate or graduate nursing programs. Continuing education courses can also be used to expand upon the nurse’s knowledge and experience.
Resources accessed December 2007:
American Forensic Nurses: Frequently Asked Questions. http://www.amrn.com/faq.html
The Forensic Nurse: Where Science and Nursing Come Together. http://www.theforensicnurse.com/
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