How to Become a Forensic Nurse

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Nurses often play a vital role in the care of patients. While there are many specialties of nursing, working as a forensic nurse can be a very rewarding career path. Forensic nurses often work to provide high levels of care to vulnerable patients and sensitive cases. In this article, we describe what a forensic nurse is, explain what their duties are, provide a list of skills that can benefit forensic nurses and outline steps you can take to pursue a career as a forensic nurse.

What is a forensic nurse?

A forensic nurse is a healthcare professional who specialises in caring for victims of violent crimes. They are often responsible for collecting evidence and presenting their findings during legal proceedings. Typically, forensic nurses work with survivors in hospital settings and anti-violence centres. They might also work in medical examiner or coroners’ offices where they collect evidence from deceased victims.

What Does a Forensic Nurse Do?

Forensic nurses are specially trained registered nurses (RNs) and serve victims of abuse, violence, human trafficking, and more. Their job responsibilities may include:

Collecting evidence

Photographing injuries for evidence

Working with victims of domestic abuse or violence

Connecting with law enforcement and legal teams to help victims

Providing testimony in court cases

Working with medical examiners when victims die

Forensic nurses may also be involved in other nursing duties. Traditional nursing responsibilities will usually include recording vitals, administering medication and treatment, talking to patients about their health history, assisting doctors in their procedures, and more.


There are varied paths to becoming a forensic nurse. Some choose to receive their associate degree in nursing obtain their registered nursing (RN) license; garner experience and specialized education in the field of forensics  and achieve an entry-level professional certification. Others, however, choose to push their degree and credentials to a more advanced level to enhance their candidacy for employment and salary prospects. Below is one possible path to becoming a forensic nurse.

Step 1: Graduate from high school. Forensic nurses of all levels must graduate from high school or complete their GED. In addition, prospective forensic nurses are advised to excel in courses such as chemistry, biology, physics, anatomy, and mathematics to enhance their college applications. At this stage, some students may even take an internship or volunteer through local programs at hospitals, police departments, or civic organizations.

Step 2: Attend an accredited bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program (4 years). Although some aspiring forensic nurses choose to pursue an associate’s degree before earning their registered nursing (RN) license, it may be advisable to enroll in a four-year BSN program that has many advantages.

First, BSN programs may provide a wider variety of classes, including specialized instruction in forensic photography in a healthcare setting; courtroom testimony by a healthcare specialist; and forensic approaches to domestic violence. Second, professional certifications such as the advanced forensic nurse board-certified (AFN-BC) credential require a master’s degree. Finally, getting a BSN fulfills many of the prerequisites of graduate education in nursing.

Step 3: Pass the NCLEX-RN exam (timeline varies). The National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN) provides the NCLEX-RN exam, the leading certification for registered nurses (RNs). Since requirements to take the exam vary slightly by state, NCSBN encourages candidates to check with their local state board of nursing.

Step 4: Garner nursing experience in the field and additional education in forensic nursing (timeline varies). While some aspiring forensic nurses may be eager to jump into graduate education, many people choose to garner RN experience and advance their specialized training through certificate programs or other opportunities. There are various programs available to RNs to advance their preparation in the forensic subfield.

Step 5: Get entry-level professional certification (timeline varies). At this stage, some candidates choose to pursue certification, enhancing a person’s employment prospects. For example, the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) provides two sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) certifications: SANE-P (pediatric) and SANE-A (adults and adolescents).

Step 6: (Optional): Pursue a master’s degree in forensic nursing. To reach the upper echelons of this field, prospective forensic nurses are encouraged to pursue graduate education in the field.


Forensic nursing can be a rewarding career for medical professionals due to the nature of the work and monetarily. According to job postings on Monster (2022), these professionals earn median annual salaries of $92,000.