Eight Great Forensic Nurse Specialties

Learn about the different areas of forensic nursing and get job insight.

nurse shows reflective sheet to two doctors
nurse shows reflective sheet to two doctors

Forensic nursing encompasses a body of specialty professions that serve unique and critical roles to the health care and judicial systems. Forensic nurses might treat assault victims, investigate crime scenes or provide health care in a correctional facility. If the idea of a forensic nursing degree appeals to you, take a closer look at the aspects of each of the eight specialty areas described below.

1. Correctional nursing specialists

Correctional nursing specialists provide efficient, quality health care to individuals detained by the courts, including those in jail, prison, juvenile offender facilities and other correctional institutions. Within these facilities, correctional nursing specialists may tend to the sick, perform routine physical examinations and administer medication to people with chronic needs.

2. Forensic clinical nurse specialists

Forensic clinical nurse specialists hold a master’s or doctoral forensic nursing degree and use their advanced training to serve as expert clinicians, teachers, researches, consultants and administrators in different forensic settings. They may work in emergency rooms, sexual assault examination programs, psychiatric forensic treatment units or death investigation teams.

3. Forensic gerontology specialists

Forensic gerontology specialists help investigate cases involving the abuse, neglect or exploitation of elders and work to raise awareness regarding legal and human rights issues. These forensic nurses typically work in hospitals, nursing homes and other facilities dedicated to caring for the elderly.

4. Forensic nurse investigators

Forensic nurse investigators uncover the circumstances surrounding an unexpected or violent death. Typically employed in a medical examiner’s or coroner’s office, forensic nurse investigators examine the body, study the scene, assist in autopsies and collect medical and social history information on the deceased in order to determine the exact cause of death. Forensic nurse investigators often work with nurse coroners or death investigators.

5. Forensic psychiatric nurses

Forensic psychiatric nurses specialize in managing offenders with psychological, social and behavioral disorders. They assess and select patients for treatment, provide rehabilitative care and supervise a patient’s actions within the community. In addition, forensic psychiatric nurses may examine and treat criminal defendants and assist colleagues who have witnessed assaults or experienced some form of emotional trauma.

6. Legal nurse consultants

Legal nurse consultants aid attorneys working on civil cases where the law and medicine overlap. Some of these situations might include medical malpractice, personal injury, workers’ compensation, and probate. Legal nurse consultants apply their forensic nursing education and clinical experience to interpret, research and analyze the medically-related information relevant to a case or claim, educating attorneys about medical facts and acting as liaisons between attorneys, physicians, and clients.

7. Nurse coroners or death investigators

Nurse coroners or death investigators apply their nursing skills to crime scene investigations. As the first forensic professional to arrive at the scene of a suspicious death, a nurse coroner or death investigator analyzes the scene and examines the body in order to approximate the time of death and find medical clues that might explain the cause.

8. Sexual assault nurse examiners

Sexual assault nurse examiners offer compassionate, prompt care to victims of sexual assault. Qualified through a specialized forensic nursing education, they assess and evaluate injuries that a victim has suffered; locate, collect and package forensic evidence relevant to the crime; and provide information or referrals regarding the victim’s continued care. In the courtroom, sexual assault nurse examiners represent the victim, serving as expert witnesses who offer testimony based on their documented evidence.

Through their work and dedication, forensic nurses have a profound effect on the criminal justice system and the public at large. A forensic nursing degree can lead to a career that makes a difference to health of the patients, the victims whose voices they represent and the communities they improve as a result of their expertise and compassion.

Can I Get Certified?

Certification is a formal process that validates your qualifications and knowledge on a subject or specialty. In some cases, earning a certification may position you to earn a higher salary and advance in your career.

If you hold an active registered nurse (RN) license, you have at least two years of nursing experience, and you have fulfilled other requirements, you can earn the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) certification at the adult or pediatric level.

Sources: American Association of Legal Nurse Consultants; International Association of Forensic Nurses; Forensic Education; U.S. Department of Justice, Office for Victims of Crime Bulletin; Medi-Smart Nursing Education Resources.