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Essentials to Know About Forensic Nursing

November 22, 2021

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World over, the victims of violence, abuse, and crimes need care from a certified health professional trained to treat trauma associated with the wrong that has been done to them. Forensic nursing professionals are a critical resource for all anti-violence efforts. They play an important role in the team of forensic health professionals by collecting evidence and giving testimony that can later be used for apprehending perpetrators who commit violence and abusive acts.  Violence is an ever-present and rising social and health problem and forensic nurses are the links between the healthcare system and law. If you’re planning to study nursing in Canada, then Forensic nursing is a comparatively new specialization and it might turn out to be a right fit for you.  Forensic nursing is a field that may be for you if you have deep empathy with the victims and feel strongly that justice should prevail. In this blog, we will be emphasizing the essentials to know about forensic nursing so that you can get a clear picture of this field and all it entails. 

What is Forensic Nursing? 

Forensic nursing is the application of nursing processes to public or legal proceedings and the application of forensic health care in the scientific investigation of trauma or abuse, criminal activities, violence, and accidents.   Earlier, there was a special field recognized as forensic nursing and the term used for this field was clinical forensic medicine. This is a term that describes the use of clinical practices for supporting judicial proceedings to protect a victim usually after a death has occurred. It wasn’t until the late 20th century that medical professionals wanted collaboration between the medical and legal systems.  In the United States, this problem started getting addressed. A notable advocate for the forensic nursing field was Virginia Lynch. She pushed to have the specialty recognized and helped to form programs for formal nursing education in this field. Sometime in the 1980s, articles started getting published about how the evidence was destroyed during the treatment of the victim and from there, an explanation started on the role of nurses in not just forensic medicine but also for the criminal justice system while dealing with the victim of violence.  Mostly, nursing professionals practice with a holistic idea of mind, body, and spirit but with forensic nursing, the role of a nurse was changed to include the law as well. That said, it must be clear that this specialty was not established to turn the nurses into investigators. The nurses are just a vital resource for forming a healthy association between the healthcare and justice system. 

Who is a Forensic Nurse? 

A forensic nurse is a professional who works with crime victims to gather medical evidence and provide expert testimony that can be further used in court. One has to become a registered nurse and gain specialized nursing education for becoming a forensic nurse. It is a field that blends with the world of nursing, science, and the legal system.  According to the International Association of Forensic Nurses states, forensic nurses do much more than just address the physical and emotional needs of victims. They also collect evidence, provide suitable medical testimony in the court of law, and consult with legal authorities whenever needed. Since nurses are skilled in effective communication, assessment, and documentation, they are considered perfect professionals for forensic roles.  Forensic nurses work with many kinds of people in diverse settings. Amongst the many roles played by them, they may also work with the victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, legal proceedings, and public health organizations. 

What Does a Forensic Nurse Do? 

In any given situation, a forensic nurse is the first health care professional to deal with a victim of violence or abuse. It is the duty of a forensic nurse to assess and collect evidence from the perpetrators of the crime. The kinds of evidence collected can include digital photographs of injuries, specimens of blood, semen, skin, hair, swabs, DNA analysis, clothing, bullets, and more.  The psychosocial skills of a nurse are important in offering comfort, emotional support, and education to the victims and their families, particularly during the interview, physical examination, and collection of evidence. After the necessary evidentiary material has been collected, the nurse either treats the injuries or refers the patient to the next level of care.  The investigation of trauma before the surgical intervention or other life-saving measures is essential to secure the image and description of injury before it is lost with a sea of wound cleansing antiseptic, insertion of instruments, or suturing. 

Where Does a Forensic Nurse Work? 

The forensic nurses frequently work in hospitals, anti-violence programs, coroners and medical examiner offices, psychiatric hospitals, and correctional institutions. The forensic nurses may also be called on in mass disasters or community crisis situations. These nurses work either alone, in a team or they are on call during all hours of the day or night.  Forensic nursing courses in Canada also train professionals to work in organizations that deal with domestic violence and mistreatment of the elderly. Some forensic nurses work in hospitals as clinical risk managers for investigating events in which patients or the staff get injured or when an unusual death occurs.  Moreover, others work as forensic mental health nurses at Psychiatric institutions and correction facilities along with the police departments. The advanced forensic nurse practitioners who work directly within the legal system as legal nurse consultants are called on to investigate and provide expert opinions while preparing important cases. 
Becoming a Forensic Nurse: 
  1. Nursing Degree: The first and most important step for becoming a forensic nurse is to complete a registered nursing program. You must gain a four-year or three-year bachelor’s degree in nursing. 
  2. RN License: The next step is to take the RN licensing examination. After graduation, you must pass the NCLEX which is a nationwide examination for licensing of nurses in Canada and the United States. After passing this examination, you can apply for a nursing job. 
  3. Experience: In forensic nursing, employers prefer that the nurses should have prior clinical nursing experience. If the nurses have a background in medical-surgical, paediatrics, or psychiatric nursing then that offers a good start. 
  4. Certification: The certificate programs can train a nurse for unique skills needed for forensic specialty and they include programs in education or post-graduate departments of nursing schools. These programs vary in length and may also include a practicum. IAFN (International Association of Forensic Nursing) offers many certifications for forensic nurses out of which the most common one is Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) designation. The nurses must have at least two years of RN experience and be willing to meet other eligibility criteria as well. 
  5. Advanced Degree: The master’s and doctoral degree programs in forensic nursing are a great option. These are some degrees that prepare the nurses to work in teaching, research, clinical forensic, legal nurse consulting, forensic psychiatric nursing, and violence prevention programs roles. 
Salary and Scope of Forensic Nursing: 
The average salary of a forensic nurse in Canada is $76,752 per year or $39.36 per hour. The entry-level positions start at $74,323 per year and the experienced workers make up to $81,531 per year.  Forensic nursing has a vast scope in Canada as it entails making a difference in the life of the survivors while holding the perpetrators accountable and working to keep the communities safe. It has wide scope in Canada because nurses who broaden their skills in criminal procedures and legal investigations can become a part of special items with experience.  Forensic nursing is a field that has expanding career opportunities with a variety of specializations and certifications in child abuse, sexual assault, elder abuse, correctional nursing, and medical examiners.  Conclusion:  Forensic nursing is a field that nurses can pursue without limiting their career options. Forensic nurses combine healthcare and criminal justice training into a specialized career. They often enjoy personal and professional satisfaction. 

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