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The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) defines them as “a nurse who provides specialized care for patients who are victims and/or perpetrators of trauma (both intentional and unintentional).” However, the specialized role of forensic nursing goes far beyond medical care; forensic nurses also have a specialized knowledge of the legal system and skills in injury identification, evaluation and documentation. After attending to a patient’s immediate medical needs, a forensic nurse often collects evidence, provides medical testimony in court, and consults with legal authorities. In this endeavor, they work  in a variety of fields, including sexual assault (as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners or SANEs), domestic violence, child abuse and neglect, elder mistreatment, death investigation, corrections, and even in the aftermath of mass disasters.

Many nurses begin as a SANE which requires a RN minimum, and preferably two or more years experience in areas involving advanced physical assessment, such as ER, critical care and/or maternal child health. The SANE coursework targets three population segments:

  1. Adult/Adolescent: require a minimum of 40 hours of didactic coursework that yields 40 continuing nursing education contact hours, or academic credit or the national equivalent from an accredited educational institution; and • Clinical components, including simulated clinical experiences, are completed in addition to the coursework and are not calculated as a part of the 40 hours.
  2. Pediatric/Adolescent: same as #1.
  3. Combination of Adult/Adolescent and Pediatric/Adolescent: A minimum of 64 hours of didactic coursework that yields 64 continuing nursing education contact hours, or academic credit or the national equivalent from an accredited educational institution; and clinical components, including simulated clinical experiences, are completed in addition to the coursework and are not calculated as a part of the 64 hours.

The IAFN offers an online didactic training program geared toward the Registered Nurse or Advanced Practice Registered Nurse planning on practicing in the role of any of the three categories listed above. This portion of the education is 41-43 hours at a cost of $350-450 for IAFN members or $500-600 for non-members.

Another specialized area within this arena is a Forensic Nurse Death Investigator (FNDI).  These nurses utilize their knowledge and the nursing process in all aspects of death investigation from assessment of the scene to collection and evaluation of evidence and care of survivors. Examiners are being asked to conduct the majority of a death investigation, medical expertise should be readily accessible to them. A forensically trained nurse can be an ideal medical representative in these situations.

Again, the IAFN has a FNDI education program consisting of a 40-hour didactic course that is designed to serve as a basic course for those new to this field of nursing, in particular the specialized area of death investigation. Additional clinical preceptorships, supervised clinical experiences and ongoing training are recognized as essential to developing expertise as an FNDI. A similar program is offered by The American Institute of Forensic Education. Theirs is titled: The Sexual Assault Examiner Training: Adult and Adolescent, which is a web based 60-plus-hour comprehensive self-paced sexual assault examiner academic training program. The course is designed for registered nurses, nurse practitioners, physicians, and other scientific professionals performing medical forensic evaluations

So far we’ve addressed the training at the RN level to move into Forensic Nursing. But for those who have already completed their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), there is another option.  One that won’t interrupt your current employment or home life. There are several accredited nursing programs who offer concentrations in Forensic Nursing. A list of our top online MSN degree programs provides further details into these schools.