Nurses are often the first point of contact for a person who has been injured in a legally suspect way. 

From victims of abuse to survivors of a traffic collision, as soon as they arrive at a medical facility, a trained forensic nurse knows what to look for. Whether it's an uncharacteristic injury that doesn't match its story or a brief incident with lifelong physical and psychological consequences, there is a spectrum of bodily evidence that begins to degrade as soon as the event that caused it is over. This evidence needs to be collected and recorded promptly, accurately, and in a legally admissible manner; a forensic nurse is uniquely qualified to do this work with both efficiency and compassion.

Any legally viable bodily injury requires evidence; a forensic nurse is the one who gathers that evidence. Upon arrival, a forensic nurse will first attempt to categorize any bodily harm as trauma, neglect, abuse, accident, etc. Forensic nurses work frequently with patients who may be traumatized or have difficulty communicating their needs, and it is important to know how best to interact with them. A good forensic nurse will be calm, clear, and communicative, even in the harrowing process of extracting tissue samples or photographing fresh wounds. While other types of nurse focus on getting the healing process started, a forensic nurse must prioritize documentation for the patient's own good.

Forensic nursing work may include...

  • Providing care and support to injured victims
  • Identifying and categorizing injuries
  • Photographing and documenting bodily evidence
  • Working with both legal and medical personnel
  • Working with victims and families
  • Testifying in court as an expert witness

Forensics is a specialization within the larger world of nursing. The first step to becoming one is to complete a nursing program. There are a few ways to do this. Getting a Bachelor's of Science in Nursing can open up a lot of doors, but not all schools offer a BSN major or degree. This path involves an undergraduate course load focused on the sciences. Nursing programs don't tend to have a lot of wiggle room, but if forensic science interests you, it may be a good idea to take criminalistics as an elective. Some four year programs allow for specialization at the undergraduate level, which can open a lot of doors when it comes to choosing a career.

Another option is to pursue an Associate's degree in science at a community or junior college and get an ADN, which can be more accessible though no less rigorous. A nursing program at one of these institutions will take two to three years. After attaining a degree, all prospective nurses must pass a state exam called the NCLEX-RN and complete required clinical hours in order to become a Registered Nurse or RN.

If you want to specialize further, consider getting a Master of Science in Nursing, or MSN, which will allow you to become an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse or APRN. This is a higher level of study that comes with added responsibilities and opportunities for advancement.

This is a field that's not going anywhere. The world needs nurses, and they can be found in all corners of the medical sphere. As long as the legal system retains the capacity to investigate and prosecute cases of bodily harm, forensic nurses will be called upon to provide a high standard of care and compassion to those affected.

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