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What About Forensic Nursing?

What About Forensic Nursing?

Hollis Forster, RNC-NP

1992 was the first year the term “forensic nursing” was used. In 1996, this specialty was officially recognized by the American Association of Nurses. Today, there are 535 clinical forensic programs available that include graduate degree work, as well as certificate education. There are so many exciting possibilities in nursing and this field seems particularly interesting and worthy of “investigation.”

So, what does a forensic nurse do? This specialty has expanded as quickly as the programs have multiplied. Starting as SANE (Sexual Assault Nursing Examiners), it currently incorporates this original intent but also includes many aspects of investigative nursing for trauma and violence on an individual as well as a community and national level.

There is the “CSI” aspect of forensic nursing that is explained on the website The Forensic Nurse ( They describe a forensic nurse as a “liaison between the medical profession and the criminal justice system,” and continue to state “when you combine the medical training of a nurse, with the investigative prowess of police detectives and the legal training of a lawyer, you have created a formidable enemy for criminals.”

The International Association of Forensic Nursing also has a website ( dedicated to this specialty. They have a significantly expanded view of this field. Actually, maybe it’s not so much an expanded view as a description of all the venues where this nursing expertise can be used. They outline these settings as part of the purview of the forensic nurse:

• Interpersonal violence
• Emergency/Trauma services
• Patient Care Facility Issues
• Public Health and Safety
• Death Investigation

Examples of events that might be part of these categories are incidences of rape or sexual abuse, disaster work, investigation of suicide attempts and work related injuries, accidents or inappropriate treatment at a care facility, environmental hazards, and homicides, suspicious accidental deaths and mass disasters.

Both websites acknowledge the need to educate nurses to bring a “bio-psycho-social” attitude to the scene of an incident. The IAFN points out the education forensic nurses receive to function effectively at the scene of a mass disaster include how to respond quickly to a victim’s acute medical needs, how to mitigate post-trauma distress and how to assure that access to preventive services is maintained for the community. Social and cultural sensitivity during the calamity is also emphasized in order to enhance the quality of life for the survivors.

Rapid response teams around the world are using forensic nursing more and more frequently to provide the urgent support needed during natural disasters. Some of the work at a disaster scene, such as hurricane Katrina, include, trauma and emergency nursing, mental health and critical incident stress management, death investigation, infectious disease identification and management, public health nursing and grief counseling.

Forensic nursing seems to merge the skills of a well educated emergency room, critical care, clinical and psychiatric nurse, add the quality of working efficiently at the scene of a disaster and the knowledge of wounds that may yield evidence of criminal behavior. This may be quite an exciting field to explore if you are looking for a way to expand your nursing skills and knowledge and make yourself even more valuable to your community and the world.

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