If you’re a nursing student equally fascinated by both medical and legal issues, forensic nursing might be just the career path for you.

Today is Forensic Nurses Day, falling at the end of Forensic Nurses Week (November 11-15). This observation gives nurses an opportunity to consider this distinctive area of their profession. Forensic nurses treat people medically but they are also responsible for uncovering the sources of injury, illness, or even death. The week is sponsored by the International Association of Forensic Nurses, the leading professional association for this nursing specialty.

Forensic nurses can practice in various settings and with roles that vary significantly. This is a good career choice for nurses who like to switch up their roles while still relying on a base set of expertise and skills. Nurses in this role have a passion and for helping people who are victims of violence. They balance their medical treatment with a deeply compassionate nursing approach to help a patient in the midst of a trauma, all while pulling together pieces of what happened to help find out more.

Because of the patient population they serve, forensic nurses work closely with the judicial system. Nurses in this role may care for patients who have suffered sexual violence, partner violence, elder abuse, child abuse, or another kind of injury that is often, but not always, intentional. Some forensic nurses work in the corrections system.

While they treat patients, they are often collecting evidence to help the legal system’s potential prosecution of the person or persons who hurt them. They may work with police officers to gather evidence or with prosecutors to relay information about the injuries.

Nurses who deal with trauma have to have a deep well of compassion and a steely focus to help the patient while trying to uncover as much information as possible. They rely on excellent nursing knowledge and skills to work with patients who come to them while processing a traumatic event or long-term trauma and often scared. But they also must develop a delicate expertise in injury—particularly the cause of it, where it is, and how long it has been present.

Forensic nurses can specialize in particular areas as well – focusing on elderly populations, psychiatric cases, or children. Still others may become specialists in situations where a person died as the result of violent acts, and they help the investigation with their medical knowledge. Nurses who become trained to assist victims of sexual assault and violence can become a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nurse.

Forensic nurses work in the world of trauma so they need the emotional, physical, and spiritual resources to support their own reactions to seeing so much intentional injury. The stories and cases can overwhelm even the most seasoned nurse at times. Coping skills are a forensic nurse’s magic cape, so being able to recognize, accept, and mitigate job stress are essential.

While they deal with people who have been hurt, forensic nurses have a front-line view of the issues surrounding violence and work as advocates for violence prevention. They may even be expected to appear in court to relay information about a specific case.

Forensic nurses are allies to patients who are hurt both physically and mentally. They deserve a shout out of thanks this week for all they do.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

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