One of the most appealing aspects of the nursing profession is the wide choice nurses have when deciding on a specialty. Depending on personal interest or experience, educational goals, or opportunities, nurses have the ability to work in virtually every location and with every population.

Nurses who choose the forensic nursing specialty are driven to offer medical and emotional care while also helping law enforcement. Forensic nurses specialize in treating patients who have suffered injury and trauma due to intentional violence or neglect.

According to the International Association of Forensic Nurses, forensic nurses treat those who are in physical and emotional pain and who are traumatized by what happened to them. Patients they see may have suffered domestic violence, sexual assault, or have been victims of random violence or a catastrophic event. They might have experienced severe neglect leading to health problems and emotional pain. Some nurses work with the perpetrators of violence and work with criminal offenders in a psychiatric forensic nurse specialty.

Because of the criminal nature of the injuries inflicted, law enforcement officials are often involved in these cases. Patients in the care of forensic nurses need compassionate and careful medical attention, and they are often asked to work with law enforcement to bring justice. Even if they want to provide details and tell their side of the story, doing so can trigger new trauma for patients.

Forensic nurses work with their patients to help them heal and recover, but they do so with a careful approach that never loses sight of the patient’s experience. While nurses provide care, they are also collecting evidence that can be used to help bring those who abused or harmed the victim to justice. Forensic nurses are often called upon to provide testimony about the care they gave, the injuries they saw and recorded and other details that may help investigating law enforcement and a legal team.

If this specialty is something that appeals to you, becoming a registered nurse is your first step. Many forensic nurses go on to earn nurse practitioner credentials and certification as well. And as a forensic nurse, there are many opportunities for you to continue to advance your education so you can help your patients most effectively. Since 1976, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) nursing program has helped victims of sexual assault by offering compassionate healthcare while also collecting essential evidence. States implement their own programs, like this SANE program in Massachusetts and this SANE certification program in Texas.

Although no nursing specialty is easy or free from seeing trauma, a forensic nurse’s role sees significant trauma on a daily basis. To continue to offer the best nursing care possible, forensic nurses should be particularly mindful of their own mental health so they are able to cope with the impacts of violence and neglect they see every day.

Forensic nurses serve a vulnerable population that depends on the life-changing care they provide. If you’re motivated to help patients and have a commitment to justice, this is a good career path to explore.

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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