How to Become a Forensic Nurse:
The Definitive Guide

Are you the type of person that loves the medical field, but you’ve also had a knack for the law?

You may not realize that you can do both.

When you think of Nursing, you may not think about Forensic Nursing at all.

A Forensic Nurse helps victims of violent crimes, abuse, or neglect, and help law enforcement in the process.

As a Forensic Nurse, you will play a vital role in helping people gain their lives back, as well as getting justice for them.

What is a Forensic Nurse?

What does a Forensic Nurse do, exactly?

Well, they work with victims of crimes to make sure that they are healthy, healing, and have all of the emotional support that they need.

But, they also gather evidence and comprise investigation reports, and even give testimony in some cases.

You can find Forensic Nurses working in hospitals, anti-violence programs, psychiatric institutions, corners offices, medical examiners offices, and much more.

A Forensic Nurse may work with people who have dealt with domestic violence, sexual assault, abuse, as well as psychiatric patients, law enforcement, and public health organizations.


A Forensic Nurse will perform many of the same duties as your typical Registered Nurse, but there are some differences as well.

They also:

  • Provide comfort and support for victims of violent crimes
  • Treat physical injuries
  • Collect and preserve evidence
  • Assess perpetrators

A Forensic Nurse is what bridges the gap between law and medicine.


The average salary in the United States for a Forensic Nurse is around $77,000 a year.

Those that are just starting out in the career will likely make less, beginning at around $60,000 a year.

When you gain experience, specializations, and certifications, you can make as much as $100,000 a year as a Forensic Nurse.

Those that work in larger populated areas will likely make more money, California Forensic Nurses can make around $113,000 a year.

However, this means that you will likely be working longer hours and more days throughout the week since more crime happens in larger populations.

While those that work in Puerto Rico make only $34,000 a year.

  • Annually
  • Monthly
  • Hourly

Annually National Average Salary: $77,460


Average Annual Salary by State

StateAvg. Annual Salary
District of Columbia$94,820
New Hampshire$73,880
New Jersey$84,280
New Mexico$73,300
New York$87,840
North Carolina$66,440
North Dakota$66,290
Rhode Island$82,310
South Carolina$64,840
South Dakota$59,540
West Virginia$63,220
Puerto Rico$35,040
Virgin Islands$68,500

Annual Average Salary: Top 5 States

The top earning state in the field is California, where the average salary is $113,240.

These are the top 5 earning states in the field:

California - $113,240
Hawaii - $104,060
District of Columbia - $94,820
Massachusetts - $93,160
Oregon - $92,960
* Employment conditions in your area may vary. * Salary information based on the May 2019 Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) Survey.
Conducted by: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Department of Labor.

How to Become a Forensic Nurse

Step 1Earn a Bachelor's Degree

The first step to take on your adventure to becoming a Forensic Nurse is to earn a Bachelor’s degree in nursing.

Some nurses do decide to only pursue an Associate’s degree, but in order to gain employment as a Forensic Nurse, you must first have a Bachelor’s degree.

A typical nursing program takes around four years to complete, and some courses can even be done online.

However, nursing students will gain the most knowledge and hands on experience with in-person clinicals and labs.

Some of the courses that you can expect when earning a Bachelors degree in nursing include:

  • Anatomy
  • Physiology
  • Chemistry
  • Microbiology
  • Public Health
  • Emergency Care
  • Adult, Pediatric and Geriatric Nursing
  • Pharmacology

After you earn your Bachelor’s degree, it’s time to gain licensure to become a Registered Nurse.

Step 2Obtain a Nursing License

After you finish your education and earn a Bachelor’s degree, it’s time to become registered as a Nurse.

In the United States, you must have a nursing license to work in every hospital.

In order to be eligible for a nursing license you must:

  • Have a degree in nursing
  • Pass a criminal background check
  • Take Human Trafficking classes
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

The exam is meant to test your competency as a nurse.

There are multiple-choice questions on the exam, and the exam can be taken on a computer.

After passing the exam, you are now a Licensed Registered Nurse and can work in any hospital in the United States.

Step 3Pursue Graduate School

Once you gain some experience working as a Registered Nurse, it’s time to go back to school.

As a Forensic Nurse, you will need to know a variety of things, especially about nursing and law enforcement.

To do this, you’ll need more education.

Earning a Master’s degree in Nursing will get you the education that you desire.

Some Masters degrees in Nursing or in Forensic Nursing may provide subjects like:

  • Sexual Assault
  • Death Investigation
  • Child Abuse
  • Elderly Abuse
  • Correctional Facility Nursing

With a Master’s degree, you should expect to spend a lot of time in the classroom, but also with hands-on experiences as well.

A graduate school program can take around two years to complete, but it’s possible to work while going to school- which will give you lots more experience.

Step 4Gain Certification

Even though it is not legally required to gain certification to become a Forensic Nurse, it is one of the most looked for aspects in a prospective Forensic Nurse, at least for employers.

The International Associate of Forensic Nurses provides two different certifications:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner- Adult
  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric

In order to be eligible for either of these certifications, Forensic Nurses must complete 40 hours of continued education in sexual assault nurse examining as well as at least two years of experience as a Forensic Nurse.

After taking the exam for either of these credentials, the certification is good for three years.


Once you earn a Bachelor’s degree in nursing and gain some experience in the field, you can think about earning a Master’s degree in Forensic Nursing.

Some of the things that you can learn in a Masters degree program are:

  • Complex health concerns
  • Responding to victims and perpetrators of sexual assault, trauma, abuse, etc.
  • Implement protocols for accidents and neglect
  • Use tools and systems related to exploitation, injury, and all forms of assault

It may seem like it takes a while to become a Forensic Nurse, and that is because you must have specialized training in order to be perfect for this field.

You can find online Forensic Nursing programs, and there are plenty of programs available at local universities, but it is up to you to find the one that suits you right.

Some schools even have hybrid programs that allow you to take classes online, but work clinicals through the university that is closest to you.

If you are interested in a Forensic Nursing Masters degree program, some of the classes you can expect to take include:

  • Forensic Science and the Legal System
  • Criminal Law and the Courts
  • Advanced Forensic Nursing
  • Forensic Nursing Theory and Development

A typical Master’s degree can take around two years to complete, but some Forensic Nursing programs allow you to graduate in around 18 months.

You may be curious to know what types of careers you can possibly gain with a Masters in Forensic Nursing.

The doors will open wide, especially with certifications and specializations in the field of nursing.

As a Forensic Nurse you can expect to work as:

  • Correctional Nursing Specialist
  • Forensic Clinical Nurse
  • Forensic Gerontology Specialist
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse
  • Legal Nurse Consultant
  • Nurse Coroner or Death Investigator
  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner

Forensic Nurses serve dual purposes, they work with the medical field as well as law enforcement to ensure that all of their patients are safe.

Video About The Career


Since you have earned a Master’s degree in Forensic Nursing, the world knows that you are competent and knowledgeable in this area, which means you won’t necessarily have to earn any more certifications or licenses to work as a Forensic Nurse.

Just remember to keep your Registered Nurse license up to date.

You can do this by renewing your license every three to five years, as required by the state where you work.

That doesn’t mean you’re scot-free, though.

If you want to work as an even more specialized Forensic Nurse, there are two certifications you can obtain.

It’s possible to earn these certifications at the same time, they are:

  • SANE-A
  • SANE-P

These stand for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Adult and Pediatric.

In order to be eligible to take either exam for these credentials, you must have at least 300 hours of continued education in SANE related practices.

You must also be a registered nurse and have at least three years of experience in nursing.

Every year in April and September, the SANE exams are given, you can find more information on your local university website.

Each exam consists of multiple-choice questions in the following categories:

  • Assessment and Documentation
  • Evidence Collection
  • Patient Management
  • Legal Issues
  • The Judicial Process
  • Professional Practice

After achieving a passing score on the test, you are allowed to use the credentials for your career.

Each credential is required to be renewed every three years, this can be done by taking the exam over or by continuing your education on the topic.

Even though certifications aren’t required in this career field, it is important to gain as much experience and education you can.

Employers look for people with certifications and specializations.

The more that a Forensic Nurse knows, the more job opportunities open up for them.

Certification Example:

certificate sane forensic nurse

Average Training Program Duration: 4+ Years

Luckily, there isn’t much training to do in order to gain certification as a SANE, you can go at your own pace.

This means that as long as you know what the test covers, and what information is important to know, you can go as fast or as slow as you want.

A typical SANE certification takes a few hours when taking the exam online or in person.

Your local university or hospital can give you materials to study for the exam as well.

Popular Degree Programs

Job Outlook

Nursing is a career that will never go out of style, in fact, the career seems to rise every year.

In the next decade, the job growth for Forensic Nurses, as well as all Registered Nurses, will grow around 12 percent.

This is a lot more than many other careers in the medical field.

Nurses are a vital part of the medical field, and without nurses, a lot of things wouldn’t get done.

That’s why it is so important to keep nurses well educated and happy in their careers.

You can expect this career to rise due to the baby boomer population growing older, which means more need for medical care.

* The numbers below represent the job outlook for all registered nurses and are not limited to forensic nurses.

Employment Growth Projection: 12%


That's a higher than average projected growth of 371,500 jobs.

Should You Become a Forensic Nurse?

Overall Satisfaction

Overall Satisfaction: High

It seems that Forensic Nurses have lower burnout rates and higher job satisfaction than many other types of Registered Nurses.

However, working with victims of crimes can be stressful in itself.

You may have to work long hours and for several days in a row, but most Forensic Nurses feel as if they are helping patients and their community by stopping perpetrators.

Even though the job can be stressful, it seems that it is more satisfying than many other careers in the same field.

Average Salary

Average Salary: High

You can make quite a bit of money as a Forensic Nurse.

The average Forensic Nurse in the United States makes around $74,000 a year.

When just starting out in this career, it is likely that you will make around $60,000, which is still a great salary.

After years of experience, and depending on where you work, it’s possible to make around $100,000 a year.

Earning certifications and having specializations can also provide you with more promotions and raises throughout the year.

Job Growth Outlook

Job Growth Outlook: High

Within the next ten years, the growth for the entire nursing field will be around 12 percent.

For Forensic Nurses, this should be right on track.

Nurses are important within every hospital or doctor’s office, and Forensic Nurses are no different.

There is a high demand for healthcare services, and with the baby boomer generation growing older, that demand is increasing year after year.

With technological advancements and knowledge, a Registered Nurse should have no problem finding a job anytime soon.

Education Duration

Education Duration: 4+ Years

Since the career of a Forensic Nurse is a specialized field, there is a lot of education required.

Typically, a person who wants to become a Forensic Nurse will need to have a Bachelor’s degree in Nursing, which can take about four years to complete.

Then, they will need to work toward a Master’s degree, which can take another two years to finish.

Add in all the time it takes to earn knowledge and experience, and it can take around 7-8 years to become a Forensic Nurse.

Personal Skills Needed

Personal Skills Needed

In order to work as a Forensic Nurse, you must have knowledge of the medical field and law enforcement as well.

Not only will you need knowledge of the field of nursing, but you’ll also need to have skills in:

  • Cultural awareness
  • Professionalism
  • Time management
  • Critical Thinking
  • Attention to Detail
  • Communication skills
  • Writing skills
  • Empathy
  • Networking skills
  • Compassion
  • Solid ethics
  • Adaptability
  • Confidence
  • Stamina
  • Commitment to development

If you can master these skills, then you should have no problem working as a Forensic Nurse.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What is the average salary of a Forensic Nurse?

In the United States, the average salary for a Forensic Nurse is around $74,000 a year.

When just starting out in this field, it is likely that you can make around $40,000.

This is due to experience, certifications, and how specialized you are in the field.

Those that have been working as a Forensic Nurse for many years can make more than $100,000 in some areas.

Q. How long does it take to become a Forensic Nurse?

Due to this career being highly specialized, it does take quite some time to become a Forensic Nurse.

The more experience, education, and knowledge you have about this career, the better.

Those that want to earn a career as a Forensic Nurse can expect to be in school for 6-7 years.

A Bachelor’s degree takes around four years, and a Master’s degree can take anywhere from 1-3, depending on the program.

Q. What does a Forensic Nurse do?

Many people consider Forensic Nurses the bridge between medicine and law.

These wonderful people help victims of violent crimes, abuse, neglect, and much more.

They compile evidence and take statements in order to make sure that the victim is well taken care of.

They also can be seen treating wounds, compiling documents, and much more.

Q. What is the demand for Forensic Nurses?

There will always be a need for nurses around the world, and unfortunately, there is also a need for Forensic Nurses.

This is only unfortunate due to the nature of the career.

However, this is also a good thing for the victims of crimes, as they will have specialized care and an advocate on their side.

Forensic Nurses should not worry about their career any time soon.

Q. How much does it cost to become a Forensic Nurse?

It can cost a pretty penny to get your education to become a Forensic Nurse.

In order to work as a nurse, you need a formal education.

Most nurses earn a Bachelor’s degree, but a Forensic Nurse must also have a Master’s degree in order to gain employment.

A typical Bachelor’s degree can cost anywhere from $15,000 to $35,000 depending on the university.

A Master’s degree can run anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000.

It can cost around $35,000 to $85,000 to become a Forensic Nurse.

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