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What is a Forensic Nurse - Definition of Forensic Nursing

Definition of Forensic Nursing

When many people hear the term Forensic Nursing, they are not exactly sure of what that means. With the advent of shows like "CSI", "The Forensic Files" or "Bones", many envision the forensic nurse as a type of medical detective out at a murder scene.

Put simply, a Forensic nurse is a nurse with specialized training in forensic evidence collection, criminal procedures, legal testimony expertise, and more. The Forensic nurse becomes that liason between the medical profession and that of the criminal justice system. 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.

Most Forensic Nurses work out of a hospital, at the first point of contact. The Emergency Room. Most people who come to the emergency room don't know that they may be in need of a forensic nurse when the present at the hospital. Trying to accurately assess a patient can be difficult enough, but toss in the chaos of a typical emergency room and things really go downhill in a hurry. Take for example the case of the distraught mother who brings in her son who is complaining that his arm hurts. The mother says he ran into a door trying to catch the dog. Better check vitals and get an x-ray of the arm to see if its broken right? Did you make the child change into a gown? did you get a complete head to toe assessment? Because without it, you would have missed the evidence of previous contusions on his legs from two weeks ago when he was beat with a wrench for not cleaning his room right.

Or what about the woman who comes in stating she was in a car accident. Her boyfriend who was driving says she hit her head and cut her face as the glass shattered. Did you notice that most of her injuries were on the left side of her face? Logically if she was the passenger most of the injuries should be on the right side, since that would be the most likely point of impact.

Forensic nursing can also expand outside the world of criminal investigation. After the devastation of hurricane Katrina in the gulf states, identification of some of the remains found could only be determined through the use of forensic evidence collection. This type of work is usually referred to as Medicolegal Death Investigation.

If I become a forensic nurse does that mean that I have to work with dead bodies? Of course not, but that is one of your options if you should choose to learn more about that career path. There are many career branches that open up to forensic nurses including; expert medical witness, Sexual Assault nursing, Nurse death investigator, or Medicolegal death investigation, community education. The list goes on and on. For more information on the Salary of forensic nurses check out our section on how much do forensic nurses make?.

Medicolegal death investigation is a growing field for nurses, but more often than not a forensic nurse will spend a majority of their time treating victims of a sexual assualt or performing examinations for a child abuse case. As part of the training to becoming a Forensic Nurse education on legal testimony and the proper collection of evidence and how to preseve that valid chain of evidence is critical.

Faye Battiste-Otto, RN, from the American Forensic Nurses, once said "Nurses are taught to cleanse a wound, but if it’s a suspect in a criminal case, we are washing away valuable evidence," she said. "Hospitals need to learn that throwing away valuable evidence is costing taxpayers a lot of money."

The term forensic nurse came about in 1992 during the first ever national convention of sexual assault nurses. This convention was really the first of its kind on a national scale. Approxiately 70 nurses from all over the country conveined to discuss the practice of sexual assualt nursing, and how further promote the growth of this area of nursing specialty. Not long after the convention the IAFN, or International Association of Forensic Nurses was formed. Forensic Nursing was officially recognized by the American Association of Nurses in 1996.

You can Read more about ANA Nursing Standards for Forensic Nurses.

There are many acronyms that are often used interchangibly when it comes to forensic nursing. There currently is not a national standard when it comes to the licensing and designation of a Forensic Nurse, so each state may have a different acronym. Each of the following are all quite similar, but each certification may have greater areas of focus on certain topics:

  • SANE - Sexual Assult Nurse Examiner
  • SAE - Sexual Assualt Examiner
  • SAFE - Sexual Assualt Forensic Examiner
  • FNE - Forensic Nurse Examiner
  • SANC - Sexual Assault Nurre Clinician

Career Specialties for Forensic Nurses

  • SANE (Sexual Assult Nurse Examiner)
  • Medical Examiner's office
  • Medical Legal Consultant
  • Emergency Room Nursing
  • Medicolegal death investigator
  • Evidence collection trainer
  • Law enforcement teams

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