How to Become a Forensic Nurse – In 5 Steps

Forensic Nurses are some of the most caring and honorable people you will meet.

This career is based on helping those in need, especially victims and criminals of violent crimes and legal cases.

Forensic Nurse

Serving patients who have been a part of a crime scene, traumatic experience, or who may have evidence on their bodies, Forensic Nurses are equipped to help emotionally and physically.

Bridging the gap between the judicial system and medical care, Forensic Nurses provide optimum care to people who are in their darkest moments.

Job Description

As a Forensic Nurse, you will provide specialized care to those who are in deep need of compassion.

Victims and criminals who have experienced traumatic events or criminal activity may need medical care, and that is where a Forensic Nurse comes in.

The duties of a Forensic Nurse are necessary to bring a semblance of calm in extraordinary situations.

Expect to find yourself completing these tasks on a day-to-day basis:

  • Examine and assess patients
  • Support victims and survivors of tragedy or crimes
  • Speak with law enforcement
  • Gather evidence
  • Complete interviews with patients, suspects, and observers
  • Refer patients to the next levels of care if necessary


When working as a Forensic Nurse, you should expect an hourly salary of $30.

This comes out to about $1,200 a week or $62,400 each year.

Those who are just starting in this field will have an average salary closer to $14 per hour.

Expect to make $560 per week at this rate, which adds up to $29,120 per year.

With time and experience, it is possible to make much more in this career, the highest salary being closer to $45 an hour.

At the end of the year at this rate, you will have made $93,600 as a Forensic Nurse.

How to Become: Step-by-Step

1. Earn a Degree

Step one when you are considering a career as a Forensic Nurse is to gain quality education.

This can be done through a local community college or university.

Four-year programs that result in a Bachelor’s degree are best for this field, although some people do earn an associate’s degree and move on to become Forensic Nurses.

Earning a degree in nursing is the best choice and will result in the knowledge needed for this career.

A degree in nursing will provide education on topics such as:

  • Psychology
  • Microbiology
  • Nutrition
  • Leadership Management

All of these skills are needed to work as a Forensic Nurse.

After earning your degree, you will need to have experience as a nurse which can be done through clinical skill experiences or internships at local hospitals or doctor’s offices.

2. Get Experience

Begin your career as a registered nurse and gain a couple of years of experience before you decide to move on toward Forensic Nursing.

This way, you’ll know of the day-to-day challenges of nursing and how hospitals or doctors’ offices run.

You should aim for at least two years of working as a registered nurse before you consider attending school or programs to become a Forensic Nurse.

In the time that you will be a registered nurse, you could complete more clinical hours and aim to surround yourself with victims of traumatic events to understand the intricacies of such issues.

This can be done by volunteering at domestic violence shelters, social service offices, hospitals, and more.

3. Complete a Program

Now that you have more than enough knowledge and hands-on experience, it’s time to find the right higher education program to become a Forensic Nurse.

There are different types of programs available, depending on your needs and wants.

Certificate programs are an option that doesn’t take much time and can help narrow down your specialization.

These types of programs will be a mix of classroom time as well as clinical training hours that are associated with Forensic Nursing.

However, some employers require more education, which can be a Master’s degree in the field.

Depending on the school you choose and your employer, this could be a Master in Nursing or a Master in Forensic Science.

A master’s degree is a two-year commitment and will help you reach your goals as a Forensic Nurse.

4. Become Certified

While certification is not mandatory for this career, it is highly recommended.

There are different types of certifications available for people who want to earn a salary as a Forensic Nurse.

Through the International Association of Forensic Nurses, there are several types of certifications available, like:

  • Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner
  • Advanced Forensic Nursing

Both require that you take courses and have experience in the field of Forensic Nursing.

It is also necessary to pass an exam to become certified in either field.

You could also become certified in both areas if you so choose.

The American College for Forensic Examiners International offers the Forensic Nurse Certification.

This certification requires that you complete a course and pass an exam before becoming certified.

Depending on the type of certificate, it can take about a month to eight weeks to complete certification requirements.

5. Gain Licensure

To best serve your patients as a Forensic Nurse, you will need to be licensed as a registered nurse.

To work as a registered nurse, you’ll need to pass the Nursing Council Licensure Examination.

This exam can be taken about forty-five days after you graduate with your Associate or Bachelors degree.

Eligibility may be different depending on which state you are planning to work in and become licensed.

There are several types of questions on the exam, which include multiple choice, written, and drag and drop.

To find out your results, simply look online through the website or wait until your test results are mailed to you.

This is a pass/fail exam, and you will be able to take it over again forty-five days after the last test.

This test can be taken up to eight times in one year.

Once you have passed, your license will be mailed to you.

Forensic Nurse


When you first decide that you want to become a Forensic Nurse, there are some specific steps that you will need to take.

First and foremost, it is important to gain an education, whether you decide to enroll in a two-year associate’s degree or a four-year bachelor’s degree is up to you.

Both degrees will need to be in nursing, where you will learn how to help patients, understand medical terminology, and work in hands-on clinical classes to gain field knowledge.

After you finish your degree, you will typically take the NCLEX, which is an exam that will allow you to gain licensure as a registered nurse.

You will not be able to work in a hospital or doctor’s office if you do not have licensure.

This can take about forty-five to fifty days, depending on when you get your test results back.

After that, you’ll need to gain experience working in a hospital or other medical office to have training to work as a Forensic Nurse.

Once you have tried your hand at nursing for a couple of years, you’ll be ready to branch out into Forensic Nursing.

You’ll find several Forensic Nursing programs available in community colleges, universities, and even online through associations like the International Association of Forensic Nurses or the American College of Forensic Nurses.

These programs can provide you with knowledge in specializations like:

  • Human Trafficking
  • Reproductive Health
  • Emergency Care
  • Sexual Assault and Abuse
  • Domestic Violence

It is possible to become knowledgeable in more than one, or all areas, depending on the type of work that you would like to do as a Forensic Nurse.

While attending your classes and programs, you should also work in areas of the hospital or doctor’s office that pertain to the type of education that you are seeking.

This way, you’ll have hands-on experience while studying for your future career.

Licensing & Certification

The first step you’ll need to take when it comes to licensure is to take the NCLEX exam once you graduate from college.

This exam is the National Council Licensure Examination and is a four-part exam that showcases all you have learned to become a licensed nurse.

To become licensed as a nurse, you will need to pass the exam, which you can take forty-five days after graduation.

This exam will cover topics that include health promotion and maintenance, psychosocial integrity, pharmacology, physiology, and more.

After completing the exam, you will receive a pass or fail notification.

If you fail, you can retake the exam up to eight times in one year.

Those who pass will have their license mailed to them and can begin working as a registered nurse.

After working as a registered nurse for several years, you may be ready to branch out into forensics.

Now is the time to work toward certifications in Forensic Nursing.

Through the International Association for Forensic Nursing or another association that is accredited in the United States, you’ll have opportunities to complete programs and courses to lead toward certification.

Begin your program as a Sexual Assault Examiner, Advanced Forensic Nurse, or even a Masters in Nursing to fulfill certification.

A Sexual Assault Examiner will need to meet specific requirements and take an exam to help victims of sexual assault.

This can take about three years to complete.

Those who want to enroll in the Advanced Forensic Nursing program will have the opportunity to assess and practice at an optimum level.

A Master’s degree will require two more years of education and can be done at a university near you or online.

You may need to renew your certification every year to two years, depending on the type of certificate you hold.

Job Outlook

The job outlook for a Forensic Nurse is quite positive and will continue to grow over the next ten years.

While it is sad that there are continued cases of abuse, neglect, trauma, and emergencies, this is a career that will be around for quite some time due to these factors.

Expect to see growth in larger areas, with new hospitals and medical centers opening as well as people leaving their careers for retirement purposes.

You should see a growth of around 6 percent for Forensic Nurses, which is about the average for the nursing field all around.

Should You Become a Forensic Nurse?

Overall Satisfaction

Having a career as a Forensic Nurse is a highly satisfying choice for many people.

This is due to the ability to help those in need and also surround yourself with highly educated and well-rounded individuals.

Forensic Nurses enjoy having a specialization and the benefits that come with it.

While the career can be emotionally challenging and stressful, the benefits outweigh the risks in most cases.

Those who achieve the highest demands in their career find it the most rewarding.

Average Salary

You could have a lucrative career as a Forensic Nurse, whether you are just starting or have been in this career for years.

Those who have a solid standing as a Forensic Nurse will typically make $30 per hour.

This is about $62,400 yearly and $1,200 each week.

Forensic Nurses who are high up in their career can even make close to $45 per hour.

Just starting, you may have a lower salary at about $14 per hour, depending on the area in which you work.

Job Growth Outlook

Over the next ten years, the field of Forensic Nursing will grow by about 6 percent.

This is average compared to other careers in the medical field, and will likely be a career that is around for a long time.

Those in more populated areas will be able to find more job openings, especially with the opening of new medical centers, hospitals, and social service offices.

Another factor that may play into the growth of this career is Forensic Nurses reaching retirement age or leaving the career as a whole.

Education Duration

Forensic Nursing does take a lot of education to be the best at the job.

First and foremost, you’ll need to obtain either an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree, which takes two to four years respectively.

Once you have earned a degree, expect to take the NCLEX, which is an exam that allows you to work as a licensed nurse, which can be completed forty-five days after graduation.

Then, you will need to have specific training or certification to understand the intricacies of forensic work.

This can take another several weeks to months until completion.

Personal Skills Needed

It takes a special kind of person to work as a Forensic Nurse, and you’ll need specific personality traits to find success in this career.

These traits can include but are not limited to:

  • Compassion for others
  • Ability to put own emotions aside
  • Communication skills
  • Empathy
  • The ethical approach to each case
  • Writing skills
  • Understanding of evidence-collecting
  • Advocacy Knowledge
  • Attention to detail
  • Confidentiality

Remember that this is difficult work that often finds patients, victims, and criminals at their worst, so having these traits and the ability to lend an ear will get you far as a Forensic Nurse.

Frequently Asked Questions

How long do you have to go to school to become a Forensic Nurse?

You will want to dedicate at least two to four years to your basic education to become a Forensic Nurse.

Those who have an Associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing will be able to complete an education in forensic science, which can take another six months to a year to complete.

Expect to find yourself working toward certification, licensure, and other miscellaneous specializations in this career, which can take anywhere from several days to months to finish.

All in all, it should take about five to six years to complete your education in this field.

How much money does a Forensic Nurse make a year?

As a Forensic Nurse, the average salary you will make each year is $62,400.

This comes out to about $30 an hour but can vary depending on experience, time in the field, and location of your job.

Those who work in large areas may make more money than someone from a small town.

Forensic Nurses who have been in the career for several years will typically make more than those just starting.

What skills do you need to have to be a Forensic Nurse?

To be the best Forensic Nurse, you will need to start with having empathy for your patients.

Other skills needed for success in this career include:

  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Ethics
  • Attention to detail
  • Understanding of nursing
  • Forensic knowledge
  • Trustworthiness
  • Ability to speak to law enforcement

It will take a lot of patience and understanding to be in the midst of this career, so having emotional stability is another great characteristic.

Are Forensic Nurses in high demand?

Yes, Forensic Nurses are in high demand, and the demand will likely go up over the next decade.

Expect to see an increase in job availability over the next ten years.

This is due to people retiring from their careers and also finding other occupations within the medical field or beyond.

The increase will be around six percent, which is average in this field.

What kind of education do you need to be a Forensic Nurse?

First, you’ll need to have at least an associate’s degree, which takes two years to complete.

Or,  you can choose to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing.

This depends on how much time you’d like to dedicate to your higher learning.

Plus, once you have several years of experience, you’ll need specific training as a Forensic Nurse, which can take about a year to complete.

It should take about five years to learn as much as you can in this career path.

Chelsea Wilson

About Chelsea Wilson

Chelsea Wilson is the Community Relations Manager for Washington University School of Law’s distance learning LLM degree program, which provides foreign trained attorneys with the opportunity to earn a Master of Laws degree from a top-tier American university from anywhere in the world.

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