Forensic Nursing Degrees: Certificates & Online Training Info

About this article
What will you learn in a forensic nursing certificate or degree program? Read about course requirements and the pros and cons of graduate certificate programs, master's degrees and post-graduate certificate programs.
View available schools

Studying Forensic Nursing: Certificates & Degrees at a Glance

Forensic nurses work where the health care system and the criminal justice system intersect. They care for patients with traumatic injuries while assisting authorities with evidence collection, courtroom testimony and other legal efforts. Forensic nurses often work in fast-paced environments, where they interact with everyone from other healthcare professionals to the perpetrators and victims of crime to lawyers and detectives. They may assist in cases of sexual assault, domestic violence, elder mistreatment, traumatic accidents and mass disasters.

Forensic nurses can work as Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE), legal nurse consultants, correctional nursing specialists, nurse coroners, death investigators or expert medical witnesses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects employment of registered nurses to grow 26% from 2010-2020, which is faster than the average for all occupations (www.bls.gov). In addition, forensic nursing is the fastest growing nursing subspecialty. Post-bachelor's certificate programs, master's degree programs and post-master's certificate programs in forensic nursing allow already licensed nurses to acquire specialization in this rapidly expanding field.

Post-Bachelor's Certificate Master's Degree Post-Master's Certificate
Who is this for? - Licensed medical professionals with a bachelor's degree - Licensed nurses with a bachelor's degree (some allow non-nurses to complete nursing requirements during the master's program) - Licensed nurses with a master's degree
Common Career Paths (with approximate 10th-90th percentile salary ranges) - Registered Nurse ($41,000-$79,000)*
- Coroner ($22,000-$107,000)*
- Nurse Educator ($49,000-$92,000, employers may prefer a master's degree)*
- Sexual Assault or Forensic Nurse Examiner (salary unavailable)
- Legal Nurse Consultant ($49,000-$185,000, may require work experience)*
- Nurse Practitioner ($62,000-$107,000)*
- Advanced Registered Nurse Practitioner ($61,000-$107,000)*
- Advanced Practice Registered Nurse ($57,000-$111,000)*
- Career paths for those with post-master's certificates may be similar for those with master's degrees, though the forensic specialization may offer additional opportunities
Time to Completion (ranges depend on school and whether program is full- or part-time) 9-18 months 2-3 years 1-2 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Approximately 3-10 courses
- May include clinical practicum
- Approximately 12-15 courses
- Clinical practicum
- May require a research project
- Approximately 3-8 courses
- Clinical practicum
Common Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree
- Professional nursing or other medical license
- Bachelor's degree or diploma in nursing
- Professional nursing license
- Master's degree in nursing
- Professional nursing license
Online Availability Yes Yes Yes

Source: *PayScale.com (June 2012 figures).

Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Forensic Nursing

Certificate courses in forensic nursing are designed to train professional nurses in investigative techniques, criminal justice and victim advocacy. Graduate certificate programs generally require incoming students to be licensed medical practitioners with a bachelor's degree. While most programs are designed for registered nurses, some are also open to other medical professionals such as paramedics, physicians and physician's assistants. A school may also allow senior-level nursing students to attend a certificate program and apply the credits towards their bachelor's in nursing.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A certificate in forensic nursing can provide a competitive advantage and new career paths for practicing nurses
  • Can be completed in as little as nine months
  • Programs are usually designed for working nurses and often have convenient part-time or online options
  • A certificate in forensic nursing will likely count as continuing education credit for professional nurses
  • Credits earned in a certificate program may transfer to a master's program

Cons

  • Forensic nursing jobs may be harder to find than other nursing jobs, since not all facilities offer SANE services or have a forensic nurse on staff
  • Certifications, such as the SANE or LNCC (Legal Nurse Consultant Certified) may require work experience or additional training
  • You may face job competition from nurses who have completed the shorter SANE certification program
  • A certificate program may be expensive and may not qualify you for a much higher salary
  • Forensic nurses are frequently on-call and may work odd, unpredictable hours

Courses and Requirements

Most post-bachelor's certificate programs in forensic nursing consist of courses covering the topics of forensic science, legal system, victim advocacy and injury pathology/assessment. Depending on the program, you may also take classes focusing on mass disaster response, substance abuse, pediatric forensics or elder care. Course titles vary, but you will likely see subjects like:

  • Introduction to forensic nursing
  • Courtroom testimony
  • Family violence
  • Forensic healthcare documentation and evidence collection
  • Injury pathology and trauma assessment

Certificate programs may give students a chance to apply their knowledge and skills in a clinical practicum. Clinical experiences may be offered in a variety of environments, including hospital emergency rooms, child or adult protective service departments, psychiatric treatment units or with death investigation teams.

Online Certificate Options

Because most certificates in forensic nursing are designed for working professionals, a number of programs are available online. Some are offered completely online, but others require on-campus meetings during the course of study. A school may request that you complete the classes in order according to the course schedule, or it may be more flexible, allowing you to take courses in any order and at any time that you prefer.

Getting Ahead with this Degree

To get ahead with your degree, consider completing a course in clinical ethics. Being knowledgeable about the ethical requirements for working in the field may make you more attractive to employers.

Additionally, it is important for forensic nurses to establish a professional identity and working relationships with the community they will serve. You can join a professional organization such as the International Association of Forensic Nurses. In this association, you may be offered opportunities to attend conferences or workshops and establish relationships with other forensic professionals.

Master's Degree in Forensic Nursing

Master of Science in Nursing Degree (MSN) programs are usually designed for registered nurses seeking to pursue advanced nursing practice or leadership roles in health care. MSN programs combine theory, research and practice to prepare nurses for advanced nursing careers, community leadership positions and the pursuit of doctoral study. In the forensic portion of the program, nurses learn the skills to work with law enforcement and legal professionals to enhance the management of criminal investigations and other legal matters.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • An MSN prepares graduates not only for advanced practice nurse and nurse practitioner positions but also for careers in policy development, education and management
  • Because economic and legislative changes have enabled advanced practice nurses to do jobs once reserved for physicians, the demand for graduate-level educated nurses is high
  • Many MSN programs offer flexible scheduling, which permits part-time, full-time or online study

Cons

  • Master's degree programs in forensic nursing may not be available in all states
  • MSNs can take three years (or longer, depending on your schedule) to complete
  • Even with an advanced degree, jobs in the field are not guaranteed; nurses may still have to advocate to establish a forensic nursing position with an employer

Courses and Requirements

MSN programs in forensic nursing typically consist of 35-40 credits of core nursing coursework with a concentration in forensics. Required courses typically include:

  • Nursing theory
  • Research methods
  • Forensic nursing
  • Criminal law
  • Nursing ethics

Depending on the program, you may also take courses in areas such as interpersonal violence, health care informatics, population-based health care or policy development. MSN programs typically include a substantial clinical component and may also require a research project.

Online Degree Options

Since forensic nursing master's degrees are designed for practicing nurses, several MSN programs are available online. Some can be completed entirely over the Internet, while others require an on-campus component. Admissions and graduation requirements tend to be similar to on-site programs, and most can be taken either on a full-time or a part-time basis.

Stand Out with This Degree

To stand out against your competition, consider completing as many technical practicums as you can during your studies. Being familiar with a wide range of investigation techniques and methods broadens your skills, which may make employers more likely to create a forensic nursing position specifically for you.

Additionally, you can improve your employment prospects by networking. For networking opportunities, consider joining a professional organization, attending conferences and establishing relationships with forensic professionals in the community. Interacting with professionals in the field may make it easier to find employment after graduation.

Post-Master's Certificate in Forensic Nursing

Post-master's certificate programs are designed to provide registered nurses at the advanced practice level with training in the forensic specialty. These programs are generally practical in nature and prepare graduates to deal with the investigation and treatment of victims and perpetrators of violence, trauma, crime and abuse. Nurses at the advanced practice level may not only practice forensic nursing in a variety of clinical areas but also impact health care policy, education and research.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A post-graduate certificate may provide an employment edge and new career opportunities for advanced practice nurses
  • Intended for working nurses, forensic nursing certificate programs often have convenient part-time and/or online schedules
  • Post-master's certificate courses could count as continuing education credits for professional nurses

Cons

  • Post-graduate certificate programs in forensic nursing are relatively rare
  • Even with a post-master's certificate, you may still have to lobby for a full-time forensic nursing position since it is a relatively new field
  • A certificate program may be expensive and may not qualify you for a much higher salary

Courses and Requirements

Post-master's certificate programs generally consist of courses covering the topics of forensic nursing, legal studies and patient care for both victims and perpetrators. Most programs also require a clinical, lab or practicum component. Courses vary from school to school, but may include:

  • Criminal law
  • Forensic science
  • Trial preparation
  • Theories of violence
  • Physical assessment
  • Forensic nursing practicum

Online Options

A handful of forensic nursing post-graduate degrees are available online. Some can be completed entirely over the Internet, while others require students to come to campus for clinical laboratory coursework. Classes and other requirements in on-campus and online programs are the same.

Getting Ahead with this Certificate

To increase your chances of impressing employers, consider completing a course in researching and writing in forensic nursing. Being able to create easy-to-read documents about your findings that can be used in court is a skill that many employers may find attractive.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Kaplan University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • Accelerated BSN to MSN
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Science - DNP Family Nurse Practitioner
      • Master of Science in Nursing - Adult - Gerontology Practitioner
      • M.S. in Nursing - Family Nurse Practitioner
      • Master: Nursing/Nurse Educator
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
    Certificate
      • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate
      • Nurse Educator Graduate Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
    Certificate
      • Diploma: Medical Assisting
  • Online Programs Available
    3. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS in Health Care Quality
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
    Associate's
      • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Education Sepcialist - Nursing Education
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
    Master's
      • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (dual degree)
      • MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems
      • M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education
      • MS in Nursing: Nursing Education
      • MBA: Health Systems Management
      • MS in Health Care Administration
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    7. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - HSA Mgt.
      • Bachelor of Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    8. George Mason University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
      • Master of Science in Health Informatics
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Southern New Hampshire University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS in Healthcare Administration
      • MSM in Healthcare
    Bachelor's
      • BS Business Admin w/conc in Healthcare Administration
      • BS Health Science
      • BS Healthcare Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)
      • Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management

Featured Schools

Kaplan University

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

Herzing University

  • MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner
  • RN to BSN
  • Diploma: Medical Assisting

What is your highest level of education?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Health Care Quality
  • Graduate Certificate in Health Care Quality

What is your highest level of education?

Keiser University

  • RN to BSN
  • Associate of Sciences - Medical Assistant

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Education Sepcialist - Nursing Education
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (dual degree)
  • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Healthcare Management - HSA Mgt.

Are you a US citizen?

George Mason University

  • Master of Health Administration in Health Systems Management
  • Master of Science in Health Informatics

What is your highest level of education?