How to Become a Forensic Nurse Practitioner? (Answered by an NP)

Written By: Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C

Do you have a passion for healthcare but are also considering a career in criminal justice or legal? Do you have a strong urge to provide compassionate care to people who have been victims of a crime or trauma? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should consider a career as a forensic nurse practitioner.

Are you now wondering how to become a forensic nurse practitioner? Below you will find the steps to becoming a forensic nurse practitioner, the pros and cons of the career path, and salary information.

What Does A Forensic Nurse Practitioner Do?

What does a forensic nurse practitioner do? Forensic nurse practitioners have a unique opportunity to blend nursing principles with legal principles. They can work in various settings and demonstrate the knowledge and training to care for trauma victims— emotional, physical, sexual, or neglect. Forensic NPs care for these trauma victims and the acute and long-term health consequences associated with this trauma. A forensic NP may also collect evidence and provide testimony for civil and criminal proceedings in relation to nursing practice and leading anti-violence efforts. Below are a few duties of a forensic nurse practitioner.

1. Assess patients and collect evidence:

The forensic NP will assess and collect evidence based on the trauma inflicted on the patient.

2. Support survivors and their families:

The forensic NP will support the survivors and their families as needed. This support may include providing information for therapists, support groups, and other professional organizations based on the trauma or victimization the patient experienced.

3. Submit evidence for criminal investigations:

If evidence is collected, the forensic NP will submit the evidence for criminal investigations.

4. Work alongside law enforcement:

To comply with the above duty, the forensic NP will work alongside the law enforcement team to ensure appropriate processes, including evidence collection, are performed.

5. Testify in court as needed:

The forensic nurse practitioner will testify in court when required.

6. Provide care specific to patients experiencing both acute and long-term health problems associated with victimization or violence:

The care the forensic NP delivers will be specific to their patient's trauma and experiences. The forensic NP must individualize the care provided based on this.


What Skills And Abilities Are Needed To Work As A Forensic NP?

There are many skills and abilities that are needed to become a forensic nurse practitioner. Below, you will find five skills that will help you become a successful forensic NP.

1. Compassion:

You must demonstrate compassion when working as a forensic NP. Compassion is when you feel a person’s pain and want to help ease their suffering. The forensic NP should demonstrate this compassion toward the survivor and their families.

2. Patience:

Patience is needed to work as a forensic NP. This includes patience with the survivor, their family, healthcare team members, the legal system, and yourself. There are times when the process may take longer than expected, and patience is needed to ensure the patient receives the appropriate care and treatment.

3. Knowledge of the criminal justice and legal system:

The forensic NP works directly alongside the criminal justice and legal system; therefore, knowledge of these areas is vital. This includes laws, legislation, and steps to collect evidence. The forensic NP must also know how the court system works and the process of trials due to the possibility of having to testify in court.

4. Teamwork:

Teamwork is essential to being a forensic NP. Forensic NPs are part of the healthcare and legal teams—and strong collaboration will lead to better outcomes for their patients.

5. Strong communication skills:

Strong communication skills are tied directly to teamwork. Forensic NPs must demonstrate strong communication skills with the patient, their family, the healthcare team, and the legal team to help the patient receive the best treatment possible.

Where Do Forensic Nurse Practitioners Work?

The employment setting for forensic NPs is vast—it all depends on their area of focus. They may work in an emergency department, hospital, psychiatric clinic, jail, prison, or for the coroner. They could also work for agencies that serve domestic and sexual assault victims.

What Is The Typical Work Schedule For A Forensic NP?

The work schedule for forensic nurse practitioners is incredibly variable—based on the setting they work. If they work in a psychiatric clinic, their hours will typically be daytime hours with no weekends—but they may be on-call depending on the clinic. If working in a hospital, coroner's office, jail, or prison, the forensic NP may work daytime hours, nighttime hours, weekends, and holidays—it would depend on the need of the agency and organization. And, if the forensic NP works for an agency that cares for domestic and sexual assault victims, they will typically work daytime hours but may have to alternate on-call hours for nights and weekends.

What Is The Difference Between Forensic NP And Forensic Nurse?

Scope of practice is the most significant difference between the forensic RN and NP. The forensic NP has achieved a graduate degree, giving them a greater scope of practice.

First, there are differences in the education requirements for the forensic NP and RN. Most forensic nurses will have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree, but there may still be a few with an associate's nursing degree (ADN). The forensic NP must have a graduate degree, such as a master's in nursing (MSN) degree.

Both the forensic RN and NP must pass the NCLEX and have an active RN license, but the forensic NP may also hold other credentials based on the area of expertise.

As stated above, the most significant difference between the forensic NP and RN is their scope of practice. The RN will assess, administer medications and evaluate their patients as needed, and the forensic NP will assess, develop treatment plans and evaluate the outcome of their treatment plans. Both the forensic RN and NP will work alongside the healthcare and legal teams when delivering care to their patients. Both may collect evidence and testify in court—it will just be slightly different based on their degree and level of expertise.

Top 4 Pros Of Becoming A Forensic Nurse Practitioner

There are many pros to becoming a forensic nurse practitioner. Below are four pros of being a forensic nurse practitioner.

1. Helping people in their time of need:

Working as a forensic NP, you get the opportunity to help people every day—often in one of their most challenging times. The care you provide your patients will leave lasting impacts on them, and you have the opportunity to make a difference.

2. Variety of work environments:

A forensic NP provides the opportunity to work in a variety of settings allowing for a change in the environment and helping minimize burnout.

3. Competitive salary:

The salary of a forensic NP is competitive, making it a very enticing and rewarding career path.

4. A broad range of skills:

A forensic NP must use a variety of nursing skills when providing care to their patients—and the forensic NP will individualize these skills based on their patient's needs.

Top 4 Cons Of Becoming A Forensic Nurse Practitioner

Like any job, there are possible cons associated with the career choice. Below, I list four potential cons of being a forensic nurse practitioner.

1. Risk of burnout:

There is a risk of burnout for the forensic NP. This is primarily due to the population served and the stressors of the job. Forensic NPs care for people who have suffered a traumatic event which can be physically and emotionally taxing on the NP as well.

2. Desensitization to traumas:

Due to the population served, the forensic NP risks the chance of becoming desensitized to trauma. This coping mechanism for many may allow the NP to still provide high-quality care to multiple patients suffering a significant trauma simultaneously—allowing the NP to take less of their job home with them.

3. Stressful:

Working in healthcare can be stressful for anyone, and this is true even for the forensic NP. The forensic NP cares for patients of victimization and trauma, works alongside legal teams, and even testifies in court—all of which can be stressful.

4. Overwhelming:

Lastly, becoming a forensic NP can be overwhelming. This will vary significantly depending on their workload and the patients they care for. But again, caring for patients of trauma and victimization can be overwhelming at times.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Forensic Nurse Practitioner?

The average time it takes to become a forensic nurse practitioner is 6 to 8 years, including both undergraduate and graduate studies.

Before applying to graduate school, you must complete your BSN, which on average, takes four years. You can pursue other paths to achieve your BSN, including getting your associate's degree in nursing (ADN) first and then completing an RN-BSN program. You can complete an accelerated nursing program if you already have a bachelor's degree. Both options will impact the time it takes to become a forensic nurse practitioner.

Once you have your BSN, you can apply to a graduate forensic nurse practitioner program. On average, this program takes two years to complete—but again, depending on your program, it may take more or less time.

Other points to consider include years of experience as a nurse before applying to graduate school.

How Much Does It Cost To Become A Forensic Nurse Practitioner?

First, you must obtain a bachelor's degree in nursing, costing, on average, $40,000 to more than $200,000. This is quite a broad range and is influenced by multiple factors, including where you go to school and if you attend full-time vs. part-time. For example, attending an in-state public university will most likely be cheaper than paying for out-of-state tuition for a public university or private university.

You must then factor in the cost of your MSN degree in forensic nursing. According to U.S. News, the average price of an MSN program is between $35,000 to $60,000—which is again influenced by the school's location.

Becoming a forensic NP should also factor in the cost of taking the NCLEX, obtaining an RN license, and completing any certifications after obtaining an MSN degree.

What Is The Step-By-Step Process Of Becoming A Forensic Nurse Practitioner?

Below you will find a step-by-step process of how to become a forensic nurse practitioner.

1. Complete BSN degree:

To become a forensic NP, the first step is to complete your BSN from an accredited school.

2. Obtain RN Licensure:

After graduating from a BSN program, you must pass the NCLEX exam and obtain a state license in your primary state of residence.

3. Gain experience (optional):

This step is optional, but I highly recommend you gain RN experience before applying to graduate school. The knowledge and skills you will learn as an RN will be invaluable and better prepare you for a career as a forensic NP. Behavioral health, emergency department, and jail or prisons are areas to consider.

4. Apply to graduate school:

Once you confirm your decision to pursue a career as a forensic NP, you must apply for an MSN degree in forensic nursing. Many programs offer this degree—so find the program that best fits your needs. Also, be mindful of the prerequisites before starting the program.


Graduate from an accredited forensic nurse graduate program

6. Obtain desired certifications:

After graduating from an accredited forensic NP program, obtain any certifications needed for your career path.

7. Apply to forensic nurse practitioner jobs:

This step can occur before step five—but start applying to forensic NP jobs. This may influence the certifications you wish to pursue to demonstrate competency as a forensic nurse practitioner.


Enjoy your career as a forensic NP.

Top Forensic Nurse Practitioner Programs

Becoming a forensic nurse practitioner is very rewarding but very specialized. Fortunately, there are programs specific to those wanting to pursue a career in forensic nursing. The curriculum, includes both didactic and clinical, will prepare NPs who desire to work in forensic nursing. There are multiple forensic NP programs throughout the United States, and below, you will find information on two of these programs.

Cleveland State University:

Cleveland State University offers a master’s degree in forensic nursing and will prepare the forensic nurse to sit for the certification exam for various forensic career opportunities, including legal nurse consultants, clinical forensic nurses, and forensic psychiatric nurses, along with a few others. The program is two years and includes both didactic and clinic opportunities.

Xavier University:

Xavier University offers a master’s degree in forensic nursing that will prepare you to blend nursing and forensic principles and apply them to legal matters. The program will take 2-3 years to complete and includes didactic and practicum opportunities.

Recommended Certifications To Enhance Your Job Role As A Forensic NP

Certifications are a great way to demonstrate expertise, competence, and passion for a specific area of nursing. There are a few certifications for the forensic NP that will enhance their role. Below, you will find information on two of these certifications.

Forensic Nurse Specialist Certification:

This certification is provided through the American Institute of Healthcare Professionals and demonstrates your knowledge and expertise in forensic nursing. This certification is valid for four years—and to recertify, you need 50 hours or more of continuing education.

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A®) and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric/Adolescent (SANE-P®):

The SANE-A and SANE-P are offered by The Commission for Forensic Nursing Certification (CFNC) demonstrates competency and expertise in the standards of forensic nursing for sexual assault nurse examiners. The recertification period is three years, and the renewal process can be done by passing the renewal exam or continuing education credits.

Continuing Education Requirements For Forensic Nurse Practitioners

Continuing education requirements for a forensic nurse practitioner are necessary to ensure the NP stays current on medical trends and utilizes evidence-based medicine in their daily practice. CEUs are an excellent tool for nurse practitioners to continue to learn while working.

The forensic NP must complete the required CEUs to maintain good standing with their RN license. The state where you work and hold your RN license will determine the specifics of these CEUs. For specific information, visit your state board of nursing.

CEUs will also be required for any certifications you have. For example, if you hold the SANE-P certification, it must be renewed every three years and is done through the completion of 45 hours of continuing education hours specified by the International Association of Forensic Nurses or renewal by exam.

What Is The Starting Salary Of A Forensic Nurse Practitioner?

The starting forensic nurse practitioner's salary is $63,110 a year. Multiple factors influence this number. These factors include where you live if you work for a large organization or a private practice, and years of experience as a nurse.

Per Hour$30.34
Per Month$5,260
Per Year$63,110

What Is The Average Salary Of A Forensic Nurse Practitioner?

What is the average salary of a forensic nurse practitioner? The average forensic nurse practitioner's salary is $93,734 a year. As above, this number is influenced by multiple factors, including where you live and if you practice in an urban or rural community. If you work for private practice vs. a larger organization and years of experience as a nurse may impact your annual salary.

Per Hour$45.06
Per Month$7,810
Per Year$93,734
(Source: Ziprecruiter.Com)

What Is The Average Salary Of A Forensic Nurse Practitioner In Your State?

Now that we discussed the average salary of a forensic NP, you may wonder what the average salary of a forensic NP is in your state of residence. Below, you will find a table listing each state and the average salary for a forensic NP.

State Average Salary
Hourly Monthly Annual
Alabama $39.10 $6,780 $81,320
Alaska $43.45 $7,530 $90,380
Arizona $45.78 $7,940 $95,220
Arkansas $40.88 $7,090 $85,030
California $57.97 $10,050 $120,570
Colorado $42.98 $7,450 $89,400
Connecticut $45.99 $7,970 $95,650
Delaware $44.38 $7,690 $92,300
Florida $40.02 $6,940 $83,240
Georgia $41.83 $7,250 $87,000
Hawaii $48.67 $8,440 $101,240
Idaho $40.20 $6,970 $83,610
Illinois $45.99 $7,970 $95,660
Indiana $43.33 $7,510 $90,120
Iowa $46.34 $8,030 $96,380
Kansas $41.50 $7,190 $86,330
Kentucky $40.50 $7,020 $84,240
Louisiana $43.00 $7,450 $89,450
Maine $44.43 $7,700 $92,410
Maryland $44.17 $7,660 $91,880
Massachusetts $49.46 $8,570 $102,870
Michigan $41.52 $7,200 $86,370
Minnesota $48.49 $8,410 $100,860
Mississippi $42.66 $7,400 $88,740
Missouri $39.51 $6,850 $82,180
Montana $44.17 $7,660 $91,880
Nebraska $43.01 $7,460 $89,470
Nevada $47.22 $8,180 $98,210
New Hampshire $46.09 $7,990 $95,870
New Jersey $52.31 $9,070 $108,800
New Mexico $45.23 $7,840 $94,080
New York $51.13 $8,860 $106,360
North Carolina $43.04 $7,460 $89,520
North Dakota $43.03 $7,460 $89,510
Ohio $42.95 $7,440 $89,330
Oklahoma $44.53 $7,720 $92,630
Oregon $48.94 $8,480 $101,790
Pennsylvania $44.76 $7,760 $93,110
Rhode Island $48.39 $8,390 $100,660
South Carolina $39.26 $6,810 $81,670
South Dakota $42.88 $7,430 $89,190
Tennessee $36.31 $6,290 $75,530
Texas $45.00 $7,800 $93,610
Utah $43.11 $7,470 $89,670
Vermont $42.97 $7,450 $89,370
Virginia $42.88 $7,430 $89,190
Washington $49.95 $8,660 $103,900
West Virginia $39.99 $6,930 $83,180
Wisconsin $44.66 $7,740 $92,900
Wyoming $43.73 $7,580 $90,950

Job Outlook For Forensic Nurse Practitioners

The demand for forensic nurse practitioners is excellent. First, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics predicts a 45% job growth between 2020 and 2030 for advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), which includes forensic nurse practitioners. Currently, in the United States, there is also a great focus on people’s rights, including those who have been victimized—and forensic NPs can help care for and be a voice for this population. Lastly, crimes are continuing to rise throughout the United States, further indicating a need for forensic NPs to provide high-quality and compassionate care to those who are victims of violence and trauma.

Useful Organizations And Associations

Becoming a forensic nurse practitioner can be overwhelming. Fortunately, organizations can help support the forensic nurse practitioner through companionship, education, career development, and certifications. Below is information on two of these organizations.

International Association of Forensic Nurses:

The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) is a highly respected organization for forensic nurses. They have a goal to be able to provide forensic nursing care to any patient affected by trauma or violence. This association is an excellent resource for forensic nurses as it provides networking and learning opportunities, certifications, and the opportunity to enhance their practice further. This organization is also highly respected worldwide—which means the public, policymakers, media, governments, and other healthcare systems will seek out members of this organization due to their expertise and passion for forensic nursing.

Academy of Forensic Nursing:

The Academy of Forensic Nursing is an excellent resource for forensic nurses as it provides numerous education, networking, and events. There are also opportunities to join committees that can significantly impact the specialty of forensic nursing and the care delivered.

Finally, Is Forensic Nursing The Right NP Specialty For You?

After reading the above, were you able to answer how to become a forensic nurse practitioner? Becoming a forensic NP is a unique career path in nursing, blending healthcare and legal to provide care to your patients. The above article discussed the steps to becoming a forensic nurse practitioner, the pros and cons of the job, and the salary.

Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Kasee Wiesen is a practicing family nurse practitioner. Her nursing background includes emergency medicine, pediatrics and peri-op. Education is a passion of Kasee’s, and she has taught BSN, RN-BSN and DNP students, and has enjoyed every moment of it!