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(originally published to Helium writing site, now gone)

Forensic nursing is a relatively new area of nursing that brings together aspects of health and justice. It applies the nursing process to the legal system and investigates cases of trauma and death associated with abuse, accidents and criminal activity. The forensic nurse works alongside other specialists in the field of forensic science, including doctors, dentists, psychiatrists, criminalists, radiologists and lawyers.

The advent of forensic nursing came in 1986 when medico-legal death investigator Virginia Lynch proposed a course of study in the field. The University of Texas soon developed a master’s degree for already qualified nurses. Forensic nursing role development was formalized in 1990, identifying and clarifying the roles of emergency nurses who worked with trauma victims. Subsequent models used this framework as their basis.

The work of a forensic nurse might include treating victims of crime, performing investigative work at a crime scene, and working as a detective to help police find and convict criminals. An important role is assisting with the physical and psychological recovery of patients and protecting their rights. Forensic nurses present evidence against suspects in the court system.

In its short history, many specialties have developed in forensic nursing. All of these roles are investigative in nature and require specific knowledge of aspects of the law and expert witness skills. Forensic nurse examiners, for example, analyze the physical and emotional trauma of patients, look at suspicious deaths, and conduct psychopathology evaluations in forensic and violence cases. This includes in the areas of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, and injuries caused by weapons or brutality.

The work of a forensic nurse examiner is complex and varied. It may include the areas of child abuse, sexual abuse, deviant behavior, drug abuse, elder abuse, interpretation of trauma (such as a gunshot wound), bite mark analysis, death investigation, forensic photography, jurisprudence, and general and emergency nursing responsibilities. Cases might include abuse of different descriptions, other crime victims, automobile accident trauma, occupational injuries, drug abuse, attempted suicides, and deaths.

There are various other specialties in forensic nursing. Forensic psychiatric nurses manage offenders with social, behavioral and psychological problems. They assess the patient, give rehabilitative care, and supervise the patient within the community. Correctional nurse specialists provide health care to those in prison and other correctional institutions. They look after the sick, administer medication and conduct physical examinations. Forensic gerontology specialists investigate cases of abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly.

Sexual assault nurse examiners provide compassionate care to victims of sexual assault. They assess the victim’s injuries, collect forensic evidence from the scene, and provide ongoing care to the victim. Also, they represent the victim in court. Legal nurse consultants help attorneys on civil cases such as personal injury and medical malpractice. Nurse coroners work on crime scene investigations where they analyze the scene, examine the body to determine time of death, and look for clues to explain the possible cause.

Several issues are currently becoming increasingly important in forensic nursing. Worldwide human rights is a high priority topic. Forensic nursing is looking to address aspects of religious practices and cultural traditions that impinge on the wellbeing of vulnerable groups within the community, such as women and children who might be the victim of honor killings, genital mutilation, rape, and child prostitution. Another emerging area in forensic nursing is HIV and AIDS and the link to sexual assault.

Forensic nursing can be a rewarding career. To enroll in a course in this field, you must be a registered nurse. Many nursing schools offer a two year course leading to a Master of Science in Nursing with a forensic nursing specialization. To be a sexual assault nurse examiner, you also need two years’ experience as a registered nurse. According to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-fzMOSWpRe4, a forensic nurse earns $30,000 to $130,000 a year, depending on education, experience and location.

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