Forensic Nurse Salary and Factors (Plus How To Become One)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated October 29, 2021 | Published April 14, 2020

Updated October 29, 2021

Published April 14, 2020

Forensic nursing, a somewhat new specialty in the medical field, is a unique role that requires diverse skills and talents in caring for patients as well as liaising with law enforcement. In this article, we explore the earning potential of forensic nurses as well as the duties, skills and education required to earn these salaries.

What is a forensic nurse?

A forensic nurse is a health care professional with criminal justice training who cares for victims of violence and traumatic injuries and assists in the prosecution of alleged perpetrators of violent crimes. Victims receive compassionate care while evidence is meticulously collected for later use in finding and prosecuting the assailant. Forensic nurses work on both the medical and legal front of the difficult and sensitive cases they handle so they are required to receive ongoing education and training.

Patients can include victims of assault, sexual assault, child abuse, elder abuse, homicide or attempted homicide. The medical and legal duality of this role means forensic nurses are both nurses and law enforcement liaisons, requiring them to build trust with their patients due to the nature of law enforcement investigations.

Forensic nurse salaries

Forensic nursing is a very involved field of work with a demand for qualified individuals. Opportunities for obtaining a forensic nurse position with a generous salary are numerous.

Highest paying cities lists national average salaries for nurses, including forensic nurses. The five highest-paying cities for nurses are:

  • Philadelphia, PA: $95,015

  • Las Vegas, NV: $85,068

  • Chicago, IL: $84,788

  • Houston, TX: $81,429

  • Phoeniz, AZ: $79,300

Salaries by state

The national average salary for nurses is $79,174 per year plus $11,250 in overtime. Salaries vary by geographical location, experience, credentials and employer size.

  • Alabama: $66,837

  • Alaska: $30,336

  • Arizona: $76,000

  • Arkansas: $34,007

  • California: $89,913

  • Colorado: $75,540

  • Connecticut: $84,517

  • Delaware: $98,087

  • Florida: $70,334

  • Georgia: $79,687

  • Hawaii: $84,094

  • Idaho: $77,854

  • Illinois: $78,760

  • Indiana: $75,034

  • Iowa: $71,711

  • Kansas: $68,336

  • Kentucky: $68,359

  • Louisiana: $75,860

  • Maine: $76,580

  • Maryland: $83,646

  • Massachusetts: $88,466

  • Michigan: $76,927

  • Minnesota: $77,088

  • Mississippi: $64,987

  • Missouri: $72,783

  • Montana: $31,121

  • Nebraska: $70,818

  • Nevada: $84,209

  • New Hampshire: $82,046

  • New Jersey: $82,469

  • New Mexico: $82,127

  • New York: $81,983

  • North Carolina: $74,531

  • North Dakota: $37,165

  • Ohio: $74,661

  • Oklahoma: $70,739

  • Oregon: $31,994

  • Pennsylvania: $82,596

  • Rhode Island: $81,478

  • South Carolina: $74,916

  • South Dakota: $21,425

  • Tennessee: $71,036

  • Texas: $76,434

  • Utah: $71,155

  • Vermont: $32,408

  • Virginia: $82,769

  • Washington: $34,556

  • West Virginia: $76,533

  • Wisconsin: $78,837

  • Wyoming: $69,711

Factors affecting forensic nurse salaries

The salary you earn as a forensic nurse can depend on several factors, including:

Total compensation package

The total compensation package can vary greatly by employer. The package may include tuition support for continuing education, health insurance, stock options, dependent coverage and more. The cost of living where you live and work is also a determinant in the salary to expect.

Education and experience

Experience and education can also help determine your salary. For example, if you have a master's degree in forensic nursing, your salary will be higher than someone with an associate or bachelor's degree. Someone midway through their career, similarly, will likely earn more than someone just entering the field.

Rate of demand

With the health care field growing at a much faster rate than other fields in the U.S., nurses of all types are in high demand, which translates to higher compensation and incentivization. Moreover, the aging population also affects careers in the health care field in several ways:

  • Retiring nurses will need to be replaced.

  • Medical advancements allow for longer lives, causing a higher number of patients in need of care.

How to become a forensic nurse

If you're interested in becoming a forensic nurse, you should possess the passion to not only, treat patients; but to also advocate for them. You need to be dedicated to performing the legal duties of forensic health care work. Follow the steps below to become a forensic nurse:

1. Earn a nursing degree

Earn a nursing degree from an accredited school. You could opt for a two-year program for an associate degree in nursing, a three-year program for a diploma in nursing, a four-year bachelor's program or a master's degree in forensic nursing.

Related: Learn About Being a Registered Nurse

2. Achieve licensure

After you finish your degree program, you'll be required to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX), the licensing body for nurses in the U.S. and Canada. Once you pass this exam, you can apply for a nursing job. Additional licensing is available for sexual assault nurse examiners. Licensed registered nurses (RN) and advanced practice nurses (APN) can choose to complete a forensic nurse specialist program. The comprehensive training in forensic nursing requires at least 250 hours of continuing education.

Related: 20 Helpful NCLEX Test-Taking Strategies and How To Use Them

3. Gain relevant experience

You might practice as a registered nurse before advancing to a role in forensic nursing. Becoming a forensic nurse typically requires clinical experience in surgical, pediatric or psychiatric settings.

Related: 62 Types of Nurses: The Most In-Demand and Highest-Paying Nursing Specialties

4. Participate in continuing education

Enrolling in a certificate program can provide the skills and training you need to perform this role. Earning this type of certificate helps further your career as a forensic nurse, but keep in mind that it's not equal to obtaining board certification in forensic nursing. Master's or doctoral degree programs in forensic nursing can prepare you to work in a variety of roles, including teaching, consulting, forensic psychiatric nursing and other roles that involve working with law enforcement and members of the justice system.

Related: 10 Highest Paid Nursing Jobs

FAQs about forensic nursing

Here are answers to commonly asked questions about forensic nursing:

Do forensic nurses have other titles?

Here are other titles for a forensic nurse:

  • Forensic clinical nurse practitioner

  • Forensic nurse investigator

  • Legal nurse consultant

What soft skills does a forensic nurse need?

A forensic nurse should possess the following soft skills:

  • Attention to detail

  • Extreme care and procedural collection and preservation of evidence

  • Organization

  • Documentation

  • Ability to balance compassion and professionalism

  • Ability to foster trust with patients

Related: Tips from a Nurse Coach: Highlighting Your Soft Skills as a Nursing Professional

Where do forensic nurses work?

Forensic nurses can be found working in the following settings:

  • Community organizations

  • Correctional facilities

  • Hospitals

  • Medical examiners' or coroners' offices

  • Psychiatric facilities

  • Urgent care clinics

What duties does a forensic nurse perform?

As a professional who performs in a dual role in medical care and law enforcement, the job of a forensic nurse can include many duties depending on the type of facility where they work.

Some of the duties performed by forensic nurses include:

  • Treating injuries and providing physical and emotional support to patients and their families and partners

  • Relaying evidence and analyses to law enforcement and social services when necessary

  • Following proper procedures to collect and preserve evidence for analysis and future use in the prosecution of the perpetrator, including clothing, biological evidence and photographic documentation of physical wounds

  • Appearing as an expert witness for the prosecution in trials

  • Providing information and resources to victims that may include counseling, temporary relocation or state assistance

Read more: How To Become a Forensic Nurse

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