A forensic nurse may sound like a character that you’d find on the TV show CSI or at least someone that you’d find gathering evidence at a crime scene, but more likely you’ll find one in a hospital. Forensic nurses work alongside regular nurses and often perform the same duties, but when the worlds of crime and medicine intersect, it is forensic nurses who are called on to stand at the intersection. A forensic nurse is a medical professional who cares for the victims of acts that may be criminal. The patients treated by forensic nurses are often the victims of violence, especially sexual violence, but they may also be the victims of criminal neglect or various forms of abuse, either physical or psychological. And while forensic nurses may not be crime scene investigators, they must document the nature of the victim’s injuries, question them about the causes of those injuries, counsel them and catalog the evidence of the crimes to which they have fallen victim. Forensic nurses can also be called on to give testimony in court concerning the victims whose injuries they have treated.
How do you become a forensic nurse? There is no one entry path into this career. Several colleges offer master’s degree programs in forensic nursing or in science-related nursing degrees, but if you’re already certified as a registered nurse there are several ways that you can adopt a forensic specialty. One of the most common of these specialties is the sexual assault nurse examiner or SANE. A SANE is an expert in treating both the injuries and psychological trauma resulting from sexual assault and can question the victim, gather evidence, document the crime and testify about it in court. SANEs work directly with police, lawyers and advocates for the rights of sexual victims to provide the best outcome for these victims, but they also work to give emotional support and compassion to the victim, to facilitate their psychological as well as physical recovery.
Training courses are available for SANEs and certification is offered by the Forensic Nursing Certification Board (FNCB). There are two levels of SANE certification from the FNCB — the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A) and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric (SANE-P). If you’re a registered nurse and would like to become certified as a SANE, you can download the application for the certification exam at this address: https://m360.iafn.org/admin/forms/ViewForm.aspx?id=22705. A handbook outlining the certification process can be downloaded here: http://www.iafn.org/associations/8556/files/SANE%20candidate%20handbook_2011.pdf.
To qualify for SANE-A certification, you must hold an unrestricted license as a registered nurse or its equivalent from outside the United States. (In some cases education can qualify a candidate who is not a registered nurse.) You must have two years of experience as a registered nurse or equivalent. You must have taken at least 40 hours of training in sexual assault nursing from an accredited institution and have had supervised practice in the field within the previous three years. To qualify for SANE-B certification, you must hold an unrestricted license as a registered nurse or equivalent, taken at least 40 hours of coursework and have had supervised practice as a sexual assault nurse to validate competency.
Examination fees vary. For members of the International Association of Forensic Nurses, the fee is $275. For non-members it is $400. At international sites (including all military bases, foreign and domestic) the fee is $500. There is a $75 late fee for applying after deadline. If you don’t pass the exam on your first attempt, IAFN members can reapply for $200 and non-members for $325. After that, additional applications are at full cost. You may cancel your application up until two weeks before the test and your fee will be refunded, minus a $50 processing charge. You will receive a notice informing you of how to schedule your exam. You must schedule it at least a week in advance of the planned date.
Certified Forensic Nurse Test
A forensic nurse is a registered nurse who works specifically with victims of crimes. Forensic nurses combine the full duties of a nurse with some of the duties of a police investigator, not only providing treatment for the patient but gathering evidence that can be used in court and in some cases even testifying at trial. Forensic nursing is an exciting field and an important one. It requires standard nursing training and it also requires special training in working with crime victims.
The most common type of forensic nurse is a SANE — a sexual assault nurse examiner. SANEs work with victims of sexual assault and are specifically trained to handle their physical and psychological needs. Like other forensic nurses, SANEs can gather evidence that can be used in sexual assault cases and present testimony in court based on that evidence. The Forensic Nursing Certification Board (FNCB) offers two levels of certification testing for SANEs — the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Adult/Adolescent (SANE-A) and the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner-Pediatric (SANE-P).
There are, however, other types of forensic nurses as well. For instance, there are elder mistreatment nurses who help elderly patients who have been abused, often by people in whom they have placed their trust and under whose care they live. Elder mistreatment can take many forms, such as neglect (failure for a provider to fulfill the person’s needs for food, safety, shelter and other necessities); abandonment (failing to provide a means for the elderly person to survive); abuse (bodily injury and other uses of physical force); sexual abuse (sexual coercion of the elderly); psychological abuse (infliction of mental distress); financial exploitation (theft or misuse of property); and violation of personal rights (preventing the elderly person from making their own personal decisions).
There are also mass disaster forensic nurses, who work with patients in the aftermath of large-scale catastrophes such as hurricanes and earthquakes; primary prevention nurses, who work to prevent sexual abuse from occurring in schools, neighborhoods and workplaces; and death investigation nurses, who perform a job very similar to that of coroners and medical examiners and often works to assist one or the other of those in determining cause of death. (Coroners are elected officials who do not always have medical credentials, in which case the assistance of a death investigation nurse to do the actual medical examination is essential.)
If some form of forensic nursing seems like the kind of career that you want, how do you get to be one? The method often varies. A number of colleges now offer master’s of even doctorate degrees in forensic nursing. Others offer curricula that combine nursing with the forensic sciences. Adult education classes are also available in certain forensic nursing specialties, such as SANE and death investigation. These would not provide degrees, but in the case of SANE education courses could lead to certification and in both cases could be the basis for a job in forensic nursing at a hospital. Many forensic nurses have multiple specialties and even degrees in law enforcement, allowing them to work more widely in helping to solve and prevent crime.
The International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) sells a set of guidelines for an education as a sexual assault nurse examiner at this address: http://www.iafn.org/storelistitem.cfm?itemnumber=7. For more in-depth information on that aspect of forensic nursing, the United States government has also published a booklet entitled “A National Protocol for Sexual Assault Medical Forensic Examinations” that can be downloaded at this address: http://safeta.org/associations/8563/files/National%20Protocol.pdf.
Organizations such as the International Association of Forensic Nurses will help you learn more about this specialty. The more you learn about it, the more you are likely to make a knowledgeable decision as to whether forensic nursing is really a career you want to pursue and the more knowledge you will acquire toward actually being able to add forensic nursing to any nursing career that you already have.
Certified Forester Exam Study Guides
If you’re in college or a recent graduate, you may have decided, after checking out all your options, that forestry is the career you want to go into. Congratulations! Forestry is an exciting field that pays well and will keep you physically healthy working in the great outdoors. But to become a forester, you need to become certified.
Although individual states have their own requirements for licensure as a forester, national certification is handled by the Society of American Foresters (SAF). This organization offers two levels of forestry certification: Candidate Certified Forester and Certified Forester with a special credential for Forest Certification Auditor. There is a certification exam for each of these positions and the application forms for the exams are available on the SAF Web site. Taking these exams is not an inexpensive proposition; registration can cost as much as $335 for non-SAF members plus a $200 fee if you need to take the exam a second time. But the investment is well worth it if you want a career in forestry. After all, you won’t have much of a career if you don’t become certified.
After all of this investment, both emotional and financial, in your forestry career, you’ll want to make sure that you pass the exam, preferably the first time you try. But how do you guarantee this? The first way, of course, is to get a degree, at least a bachelor’s if not a master’s or a doctorate, in forestry. But this is pretty much unavoidable, because the degree is part of the requirement for applying for the certification exam. Another way is to work in the forestry field so that you’ll have the kind of hands-on experience and learned-on-the-job
information that will hold you in good stead when it comes time to answer the questions on the exam. But this, too, is unavoidable, because this experience is also a requirement for applying for the exam.
And yet, even after all this education and experience, you still may not be absolutely sure that you can pass the exam on the first try. It’s wise to be cautious about this. It’s always possible that the exam will surprise you by asking you for information that somehow wasn’t covered in your university curriculum or that you haven’t encountered during your experience in the field. In that case, you may find yourself staring blankly at the test, wishing you’d chosen to get certified for some other field instead.
But don’t be afraid. To give you that last measure of confidence that you will do well on the Certified Forester Exam from the SAF, there are study guides available. These guides are not just about forestry and don’t just repeat the things you should have learned in school or on the job but are specifically about the test and the kinds of information that will be covered on it. A good study guide will include sample questions, so that you can test yourself to see what areas you are strong in and in what areas you are weak. It will discuss exactly which topics will be on the exam and how much they will contribute to your passing score. It will tell you precisely what you should study before the day of the test so that any holes in your knowledge of forestry will be thoroughly filled.
Where do you get such a study guide? They are widely available in bookstores and on the Internet. They come in a number of forms, including books, flash cards, audio CDs, DVDs, and software. They will be written (or spoken) in plain language that you can read quickly and understand easily. And when you have finished reading or listening to a study guide (preferably twice, perhaps with help from a friend who can drill you on the information), you will feel a renewed confidence in your ability to become certified. Forget the pre-exam jitters. You’re ready to become a forester!
Why Become a Forensic Nurse?
Perhaps you’ve always wanted to be a member of the medical profession. In fact, maybe you’ve always wanted to be a nurse. But why would you choose to be a forensic nurse in particular? Let’s consider some of the reasons.
You can make a difference in people’s lives. Of course, all nurses — indeed, all medical professionals — can make a difference in people’s lives, but forensic nurses are in a position to help when people are at their most desperate and emotionally troubled, just after they’ve been the victim of a crime. Someone who has been raped or assaulted with a deadly weapon is in a delicate emotional state, feeling very much frightened, vulnerable and alone. Sexual abuse nursing examiners for adults (those with a SANE-A certification) are trained in helping women (and, in some cases, men) who have just been raped or otherwise sexually mistreated. Pediatric sexual abuse nurses (those with a SANE-P certification) help children who have been sexually molested and are in a confused state with no idea of who they can trust. These SANE nurses are specially trained to offer comfort and counsel to these people and help ease their emotional pain at what could easily be the most traumatic moment of their lives. Elder mistreatment nurses can offer a friendly hand to old people who may no longer have families or whose remaining family members may have abandoned or betrayed them. As a forensic nurse, you can make an important difference in the lives of all of these people, at precisely the moment when that difference will matter most.
You can find justice for a crime victim who might otherwise get lost in the legal system. As a forensic nurse, you will gather evidence that the crime the victim claims happened actually happened. You may even be in a position to find evidence that the person is the victim of a crime that they are afraid or ashamed to reveal, such as rape or assault by a relative who they may fear will exact vengeance if they give the details. Once you’ve gathered this evidence, both physical and testimonial, you will give it to the police who will use it to prosecute the wrongdoer. You may even be called on to testify in court and see to it that the person who committed the crime is properly convicted and punished.
You can help at the scene of a disaster. Forensic nurses are often called on to serve at the scenes of mass disasters such as hurricane, earthquakes, fires and terrorist attacks. The types of trauma that result from such events are similar to those caused by crimes (and, in the case of a terrorist attack, actually are caused by crimes) and the skills that you learn for treating violent crime victims can also be used to treat the victims of, say, a train crash or a collapsed building. With any luck you wouldn’t be called on to provide these services very often, but when they are needed you will be performing a service of incalculable importance at a moment when all the eyes of the world are turned on the event where you are rendering assistance.
You could uncover crimes nobody even knows about. If, as a child, you dreamed of being Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, becoming a death investigation nurse would give you the chance of discovering that someone has, in fact, been murdered when it was previously only believed that they had been the victim of an accident or had died of ill health. Your forensic skills would allow you to discover signs that a death had been caused deliberately, signs that doctors and other nurses might miss. In some localities, where coroners are purely an elective positions and medical examiners need all the staff they can get, death investigation nurses can do detective work as exciting as anything you’ll ever watch on CSI.
Types of Forensic Nurse
Forensic nursing certainly sounds like an exciting and rewarding career. And it is. It is also an important career, a career in which you can make a difference in the life of other human beings. However, it is not immediately obvious what it is that a forensic nurse would do. Is a forensic nurse someone who works with the sort of crime scene investigation squad that you see on television? Or is it someone who investigates crimes to determine the identity of the criminal? Well, it’s a little of both of those things, but it’s a great deal more.
A forensic nurse usually works for a hospital or as part of some other medical team. Forensic nursing has been described as the point at which the medical profession and law enforcement intersect. When the victim of a crime, especially a violent crime, is brought to a hospital, a forensic nurse is often attached to the case. (Not all hospitals employ forensic nurses. The career is a new one, in existence since about 1990, but it is a growing one.) The forensic nurse treats the crime victim much as nurses treat the victims of other violent events, intentional or unintentional, but does more. A forensic nurse has training in the specific needs of the victims of certain types of crime, such as sexual assault, and psychological training in the emotional needs of these patients as well. But a forensic nurse is also trained in the art of collecting evidence, interrogating the patient as to what exactly has occurred, and observing the patient to detect behavior indicative of the effects of assault, neglect, sexual abuse and other crimes.
Although forensic nurses can work with any kind of crime victim, some forensic nurses specialize in particular types of crimes or violent events. Let’s take a look at some of the specialties:
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. This is the most common subfield of forensic nursing and probably the one that has been around the longest. A sexual assault nurse examiner (or SANE) works with the victims of sexual crimes. They tend to the physical and psychological needs of the victims and they gather evidence about the assault, often to be presented later in court with accompanying testimony by the nurses. These victims can be adults and teens or they can be young children, two areas that are considered slightly different specialties in the field. The Forensic Nursing Certification Board (FNCB) offers certifications in both, the SANE-A certification for forensic nurses who work with adults and adolescents and the SANE-P certification for forensic nurses who work with pediatric cases. You can download a booklet on their certification process here:
Elder Mistreatment Forensic Nurses. While sexual assault nurse examiners are the members of the forensic nursing profession who receive the most attention, the task performed by elder mistreatment forensic nurses is just as important. In fact, elder abuse has become a major problem, as we are reminded by organizations like the National Center on Elder Abuse (http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/ncearoot/Main_Site/index.aspx). Older people, those who have reached an age or physical state where they are no longer fully able to care for themselves, are especially vulnerable to a number of different types of mistreatment and in most cases this mistreatment is criminal.
Consider the types of mistreatment to which elderly people can be subject, often by the very people charged with caring for them: neglect, abandonment, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional and psychological abuse, financial exploitation and violation of personal rights. Elder mistreatment forensic nurses are trained to watch for signs of precisely these types of abuse.
Death Investigation Forensic Nurses. One of the most important types of forensic nurse is the death investigation forensic nurse. In many parts of the country, the role of coroner is purely an elective title and has little if anything to do with the ability to medically determine the cause of anyone’s death. Death investigation nurses do the real work of determining whether someone died from what mystery writers might call foul play.