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Origins of Forensic Nursing

Compassionate care is especially meaningful when fear, youth, age, or stress robs vulnerable individuals of the ability to speak for themselves. Over the past three decades, forensic nursing has emerged as a health care discipline to inform communities of interest, and provide and improve the quality of care for society’s most vulnerable populations. Forensic nurses combine compassionate care in their practices using science to provide a “voice” that brings safety, medical treatment, and justice to patients who experience trauma in all its forms.

As is often the case, when a radical improvement in healthcare takes place, one visionary emerges - Virginia A. Lynch. Ms. Lynch began writing her thesis in the 1980's, and she completed it in 1990 at the University of Texas at Arlington. She then published her seminal work entitled, "Clinical Forensic Nursing: A Descriptive Study in Role Development." Ms. Lynch conceptualized nurses as torchbearers for the improvement of medical-forensic practice, and she led the way by taking the forensic nursing role global.


Ms. Lynch has been a pioneer throughout her nursing career. During the 1980's, she established the first post-sexual assault care clinic in Parker County, Texas. Ms. Lynch also served as a county medico-legal death investigator in the state of Georgia. In 1991, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) asked that she define the practice of forensic nursing and establish a place for forensic nurses in the organization. Forensic nursing gained specialty recognition by the American Nurses Association (ANA) in 1995.


Forensic nurses influence standards of practice globally through consensus documents, research, and professional practice, in areas as wide-ranging as the military, domestic abuse, child abuse, elder abuse, human trafficking, sexual assault, death investigation, and beyond. As the founding champion of forensic nursing as a specialty with scientific underpinnings in nursing science, Ms. Lynch promotes global training and credentialing for forensic nurses – both to ensure a standard of care and to elevate the application of forensic science to nursing practice, while establishing the role of the forensic nurse in health care of communities around the world. In 2018, a cadre of forensic nursing professionals with more than 500 cumulative years of experience in nursing and more than 240 years of experience in forensic nursing practice came together to take up Ms. Lynch’s vision for the future, and the Academy of Forensic Nursing (AFN) was born.

Why is Forensic Nursing Important?

Forensic nurses play a key role in the identification, collection and preservation of evidentiary
materials that may otherwise be lost during a patient’s hospital visit. They are specially trained to
provide holistic, trauma-informed care to the patient who has been a victim of sexual assault,
intimate partner violence, neglect, physical assault. This includes elder and child abuse, and human
trafficking. With their knowledge and highly specialized training, forensic nurses are able to give
expert testimony that can be used in a court of law to prosecute perpetrators who commit violent and
abusive acts. Forensic nurses see violence as both a community and health-care problem. Their
presence is imperative in helping victims through their experience and ending violence.

What is a Forensic Nurse?

Forensic nursing is a unique specialty that combines the art of nursing with science and the legal
system, and helps to bridge the gap between medicine and law. We are a specialized group of
nurses who provide comprehensive care to victims of violence, offering detailed medical forensic
exams, all while placing medical well-being as the priority. A forensic nurse can be a registered nurse
or an advanced-practice nurse. Specific qualities of a forensic nurse include compassionate,
effective communication, excellent assessment and decision-making skills. They are organized and
detail oriented.

Are There Different Types of Forensic Nurses?

Yes! There are a variety of subspecialties within forensic nursing, including forensic nurse
examiner (FNE), sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) for adolescent/adult or pediatric
patients. There is also forensic nurse death investigator (NDI) or nurse coroner, forensic
psychiatric nurse, forensic clinical nurse specialist, legal nurse consultant, forensic gerontology
specialist, and correctional nurse, SWAT team nursing and more. .

Where Do Forensic Nurses Practice?

Depending on where you live, forensic nurses can work in a variety of settings. Forensic nurses
most frequently work in hospitals, but they can also be found in community anti-violence programs,
coroner and medical examiner offices, correctional institutions and psychiatric hospitals. They can
also be called on to prepare or respond to mass disasters or community crisis situations. In order to
meet patient needs, forensic nurses work collaboratively with medical professionals, law
enforcement, social workers, sexual assault response teams (SART) and public health organizations
to develop an anti-violence response to human acts of violence. Forensic nurses are equipped to
make an impact in the lives of those who truly need their expertise. They can be at the forefront of
providing trauma-informed care, collecting evidence and collaborating with legal teams.

Is Forensic Nursing in Demand?

The number of forensic nurses is growing to meet public health demands. As long as there is crime,
there will be an ongoing need for these types of nurses. It is speculated that forensic nursing will be
one of the fastest-growing field in the nursing profession due to their specialty. Forensic nurses
bridge the gap between law and medicine.

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