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Forensic Some of the most exhilarating cases to follow are those in which the judge and the jury can come to a firm conclusion based on DNA or some other physical evidence, giving the victim and the public the justice and closure they seek. Forensic nurses are often the people who first encounter that physical evidence, whether it’s a DNA swab, blood or urine sample, clothing or any other items.

While that itself is an amazing part of their work, forensic nurses do so much more. In this article, we’ll take a closer look at what forensic nursing is, and explain how this important work overlaps with law enforcement professionals.

What is forensic nursing?

Forensic nursing sits firmly at the intersection of medicine, science and law. Kristi Jarvis, a forensic nurse and the forensic program coordinator for the Hennepin County assault response team, describes it as “A specialized area of nursing that focuses on all individuals affected by violence, which may include sexual violence, intimate partner violence, child abuse, gunshot wounds and physical assault.”

Forensic nurses may also work in areas you might not initially think of, like in prisons as part of a correctional nursing team. You’ll also find forensic nurses in the aftermath of mass disasters providing trauma nursing and death investigation. These nurses are vital to both the care of victims and the effectiveness of law enforcement in violent crimes.

How do forensic nurses work with law enforcement?

Though not every victim of violence chooses to report their experience to law enforcement when they have a medical-forensic exam done, many ultimately do. This is where forensic nurses usually step in and contact law enforcement so the authorities can take the victim’s report before they are discharged. Any evidence collected during the exam is turned over to law enforcement. In cases of suspected or confirmed abuse, forensic nurses, like all nurses, are mandated reporters, and must reach out to child or adult protective services.

Jarvis notes that in her county, the forensic nurses have developed such a strong and collaborative working relationship with law enforcement that the authorities will often reach out to the forensic nurses for consultation on the interpretation of the injuries with the reported assault.

Forensic nurses can also serve as an expert witness in court and, if experienced enough, provide judicial recommendations. This mostly happens in cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, elder mistreatment and death investigations.

Forensic nurses also do preventative work, serving the community and working with local government and law enforcement by educating the public about signs of assault or danger and what to do about it. This can include holding information sessions at schools, workplaces or public forums. Amy Schmitz, the lead nurse for the Allina Health Forensic Program, travels to police departments and gives short presentations about what forensic nurses do and how they can work together.

What types of things do forensic nurses typically do?

The duties of a forensic nurse vary widely and depend very much on the position and setting. Most forensic nursing duties typically look like this:

  • Providing one-on-one, trauma-informed care to patients reporting violence.
  • Reporting suspected or confirmed abuse to authorities.
  • Completing medical-forensic examinations (documenting injuries, collecting DNA samples and other materials that may influence an investigation).
  • Sending samples and documentation to law enforcement, if requested.
  • Evaluating and treating patient for STIs or pregnancy.
  • Giving testimony in a court of law, typically on behalf of prosecutors.
  • Acting as a resource for anti-violence efforts, educating the public and law enforcement community.


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