Among the millions of interested fans watching the television show CSI and all its iterations in various cities, there are a lot of people who want to work in forensics. It is a growing field. As technology advances, forensics is used in more than just crime scene investigations. It is used to determine how diseases spread, various causes of death and illness, and even DNA investigations of multiple types.
So how does one get into the growing field of forensics? And what careers are available anyway? The answers might surprise you, and there may be more opportunities than you imagined.
1. Forensic Nursing
One of the lesser-known fields in the area of forensics is forensic nursing. A unique and exciting career path, a forensic nurse is trained to recognize intentional harm, usually when someone visits a hospital ER, urgent care facility, or even a doctor’s office. These nurses recognize physical and sexual assault, child neglect, domestic abuse, and even signs of mental abuse.
Besides just a hospital or urgent care, forensic nurses are often found in community crisis centers and correctional institutions. Anywhere where someone might come whose medical condition could be evidence of a crime, there is a need for forensic nurses. Not only do they know how to recognize signs of intentional abuse, but they are also well trained in collecting and preserving evidence.
There are several careers within forensic nursing, like sexual assault nurse examiner, nurse investigator, and more. Former Vice President Joe Biden said that “Forensic nurses play an integral role in bridging the gap between law and medicine. They should be in every emergency room.”
The need for forensic nurses is growing. Candidates are required to get an RN degree plus training in their area of forensic nursing specialization.
2. Criminal Analyst
A criminal analyst tends to conduct the hands-on parts of forensic science and analysis. It is a great field of study for the student who is unsure of their career path but wants a job that is both unique and exciting.
The criminal analyst tends to work more directly with police departments or other law enforcement agencies. There are two standard specialties in the criminal analyst field: crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis.
Crime Scene Investigation:
This criminal analyst works in a career in forensics. They work at doing things like looking for evidence at a crime scene, photographing that evidence in the area before it is removed, cataloging and labeling evidence for transport, and ensuring that it is adequately preserved until it can be analyzed.
Once the evidence has made it to the lab, the criminal analyst will run tests and consult with experts. They may even be tasked with reconstructing crime scenes (think Dexter, the blood spatter specialist and serial killer) or testify in court. In larger jurisdictions, criminal analysts can be highly specialized, while in more rural environments, they may perform several different functions.
The ideal candidate will not only have a background in criminal justice but several other skills as well:
- Problem-Solving Abilities — The criminal analyst will be called upon to make deductions about a crime scene, and some scenes may be more challenging than others. Excellent problem-solving skills are a must.
- Scientific Knowledge — Science is the backbone for crime scene analysis, and solid biology, chemistry, and physical sciences background are
- Excellent Communication Skills — Specialized knowledge is only useful if it can be communicated well to detectives, court officials, and more. Both written and oral communication skills are essential tools in the criminal analyst’s toolbox.
- Attention to detail — While this goes without saying, it is essential that the criminal analyst pays attention to every detail when it comes to evidence and crime scenes.
The path to this career usually includes at least a Master’s in Criminal Justice with an emphasis in biological sciences. Internships and other work experience help set candidates apart from their peers.
3. Forensic Pathologist
The forensic pathologist is the pinnacle of the forensics career. Typically, a forensic pathologist needs 13 years of post-high school education including four years in college followed by four years of medical school. This is followed by three years in a pathology residency and a one-year forensic pathology specialty training. The research they do is beyond simply criminal forensics, into things like DNA testing research.
The job is really to determine the cause, means, and circumstance of the death of someone who has died suspiciously, unexpectedly, or unnaturally.
Forensic pathologists often work in a variety of places, from hospitals to medical examiners offices. Typically they perform autopsies not only in criminal matters but post-surgery deaths and other unusual death situations, such as when a young person dies suddenly with no apparent medical cause. There is an increasing shortage of forensic pathologists, causing an autopsy backlog in many jurisdictions.
According to experts, there are only 500 licensed full-time medical examiners in the country, although 1,200 are needed. Since the amount of time it takes to train a forensic pathologist and certify them is so considerable, the shortage will likely continue for a while. Thus, a career in forensics will probably stay profitable.
Anyone who wishes to get into the field of forensic pathology should first pursue their degree in medical school and then embark on a pathology residency.
The Cost of Schooling
Getting a degree in the forensics field is an expensive proposition. With a nursing degree being the minimum education level for a forensic nurse, with a Master’s in Criminal Justice being desirable, student loan debt can be crippling. Getting the education required to become a forensic pathologist, depending on the medical school you attend and the amount of cost of living loans you will need, can result in debt in the six-figure range.
Fortunately, there are some ways to pay off nursing loans such as the Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program. There are also many ways to make paying back student loans easier, like loan consolidation programs at lower interest rates and sign-on bonuses in fields like forensics where nurses are needed.
For nurses having a career in forensics, criminal analysts, and forensic pathologists, there are also loan forgiveness programs for working a certain number of years in certain areas or career fields. Be careful of these programs, because there are often requirements before you can begin your loan forgiveness countdown, like loan consolidation or other limiting terms. Be sure to check with your loan servicing company before you enroll in these programs.
A career in forensics can be a very profitable one. From forensic nurses to specialized analysts and forensic pathologists, there are some options. Due to the shortages in these fields, a graduate with the right degree and skills will be in high demand.