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Forensic Psychiatrist: Education and Career Information

If you are interested in the law and are intrigued by cases that deal with people who have mental health issues, you may want to consider a career in forensic psychiatry. This type of position is not for the faint at heart, but encompasses the world of medicine with work done for the legal system. This can be a very lucrative career path, but takes quite a bit of education and experience to succeed.

What does a forensic psychiatrist do?

A forensic psychiatrist is a licensed doctor who has specializations in the assessment, diagnosis and treatment of mental health illnesses and disorders. They work with attorneys, law enforcement and the court system in cases where their opinion is needed. They focus on the evidence or data received from a case to provide their expertise. A forensic psychiatrist can prescribe medication, and determines the mental health state of a defendant in certain cases. They evaluate certain conditions and areas that include schizophrenia and related psychotic conditions, hysteria, depression and anxiety. They are often present at trials and used as a witness in cases to establish motive, etc. Forensic psychiatrists can be found in private practices, in law enforcement offices, or within the legal system.

How much does a forensic psychiatrist earn?

According to Healthcare salaries, a forensic psychiatrist earns an average annual salary ranging from $35,000 to $600,000, with an average hourly wage between $150 and $750 per hour. This is dependent on the location, experience, and certifications of the psychiatrist. This position is highly competitive and is continuously growing.

What skills are needed to become a forensic psychiatrist?

Listening: A forensic psychiatrist must be able to listen to the patient, but also to the law enforcement professionals and attorneys who are seeking information that could be helpful to their case.

Writing: A forensic psychiatrist must be able to fully document their findings and recommendations for court documents and to support their mental health assessment. They work with a number of people throughout the process, and should have strong writing skills for effective communications based on their research.

Speaking: A forensic psychiatrist is often called into an investigation to give their professional opinion. They also testify in court and serve as expert witnesses who can offer a professional opinion. They must be able to speak in a clear and concise manner in the evaluation and presentation of data and evidence throughout this process.

Analysis: A forensic psychiatrist must be able to provide a detailed analysis of a client’s mental health state based on information gathered and their personal assessment. They must be able to disseminate information based on their analysis which can help shape the outcome of a case.

Decision-making: Based on what they observe, a forensic psychiatrist must be able to make sound decisions, regardless of whether or not their opinion is for or against the defense or plaintiff in a case. They must take all of their data, research and personal assessments to determine the mental state of the person and stand on their decision.

Observation: Before, during and after the recommendation of a treatment plan or medication, observation plays a key role. A high attention-to-detail is needed to make sure all the evidence supports the conclusions. A forensic psychiatrist must be able to observe any behaviors or mental health issues that will affect the outcome of the pending case.

Critical thinking: There are many different elements of a mental health patient, especially dealing with the law. Being able to think critically is essential when determining their mental state and how it could relate to their actions. There are times when patients or criminals attempt to fool the professionals for a favorable outcome. Being able to see through the smokescreen to make a valued assessment and sound judgment is key.

Administrative: This position requires a high level of administrative work, which includes keeping records, expenses, data and other research in order. A forensic psychiatrist must be orderly and thorough in how they maintain their documents. They should also be able to use most office machines and software to retrieve the information they need to do an effective job.

Internship requirements

The final two years of the M.D. program, students are expected to complete clerkship rotations in general psychiatry. Internship hours may fluctuate based on the school, and whether or not the student chooses to complete additional internships on their own.

Education requirements

There are a number of educational requirements needed to become a forensic psychiatrist. The individual must have a medical education and post-graduate training. This educational path begins with an undergraduate program and a four-year M.D. program. During this program, the individual can major in psychiatry or other electives. Coursework for the undergraduate program usually include:

•one year of general chemistry with labs
•one year of general biology with labs
•one year of organic chemistry with labs
•one year of physics with labs
•one course in biochemistry with a lab
•one course in calculus or statistics

Additional courses may include:

•Cognitive psychology
•Abnormal psychology
•Developmental psychology
•Juvenile psychology

In order to get into medical school, the individual must take the MCAT, or Medical College Admissions Test. Once the student has been accepted, the first two years of medical school includes the following coursework:

•Immunology
•Biochemistry
•Cellular biology
•Anatomy and physiology
•Microbiology
•Pharmacology
•Pathology

Once the program is completed, a general psychiatry residency and a forensic psychiatry fellowship must be completed. These residencies take four years to complete, which includes neurologic and medicine rounds. This focuses on hands-on training under licensed professionals. The fellowships take one year to complete, which includes work in criminal forensic psychiatry, child and adolescent psychiatry, correctional hospitals and outpatient and inpatient medical facilities. Coursework and seminars taken during this time include law practicums and psychiatry classes. The fellowship includes coursework in a number of areas, including correctional psychiatry, criminal profiling, family court and others.

Once all coursework has been completed, state licensing is the next step. The individual must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE), and go through a background check. The final phase includes the option of becoming certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN). To become certified in forensic psychiatry, there is an additional fellowship training and exam.

While there are a number of requirements to complete before entering into this career path, it is very lucrative and can be exciting. There are many different aspects of a forensic psychiatrist that are intriguing, and knowing you are helping the law in catching criminals contributes to doing your part for society. If this is something that peaks your interest, you may want to consider becoming a forensic psychiatrist.

Psychiatry Scholarships

American Psychological Foundation Scholarships Association of Black Psychologists Epilepsy Foundation
Elizabeth Munsterberg Koppitz Child Psychology Graduate Student Fellowship Future Counselors of America Scholarship Gallagher Koster Health Careers Scholarship
Kay Wilson Presidential Leadership Award NIH Undergraduate Scholarship NAJA Graduate Scholarship
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship Psi Chi Awards and Grants Wayne F. Placek Grants
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