The role of a forensic mental health nurse

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Forensic mental health nurses or forensic psychiatric nurses work with criminal offenders as well as with crime victims. They have expert knowledge in medicine and law and combine these two proficiencies to evaluate a suspect’s ability to stand trial or help a victim feel safe enough to provide an official statement to the police. They also gather information and evidence that can be used in criminal and civil trials. For example, a forensic mental health nurse that works in a hospital may assess victims of violent crime and testify in court regarding their trauma and mental state.

One of the biggest challenges that most forensic mental health nurses face is balancing the needs of the individual and the risk to society.

Typical work setting & types of patients

Most forensic mental health nurses work at psychiatric institutions and corrections facilities and for police departments. Some also work in hospital emergency departments where they are among the first medical professionals to interact with victims of assault or other crimes.

Patients may include those with personality disorders, mental illness, organic brain damage, learning disability, psychopathic disorders and other associated conditions such as substance abuse or history of trauma and abuse.

Typical duties & role in different settings

Forensic nurses who work in corrections facilities or forensic hospitals usually work together with physicians, pharmacists, and social workers in evaluating the mental health of patients and determining different aspects of the treatment protocol such as what medications to administer.

Forensic nurses who work at hospitals or for police departments interview victims of assault or abuse. These interviews are usually held privately and evidence is obtained regarding the assault or other crime. Part of the responsibility includes guiding the victims through the examination and investigation process to help them cope with the trauma they endured. In this capacity, forensic nurses work as part of a team that includes the victim’s advocate and law enforcement officials.

When working for a police department, part of the responsibility also includes assessing suspects before official court proceedings such as sentencing and testifying in criminal proceedings.

Depending on the work setting, a forensic nurse may also be called upon to provide long-term treatment to offenders incarcerated in corrections facilities. This would include interviewing inmates, assessing their mental state and progress and recommending medications and other therapies.

Teaching at colleges and universities in graduate degree programs is yet another career path for more experienced forensic nurses.

Personal characteristics

Some of the key skills and competencies that are essential for a forensic mental health nurse include:

  • In-depth knowledge of mental disorders
  • Good communication and leadership skills
  • Good clinical skills
  • Clarity of thought & the ability to make objective decisions
  • Thoroughness and attention to details
  • Willingness to see patients at short notice in an emergency

Education & Training Requirements

Forensic mental health nurses may come to the field from either a forensic or a psychiatric background. Specialist training in this psychiatry field takes 6 years.  You have to first complete 3 years of core psychiatry training, after which you may choose to specialise in forensic psychiatry, which is a further 3 years of higher training.

 

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Gap Medics provides year-round hospital work experience for people aged 16 and over. Our shadowing placements offer a unique insight into the work of doctors, nurses, midwives and dentists – helping students to focus their career aspirations before embarking upon medical training.

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