Forensic Psychiatric Nurse Career

Forensic nursing is still very much a developing specialty in nursing, but a very important one and a key component linking healthcare and the judicial system. Normally a forensic nurse works with victims of crime, examining them, preserving evidence, and testifying in a court of law. A forensic psychiatric nurse adds psychiatric evaluation to the professional combination of law and nursing. They may be performing physical examinations, but they focus on the mental health of their patients, often treating the offenders more than victims. A forensic psychiatric nurse (FPN) is responsible for evaluating individuals who require court-ordered psychiatric evaluations. They are also responsible for evaluating and treating criminal offenders in an institution who may be mentally ill, much like correctional nurses. Sometimes they evaluate the victim of a crime, determining their mental state as a result of the crime. They can also work with juveniles in juvenile correctional institutions. Sometimes they connect their patients with the social or medical services they need, assisting in an offender’s rehabilitation.

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Education and Training for Psychiatric Forensic Nurses

Being a successful forensic psychiatric nurse requires many important skills. They often work with patients who have committed violent offenses, yet they are required to appear nonjudgmental, supportive, and must act in the best interest of their patient. They must concern themselves with the safety of their patient, as well as those around them. In 1995, forensic nursing officially became recognized as a specialty of nursing by the American Nurses Association. In 2002, the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN) held the first international certification exam. Not many states, however, have the classification of psychiatric forensic nursing.

Forensic psychiatric nurses are highly specialized and usually have master’s degrees in forensic or psychiatric nursing. However, the road toward becoming a forensic psychiatric nurse begins with becoming a registered nurse (RN). You can become a registered nurse by earning a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing from a college or university in four years, or by earning an associate degree in just two years. Once you obtain your nursing license from the state in which you aim to practice, you can pursue your continuing education for forensic nursing through a university or college with a forensic nursing program. There are many sub-specialties of forensic nursing, but the content of their certification courses is similar with only elective courses in the program focusing specifically on forensic psychiatric nursing. Once you finish the training and clinical hours, you must take and pass the forensic certification exam. Certification is voluntary but is highly preferable and will make you much more competitive in the job market. It convinces both employers and patients that you are qualified and have the expert knowledge to provide the necessary care skillfully.

Psychiatric Forensic Nursing Salaries and Job Outlook

According to, the average salary for a forensic psychiatric nurse is $42,000. This is only an average and it can depend greatly on employer, geographic location, and experience as well as benefits offered. This specialty will continue to be an important one in forensic nursing, but job options are still growing as it is very much still an emerging field. Caring for the mentally ill who are considered dangerous or residing in correctional institutions is a necessity in society, so the need is there and the nursing profession is fulfilling that need and catching up to it. It’s not an easy job, but for those interested in forensics and psychiatric nursing, this could prove to be a very valuable career path.

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