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What is a Psychiatrist? What Qualifies a Psychiatrist to Practice Forensic Psychiatry?

Stephen M. Raffle, M.D.

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Curriculum Vitae

By Stephen M. Raffle, M.D.

Psychiatry is a subspecialty of medicine.

In order to become a physician, a doctor must complete a four year education in medicine which includes the basic sciences of anatomy, physiology, pharmacology, biochemistry, microbiology, histology, psychiatry, pathology, and the clinical sciences which include, but are not limited to, general and specialty surgery, subspecialty medical clinics in internal medicine, opthalmology, psychiatry, obstetrics, orthopedics, pediatrics, cardiology, pulmonology, gastroenterology, urology, dermatology, pathology (clinical pathological conference), neurology, ENT, obstetrics and gynecology.

After completing the curriculum, the doctor must pass a competency examination in each state he wishes to practice in order to be licensed a physician and surgeon or, alternatively, pass a nationwide examination administered by the National Board of Medical Examiners which is accepted by almost all states.

A psychiatrist must first complete all of the medical educational and licensing requirements of a physician and surgeon before he or she can begin four (4) or more years of study to become a psychiatrist.  Forensic psychiatry subspecialization requires an additional fellowship year and then successfully passing the Board examination.

The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology (ABPN) is the subspecialty board entity overseen by the Board of Medical Specialties which itself is governed by the American Medical Association.  In order for a medical doctor to become a psychiatrist, he or she must complete a four-year residency in Psychiatry at a training facility which is approved by the APBN.  The course of study includes lectures and readings in psychopathology, lectures and readings in neurology, lectures and readings in psychotherapy, instruction in the use and interpretation of psychological tests, continuous case seminars, attendance at psychiatry grand rounds, bedside teaching, community consultation, forensic psychiatry consultation, psychopharmacology and, usually, a research project.

Upon satisfactory completion of an approved psychiatry residency, and with fulfillment of Board practice requirements, the psychiatrist may, at his or her own election, sit for the Board examination.  The examination is both oral and written, and tests competence in psychiatry and neurology.  It is not necessary to take the Board exam to hold one’s self out as a psychiatrist, child psychiatrist or, for that matter, forensic psychiatrist.  However, doctors who identify themselves as “Board Certified by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology” can only do so if they have passed the Board Exams and received full Certification from the ABPN.  Certification in the Subspecialty of Forensic Psychiatry by the ABPN requires still further training and examination.  (If interested, see, also, the FAQ “What is a Forensic Psychiatrist?”)

In 1994, the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology designated Forensic Psychiatry as a psychiatric subspecialty.  Psychiatrists who spent at least 50% of their practice as a forensic psychiatrist during the preceding five years were eligible to sit for the board exam as were psychiatrists who had completed a fellowship in forensic psychiatry.  By 1994, I had practiced forensic psychiatrist as 50% of my practice for 22 years and completed a one year program at the University of California, Berkeley, School of Law (Boalt Hall) taking law courses relevant to the practice of forensic psychiatry (1971‑1972).

I am Board Certified in both Psychiatry and Forensic Psychiatry.  In 1994, I was one of the first Psychiatrists qualified to be, as it was called then, a Board Certified Psychiatrist with Added Qualification in Forensic Psychiatry.  The American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology now designates this subspecialty Board Certification simply Forensic Psychiatry.

DISCLAIMER: The information provided on this website does not constitute legal or medical advice. Readers should consult with their own legal counsel or physician for the most current information and to obtain professional legal advice or medical advice before acting on any of the information presented.

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