The Rappeport Fellowship is an award given by the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law (APPL), the national organization for forensic psychiatrists. It is the highest award that is given every year to one psychiatry resident who is interested in forensic psychiatry and is designed to give the recipient more knowledge and skills to foster their development into leaders in the field of forensic psychiatry. This year, Laura Sloan, MD, a fourth-year resident in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, received the award, becoming the first resident in Minnesota to earn the honor.

“It’s surreal,” Dr. Sloan said. “I have been hoping to get this fellowship for several years now, and I’ve been working toward it. It’s really just an honor to feel recognized for the work I’ve been doing the past few years. It’s an acknowledgement of how much I want to be a part of this field.”

Forensic psychiatry focuses on the interface of psychiatry and the law. There are different aspects of forensic psychiatry. One aspect is doing psychiatric evaluations for the courts to determine, for example, an individual’s competency to stand trial or a patient’s need for involuntary antipsychotics. Forensic psychiatrists often serve as expert witnesses for the courts. They also work in state psychiatric hospitals. More recently, the field of correctional psychiatry, psychiatry in prisons and jails, has been included within forensic psychiatry.

Forensic psychiatrists are also well-positioned to advocate for policy changes that impact people living with mental illness because they are given additional training on current laws. 

“If you want to change the laws, it’s especially helpful to know what they are currently, so forensic psychiatry is well positioned for that,” Dr. Sloan said. Forensic psychiatrists can also be part of the conversation on criminal justice reform as correctional psychiatry falls under the umbrella of the field. 

“The discussion of mental health care in correctional settings needs to be a part of criminal justice reform discussions,” Dr. Sloan added. 

As a third-year medical student in Boston, Dr. Sloan completed a psychiatry clerkship at a state psychiatric hospital, sparking her interest in the field.

“I absolutely loved it. I thought I was going to go into family medicine before that rotation. It completely changed my mind and made me want to go into psychiatry. I’ve been pursuing that kind of work ever since,” she said. 

Next year, Dr. Sloan will begin the Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship at the University of Minnesota Medical School. More than anything, Dr. Sloan enjoys treating people with severe persistent mental illness, and although she is not sure what she will do after the fellowship, she is certain she can care for this population within forensic psychiatry.

“There are so many areas of the field, so I don’t quite know which one I’d like to pursue at this moment,” she said. Dr. Sloan also enjoys policy and advocacy work and hopes to also incorporate that into her career. She credits her involvement in forensic psychiatry to the mentorship of Chinmoy Gulrajani, MD, MBBS, DFAPA, the Forensic Psychiatry Fellowship director. 

“He has helped me develop and learn more about forensic psychiatry over the past three years to become a leader in the field,” Dr. Sloan said.