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Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Career

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners, also known as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP), play a special role in healthcare. Although not a medical doctor, this type of advanced practice nurse takes on a similar role to a psychiatrist, helping patients struggling with mental health and mental illness issues such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, mood disorders, substance abuse issues, postpartum depression, and more. On top of standard registered nurse training, psychiatric nurse practitioners earn additional licensing and certifications in order to be qualified to offer specialized care to patients with mental health illnesses.

nurse showing meds to a patient

What is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

A psychiatric nurse practitioner is an advanced practice registered nurse who is trained to provide care to patients struggling with mental health problems. These nurses are different from RNs in that they have the education and experience to tend to the mental health needs of patients of all ages. They are also qualified to diagnose patients with mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, or eating disorders and prescribe treatment.

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

The day-to-day responsibilities of a psychiatric nurse practitioner range from educating other nurses to working directly with patients in the field:

  • Creating treatment plans and collaborating with teams.
  • Diagnosing patients and communicating condition information.
  • Educating their communities on mental health concerns.
  • Conducting and interpreting mental health assessments.
  • Performing and giving psychotherapy for the treatment of conditions.
  • Performing exams and checkups for physical and mental health.
  • Prescribing medications and consulting with doctors.
  • Adjusting medication and treatment plans for patients.
  • Maintaining patient records and making referrals.
  • Continually learning about new medicines and treatments.

How Do I Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

There are specific educational and certification steps to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner and completing all of them can take six years or more. It’s important to note the specialized academic track so you understand how to be prepared for this type of nursing profession.

Here is a simple step-by-step guide to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner:

  • Earn an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited school.
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN certification test for licensure.
  • Obtain your RN license.
  • Earn an MSN with a specialization in psychiatric mental health care .
  • Pursue the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner board certification exam.
  • Become licensed as a nurse practitioner.
  • Participate in continued education throughout your career.

Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Need Licenses?

After obtaining the advanced degrees, the final step to becoming a nurse practitioner is to get licensed. Candidates need to earn a national NP certification from a specialty nursing board, like the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB), American Association of Critical-Care Nurses (AACN), Pediatric Nursing Certification Board (PNCB), American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), and National Certification Corporation (NCC). 

These certifications will often require clinical hours and experience, application fees, and a comprehensive test to make sure you are prepared.

Advanced Practice Registered Nurse Licensing

Different states will have different requirements for nurse practitioners. Wherever you hope to practice as a nurse practitioner, you’ll likely need your RN license in that state. You’ll need to ensure the nurse practitioner certification you pursue licenses you in your state, and work with your state agency to ensure you have met all clinical or other requirements. 

Best Degree for a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S. Nursing

This program for BSNs who have an active, unencumbered RN...

This program for BSNs who have an active,...

This program for BSNs who have an active, unencumbered RN license prepares you to become a board-certified Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

  • Locations: This degree program is not available in the following states: Arizona, California, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin.
  • Time: 2½ years.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,250 plus $1,395 in fees, per six-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Family Nurse Practitioner (BSN-to-MSN) – M.S. Nursing

This program for BSNs who have an active, unencumbered RN...

This program for BSNs who have an active,...

This program for BSNs who have an active, unencumbered RN license prepares you to become a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner.

  • Locations: This degree program is not available in the following states: California, District of Columbia, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Oregon, and Washington.
  • Time: 2½ years.
  • Tuition and fees: $4,250 plus $1,395 in fees, per six-month term, plus a Health Professions Student Fee of $350.

Next Start Date

Varies

The PMHNP program has limited space. If admitted, WGU will grant a start date based on a variety of factors.

Our Online University Degree Programs Start on the First of Every Month, All Year Long

No need to wait for spring or fall semester. It's back-to-school time at WGU year-round. Get started by talking to an Enrollment Counselor today, and you'll be on your way to realizing your dream of a bachelor's or master's degree—sooner than you might think!

Learn about online college admissions at WGU.


female nurse charting notes for a male patient

What Skills Does a Nurse Practitioner Need?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners need a range of skills in order to meet the needs of their mental health patients. As essential members of the healthcare community, nurse practitioners with a psychiatric specialty have skills that help patients and communities thrive. Some of these include:

  • Strong organization
  • Compassionate communication
  • Ethical decision-making
  • High range for empathy
  • Understanding of medication
  • Dedication to learning
  • Integrity and ethics
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Ability to work with all ages
  • Calm demeanor under pressure
  • Skill with diagnostics and tests
  • Attention to detail

How Much Does a Nurse Practitioner Make?

$114,510

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says psychiatric nurse practitioners make $ 114,510 on average. Psychiatric nurse practitioner salaries can range between $82,960 and $156,160, according to BLS. What income you earn as a psychiatric nurse practitioner is dependent on your years of experience and where you work. For example, a PMHNP who works in a major city stands to earn a greater salary than one that works in a rural town.

What Is the Projected Job Growth?

31%

As the American population continues to increase, so does the demand for healthcare workers, which makes the job outlook for psychiatric nurse practitioners bright. The impact of the pandemic has left many with mental health issues, for which more and more people are seeking treatment. Specifically, careers of nurse practitioners with a psychiatric specialty are expected to grow 31% by 2024.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

6+ Years

Becoming a PMHNP takes six years or longer, depending on a student’s academic background and whether they take classes full-time. Many nurses work in the field before becoming a practitioner, so that would add a year or more to the professional timeline of becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner FAQs

Psychiatric nurse practitioners have the fortunate advantage of variety when it comes to potential workplaces. Some of these include:

  • Hospitals (psychiatric and general)
  • Private practice (under their own license or a doctor’s)
  • Social services
  • Medical clinics
  • Community mental health centers
  • State inpatient or outpatient psychiatric facilities
  • Correctional facilities
  • Veterans Administration psychiatric facilities
  • Domestic violence shelters

Yes, you do need an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing for a PMHNP career. In addition to earning a degree, future psychiatric nurse practitioners must complete advanced required learning, including passing the NCLEX-RN, earning a specialization, and getting an MSN.

In addition to an associate or bachelor’s degree and an MSN, a psychiatric nurse practitioner will also need certifications under the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to practice in their specialized area. They will need to pass the NCLEX exam in order to become a registered nurse. After practicing in the field, RNs who wish to advance their career can pursue the Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Certification, which allows them to demonstrate knowledge and experience in the mental health field.

Hundreds of thousands of roles are to be added to the healthcare field by 2029 and COVID-19 has made the need for mental health care more apparent than ever. This means that the demand for nurses—specifically psychiatric nurse practitioners—is very likely to grow rapidly. The more in-demand your role is, the higher salaries you can gain access to, so if you’re looking to enter a high-paying career, becoming a PMHNP is a smart move.

Create a short intro that introduces the career and gives a hook into why someone would like that career:

  • Psychiatric nurses have a specialty in mental health and psychiatric concerns
  • Practitioners are closely involved in immediate patient care like psychiatrists
  • Focus their work on helping patients with varied mental health conditions:
  • Depression, anxiety, substance abuse, mood disorders, and more
  • Registered nurse with advanced certification in psychiatry
  • Directly work with all kinds of patients on mental health needs
  • Trained to help with the mental health and wellness of all ages
  • Able to diagnose patients and prescribe treatment for care
  • Creating treatment plans and collaborating with teams
  • Diagnosing patients and communicating condition information
  • Educating their communities on mental health concerns
  • Conducting and interpreting mental health assessments
  • Perform and give psychotherapy for the treatment of conditions
  • Performing exams and checkups for physical and mental health
  • Prescribing medications and consulting with doctors
  • Adjusting medication and treatment plans for patients
  • Maintaining patient records and making referrals
  • Continually learning about new medicines and treatments
  • Earn an associate’s or bachelor’s degree in Nursing
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN certification test for licensure
  • Obtain your RN license through degree and on-job requirements
  • Earn an MSN for advanced nursing practice
  • Participate in continued education throughout your career
  • Strong organization
  • Compassionate communication
  • Ethical decision-making
  • High range for empathy
  • Understanding of medication
  • Dedication to learning
  • Integrity and ethics
  • Critical thinking and problem-solving
  • Ability to work with all ages
  • Calm demeanor under pressure
  • Skill with diagnostics and tests
  • Attention to detail
  • Earn $120,000 on average with differences for state and other specializations
  • Projected 45% increase in employment for RNs through 2029
  • Highest growth rates in Arizona, Georgia, and Colorado
  • Depending on the degree, time to certification, and advanced MSN completion—becoming an FNP takes at least 6 years.
  • Many nurses work in the field before becoming a practitioner.

Additional FAQs

  • Hospitals (Psychiatric and General)
  • Private Practice (Under their own license or a doctor’s)
  • Social Services
  • Medical Clinics
  • Yes, an associate’s or bachelor’s is required before other learning requirements like passing the NCLEX-RN, earning a specialization, and getting an MSN.
  • An FNP earns the NCLEX-RN certification and more depending on specialty areas
  • Many programs require on-the-job hours as experience before certification
  • Jobs for NPs are growing faster than physicians
  • Hundreds of thousands of roles are to be added by 2029
  • NPs are quickly becoming providers of choice for patients
  • NPs say over a billion patient visits in 2018 alone, and growing

Interested in Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Learn more about degree programs that can prepare you for this meaningful career.

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