Nurse comforting a patient

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner with a patient

A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, or Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), is arguably one of the highest paid nurses in the U.S. Aspiring nurses who are interested in mental health could find this specialization incredibly rewarding.

(See our full list to learn more about the highest paid nursing jobs).

Continue reading our comprehensive career guide to learn more about the requirements, responsibilities, training, and average salaries of Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners in the United States.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Definition

What Is a Psychiatric Nurse?

Psychiatric Nurses are certified advanced practice nurses who manage the mental health needs of individuals, families, groups, or communities. They work under the direction of a psychiatric physician and advise patients who have mental health disorders.

Psychiatric Nursing Requirements

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse?

To become certified, most aspiring PMHNPs will currently need to obtain credentials like the following:

  1. Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a specialization in psychiatric healthcare.
  2. The NCLEX-RN licensing credential and become a Registered Nurse (RN).
  3. Certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Might Be a Good Fit for You If…

  • You enjoy helping others
  • You can manage stress, tears, or memories of trauma
  • You are comfortable discussing traumatic situations
  • You are a naturally compassionate person
  • You are supportive and patient

Psychiatric Nursing Duties & Responsibilities

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Do?

Psychiatric Nurses assist patients with numerous psychiatric disorders. They provide diagnostic care and treatment. In addition, they promote mental health maintenance and wellness.

Psychiatric Nurses offer medicinal as well as therapeutic interventions to help their patients. Some areas of treatment may include ADHD, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.

Psychiatric Nurses can work with children, adults, or families. They may also choose to further specialize in areas such as substance abuse or forensic psychiatry. Others may decide to further their training by earning a doctoral degree within their specialty.

A Psychiatric Nurse’s job description typically includes the following responsibilities:

  • Reviewing a patient’s medical and psychiatric history
  • Evaluating causes of mental illnesses
  • Working with adults or children with behavioral or emotional disorders
  • Assisting older patients with cognitive disorders
  • Helping patients cope with chronic disease or disability
  • Counseling or treating patients suffering from stress or emotional trauma
  • Treating patients through education, behavioral modification therapy, or medication

Where Do Psychiatric Nurses Work?

Psychiatric Nurses typically work in the following settings:

  • Private medical practices
  • Psychiatric and behavioral treatment clinics
  • Corporations
  • Residential treatment facilities
  • Public health agencies
  • Family practice or pediatric clinics
  • Correctional facilities

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Hours

The work hours of a Psychiatric Nurse largely depend on their employer and work setting. For instance, those working in clinics may follow a regular (9 to 5) business schedule, while acute-care Psychiatric Nurses may be required to work weekends, night shifts, or be on call 24/7.

Psychiatric Nurse’s Uniform

Exact uniform requirements for Psychiatric Nurses tend to vary. While some employers may require lab coats, others believe that business attire can make Psychiatric Nurses more approachable. Consequently, their patients might become more receptive to care.

Psychiatric Nurses working in acute care (think emergency rooms or inpatient units) may be required to wear scrubs and a lab coat, while those in clinical settings may only be required to dress in business attire.

Psychiatric Nursing Education

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Psychiatric Nurse?

The minimum requirements to become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner are as follows:

  • Hold a current RN license
  • Earn a master’s or doctoral degree from an accredited PMHNP program
  • Work a minimum of 500 supervised clinical hours within the PMHNP program
  • Complete courses in advanced pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology
  • Study content in health promotion/maintenance; differential diagnosis; and disease management, including prescribing medications and clinical training in at least two areas of psychotherapy

Psychiatric Nursing Programs

Nurse comforting a patient

The course curriculum for a Psychiatric Nurse training program may include the following topics:

  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Advanced pathophysiology
  • Advanced health assessment
  • Pharmacology for advanced practice nurses
  • Individual and family psychotherapy
  • Psychiatric-mental health nursing across the lifespan
  • Advanced assessment in psychiatric-mental health nursing
  • Psychopharmacology

Psychiatric Nursing School Cost

As with most specializations, the cost of Psychiatric Nursing training can vary from school to school. The tuition for these programs is typically listed per credit hour.

Currently, an MSN degree is one of the minimum requirements to become an PMHNP. Depending on the location, MSN degrees can cost anywhere from $500 to $1,000 (or more) per credit. Before enrolling anywhere, you should plan around the following considerations:

  • Tuition costs do not usually cover expenses such as books, personal equipment, or other mandatory student fees.
  • Most schools do offer some form of financial aid.
  • While you will likely accumulate student debt, the average Psychiatric Nurse earns (on average) $104,767 per year.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatric Nurse?

As with most advanced nursing specialties, the educational requirements of a Psychiatric Nurse can be rigorous and time consuming.

Step 1: Earning a Bachelor’s Degree

Aspiring Psychiatric Nurses must first earn their Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, which can take about three to four years to complete.

If you’re already an RN but don’t have your bachelor’s degree, you can enroll in an RN to BSN program and complete your undergraduate studies in about two years.

Step 2: Receive RN Licensure

You must pass the NCLEX-RN certification exam to become a licensed Registered Nurse (RN).

Step 3: Complete Your Master’s Degree

In addition to passing the NCLEX-RN certification exam, Psychiatric Nurses must currently earn a Master of Science in Nursing Degree (MSN) from an accredited program.

Typical (currently MSN) Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner programs require approximately 50 credits for completion. Most student can complete their master’s program in about two to three years.

Step 4: Get Certified

You must pass the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification (PMHNP-BC) exam before you can earn the title of Board Certified Advanced Practice Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner.

Psychiatric Nursing Certification

The ANCC administers the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification (PMHNP-BC). Once you complete the eligibility requirements to take (and successfully pass) the certification exam, you will be awarded this prestigious credential.

In order to take the exam, you must complete a series of steps that include the following:

  1. Possess a current RN license.
  2. Hold a master’s or doctoral degree from a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
    • Note: A minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours must be included in your psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program.

As of February 2020, the exam fee is about $395 (ANA member price is $295).

To learn more about fees, eligibility, preparing for the exam, and free study aids, be sure to visit the ANCC website here.

Continuing Education Requirements

Your credential is valid for 5 years. According to the ANCC, “You can continue to use this credential by maintaining your license to practice and meeting the renewal requirements in place at the time of your certification renewal.”

To renew, you can submit a renewal application as early as one year prior to your certification expiration date. If your certification is not renewed before the expiration date, you may be ineligible to practice. The ANCC advises that you do the following:

  • Submit renewal applications well in advance of the expiration date.
  • Keep your online account up to date or inform ANCC of any address or name changes to receive renewal reminders.
  • Remember that you are responsible for tracking your renewal date and submitting renewal documents in a timely manner.

Click here to learn more about certification renewal. The ANCC has also put together a handbook detailing their renewal requirements, here.

Psychiatric Nurse’s Salary

How Much Does a Psychiatric Nurse Make?

The average salary of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner is $104,767 per year (or $60.66 per hour), according to PayScale.

The lowest paid 10% of Psychiatric Nurses make around $83,000, while the top 10% can earn over $139,000, annually. It’s important to remember that a Psychiatric Nurse’s pay can be influenced by their employer, experience, and location.

Below are some popular skills for Psychiatric Nurse as well as their average salaries:

  • Prescription Administration: $115,765
  • Pharmacotherapy: $114,040
  • Diagnosis and Treatment Planning: $110,765
  • Psychiatric: $107,374
  • Pediatrics: $102,749

Highest Paying Industries for Psychiatric Nurses

Here is a list of occupational settings where Psychiatric Nurses may work, ranked in order of average salary:

Industry Average Salary
Hospitals $120,540
Outpatient care centers $115,720
Offices of other health practitioners $112,740
Physicians’ offices $111,440
Educational services $104,310

Your city or state of residence might also affect your salary as a Psychiatric Nurse.

Highest Paying States for Psychiatric Nurses

Below are some of the highest paying states for nurse practitioners like Psychiatric Nurses (BLS).

State Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
California $64.32 $133,780
Alaska $59.08 $122,880
Massachusetts $59.01 $122,740
New Jersey $58.70 $122,100
New York $58.16 $120,970

Highest Paying Cities for PMHNPs

Here are the high paying cities for nurse practitioners (BLS):

City Average Hourly Wage Average Salary
New Bedford, MA $75.47 $156,980
San Francisco, CA $72.50 $150,790
Spokane, WA $71.37 $148,440
Sumter, SC $70.14 $145,890
Vallejo, CA $69.90 $145,400
Leominster, MA $69.72 $145,020
Yuma, AZ $68.58 $142,650
Rochester, MN $68.58 $142,650
Palm Bay, FL $68.18 $141,800
Bridgeport, CT $68.01 $141,460

Psychiatric Nursing Job Outlook

Although the BLS does not provide industry-specific data for Psychiatric Nursing, they do report that employment of nurse practitioners is expected to increase 26 percent by 2028. This expected growth is much higher than the average for all other occupations.

The BLS has also identified several key factors for this acceleration, including an increased emphasis on preventive care and a greater demand for healthcare services from the aging population.

Why You Should Pursue a Career as a Psychiatric Nurse

Nurse Psychiatry is a desired specialty in the nursing field. Not only is it one of the top-paying careers, this specialization plays a vital role in the mental-health field. According to RegisteredNursing.org, the United States is experiencing an overall physician shortage, and psychiatrists are the second most highly recruited physicians. Since there are not enough psychiatrists available, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners can help lessen the demand by providing comprehensive care and treatment.

If you’re not a nurse but you’re interested in the profession, you can earn your BSN degree or enroll in one of several nursing programs at Unitek College. Jobs for both nurses and Psychiatric Nurses are in high demand, and employers are constantly looking for ambitious, bright, and compassionate individuals for their teams. It’s never too late to take that first step toward your dream nursing career.