How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Duties, Responsibilities, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary
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:
- Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree with a specialization in psychiatric healthcare.
- The NCLEX-RN licensing credential and become a Registered Nurse (RN).
- 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
- Residential treatment facilities
- Public health agencies
- Family practice or pediatric clinics
- Correctional facilities
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Hours
The work hours of Psychiatric Nurses 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 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
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
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 a 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 Practitioner earns (on average) $118,000 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: Earn 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 a Registered Nurse (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.
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 students 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.
To take the exam, you must complete a series of steps that include the following:
- Possess a current RN license.
- 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.
Since February 2020, the exam fee has been 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 five 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 its renewal requirements here.
Psychiatric Nurse’s Salary
How Much Does a Psychiatric Nurse Make?
The average salary of a Nurse Practitioner is about $118,000 per year (or $59.72 per hour), according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Nurse Practitioners in the bottom 10% make around $79,470, while the top 10% can earn over $163,350 annually. It’s important to remember that a Nurse Practitioner’s pay can be influenced by their employer, experience, and location.
Highest Paying Industries for Psychiatric Nurses
Here is a list of occupational settings where Psychiatric Nurses may work, ranked in order of average salary:
|Outpatient care centers||$128,190|
|Offices of physicians||$121,280|
|Offices of other health practitioners||$104,790|
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|
Highest Paying Cities for PMHNPs
Here are the high-paying cities for nurse practitioners (BLS):
|City||Average Hourly Wage||Average Salary|
|San Jose, CA||$95.13||$197,870|
|San Francisco, CA||$85.18||$177,160|
|Yuba City, CA||$76.57||$159,260|
|San Luis Obispo, CA||$73.70||$153,300|
|Santa Rosa, CA||$73.15||$152,150|
|Santa Cruz, CA||$72.25||$150,280|
Psychiatric Nursing Job Outlook
Although the BLS does not provide industry-specific data for Psychiatric Nursing, they do report that the employment of Nurse Practitioners is expected to increase by 40 percent by 2031. 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, but this specialization also 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.