Psychiatric / Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) who are trained in psychiatric and mental health nursing (PMHN). This job involves assessing, examining, diagnosing, and treating patients with mental health issues or disorders. They can work in many different settings, including local community centers, mental health clinics, private practices, or hospitals, to name just a few. They could also work in long term care facilities, in drug rehabilitation centers, or in correctional facilities.

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If you are interested in psychiatric nursing and wish to practice it at the nurse practitioner level, you first must become a registered nurse (RN) by earning your bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN). Once you complete your degree, passing the RN licensing exam will make you a registered nurse ready to practice. The next step is to earn your master’s degree in psychiatric nursing. A master’s degree is a requirement for all psychiatric nurse practitioners. Courses at the graduate level focus on topics like psychiatric drugs, symptom management, psychotherapy, and mental health assessment and diagnosis. There are many programs for psychiatric nursing that are accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the National League for Nursing. Learn more about psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner certification exams for this specialty are offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The exam is a computer-based one, which can be taken at any time. Certification must also be renewed every five years, which is important to ensure that the nurses with the PMHNP-BC credential are current with the latest research and the profession’s developments.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners provide full mental health care services to families, individuals, groups, and communities. Their work is varied and can overlap with therapists, psychologists, educators, and doctors. They can treat patients suffering from many different mental health disorders, such as bipolar disorder, psychosis, schizophrenia, or other issues like depression or anxiety. Because they have advanced training, they are qualified to diagnose patients and prescribe necessary medications. They can also sub-specialize in child-adolescent mental health nursing, adult-geriatric mental health nursing, substance abuse, forensics, or neuropyshicatric nursing. Skills important for PMHNPs include good communication skills and relationship skills. Experience in behavioral science or in community or healthcare programs where you work with mental health patients is a plus.

Both the psychiatric nurse practitioner job outlook and salary for this advanced nursing specialty are very good. Most people have heard about the nursing shortage and how fast healthcare jobs are growing. Nursing specialties requiring advanced education are also facing enormous growth, and this can mean great job prospects and security for you. A 2009 issue of Scrubs magazine listed psychiatric nurse practitioners as the third highest paid nurse specialty, with an overall average national salary of $95,000. According to, psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners, like most advanced practice nurses, start out with an average salary of $66,000 to $80,000. After just five years, the average salary range goes up to $74,000- $97,000. Whether you are a registered nurse thinking about pursuing an advanced degree or are still in nursing school, psychiatric advanced practice nursing could provide you with many rewarding career options and a secure nursing career.
(Sources: American Psychiatric Nurses Association, American Nurses Credentialing Center: Family Psychiatric & Mental Health Nurse Practitioner)