Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner | Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Education, Schools, and Career Overview

A psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is an advanced practice nurse that has pursued specialized education in the field of psychiatric and mental health nursing. This interdisciplinary profession blends psychological, pharmacological, sociological and biological sciences. PMHNPs play a critical role in the treatment, care, management and recovery of individuals suffering from conditions such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, substance abuse dependencies and more.

Nature of Work

According to the National Panel for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Competencies, a major part of a PMHNP's job is assessing a patient’s general mental health condition. To do this, psychiatric nurses administer psychiatric evaluations, collect medical histories, and identify issues that may be affecting a patient's state of mental health. Upon determining a proper diagnosis, these professionals create an individualized strategy of treatment for the patient. These may consist of pharmaceutical medications, holistic solutions or other alternatives, depending on the situation.

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Generally speaking, psychiatric nursing falls into two main career paths: psychiatric nurse and psychiatric nurse practitioner. The details of both careers are given below.

Bachelor’s degree in Psychiatric Nursing Practice

Psychiatric nurses typically hold an associate or bachelor's degree and are certified as registered nurses (RNs). Working as an RN may be an important step for reaching the advanced rank of nurse practitioner. They typically serve as primary care providers for individuals suffering from mental disorders.

RNs looking to advance to the level of a psychiatric nurse practitioner, however, may think about pursuing a master's degree program after they have earned some hands-on clinical experience as an RN.

Some graduate nursing programs require students to complete prerequisite coursework in subjects such as:

  • Human pathophysiology
  • Physical assessment
  • Pharmacology
  • Computer literacy
  • Advanced health assessment

Master’s degree in Psychiatric Nursing Practice

PMHNP programs are typically at the graduate level. However, students that already hold a master’s degree in nursing, but need to earn specialized education and practical experience in psychiatric mental health nursing without completing another graduate degree program, may choose to earn a post-master's certificate in PMHNP, which typically only takes one year to complete.

Graduate-level psychiatric nurse practitioner programs may focus on instructing students in the various aspects of psychiatric nursing theory, including advanced pathophysiology, disease management, health promotion, pharmacology, health assessment, disease prevention, and diagnosis.

Specializations in Psychiatric Nursing Practice

Working nurses may also choose to specialize in a number of areas, including gerontology, substance abuse, eating disorders and more. Sub-specialties often pertain to particular age populations, such as pediatric, child, adolescent, adult or geriatric populations.

Some psychiatric nursing students may opt to narrow their scope of practice by earning additional education in sub-specialties of PMHNP. Some colleges and universities may offer degree, certificate or endorsement programs that cater to sub-specialties in psychiatric mental health nursing.

Hands-on Training in Psychiatric Nursing Practice

The clinical training is typically completed at local off-campus healthcare settings where psychiatric nurses are employed. Students that are enrolled in online programs may be responsible for locating their own clinical training sites.

Certification and Licensure

National certification is typically an essential step in developing a long-lasting and successful career as a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) can provide professional certification to both adult psychiatric nurse practitioners and family psychiatric nurse practitioners. Once certified, psychiatric NPs may be able to use the credential of Board Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC).

Before receiving the opportunity to sit for examination, candidates are typically required to hold active registered nurses’ license in the state in which they intend to practice. Also, candidates may graduate from a psychiatric and mental health nurse practitioner program at the master's or doctoral level. This educational program is typically accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission (NLNAC).

Once these eligibility requirements are typically met, candidates may then need to obtain and submit an Adult Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner certification application. After the application is approved, they may then sit for the competency examination. Certification may be granted after they pass the examination.

Recertification may be mandatory every five years with the completion of seventy-five contact hours of continuing education in field-related activities.

Skills and Qualities of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Skills for psychiatric nurse practitioners may include:

  • Comfortable in working with close physical and emotional proximity to patients and their families
  • Efficient in collaborating with other staff members
  • Knowledge in communication and education regarding psychiatric care
  • Managing health care delivery systems
  • Monitoring quality care
  • Conducting research in the field

Career Outlook and Salary Information

In this position, psychiatric nurses may provide a range of care to patients, including administering psychiatric medication, assisting with electroconvulsive therapy, instructing families through behavioral therapy, as well as providing direct physical care.

Some common places of employment may include mental health facilities, professional associations, primary care centers, public health departments, community hospitals, substance abuse recovery sites, private practices and emergency psychiatric units.

Professional and Academic Resources for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

Major psychiatric nursing associations include:

  • American Psychiatric Nurses Association
  • International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses

CareerTotal Employment
Psychiatric Aides55,020
Psychiatric Technicians78,470
2019 Occupational Employment Statistics and 2018-28 Employment Projections, Bureau of Labor Statistics,


  • American Psychiatric Nursing Association, About Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing, accessed February 2019,
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Practitioners, March 2018,
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses, April 2018,
  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses, April 2018,
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