Nursing
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How To Become A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners, also known as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs), specialize in mental health orders and substance abuse. It's a highly-specialized and high-paying profession and, in this guide, we'll show you how to become one.

What Do Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) Do?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners diagnose and treat patients suffering from mental illnesses and substance abuse disorders. Their responsibilities vary depending on where they work, but their daily duties include:

  • Diagnosing mental health disorders
  • Providing treatments and recommendations
  • Assist with emergency psychiatric care
  • Providing psychotherapy
  • Performing psychiatric evaluations
  • Working with individuals, groups, and families
  • Monitoring health problems
  • Serving as an advocator for clients and their families

Psychiatric nurse practitioners deal with a wide spectrum of mental health issues, including anxiety, depression, personality disorders, substance abuse problems, panic disorders, eating disorders, schizophrenia, PTSD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. They may also help with trauma, autism, and dementia.

Where Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Work?

As a psychiatric nurse practitioner, you could be hired to work in a variety of different settings, including:

  • Hospitals
  • Psychiatric Facilities
  • Primary Healthcare Clinics
  • Government Agencies
  • Private Practices
  • Community Mental Health Centers
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Health Clinics
  • Educational Facilities
  • Domestic Violence Shelters

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

If you want to provide a high level of mental health care and work with patients of all ages dealing with an array of mental illnesses, follow these steps to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner:

Step One: Attend an Accredited Nursing Program

The first step is to earn an associate degree (ADN) or bachelor's degree (BSN) from an accredited nursing program.

There are over 2,600 nursing schools in the United States and the requirements can differ significantly, so check your preferred program in advance and make sure you meet the prerequisites. These typically include above-average grades in math, English, and science, but you may also need experience/qualifications in other subjects.

Step Two: Qualify as a Registered Nurse

After graduating, apply for The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX_-_RN). Upon completion, you will be given your registered nursing license.

The exam costs $200, but there may be additional fees levied by state nursing boards.

Step Three: Gain Some Experience or Keep Studying

Next, you can either acquire some experience or move onto an MSN program. It should be noted that many nurse practitioner programs will require you to have some experience behind you, so it's worth looking into this before going any further.

Step Four: Complete a Nursing Degree from An Accredited Nursing Program

Enter a master's degree program that allows you to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. These programs include coursework and nursing clinicals and will prepare you for this challenging profession.

Step Five: Pass the Certification Exam

The next step is to apply for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Board Certification (PMHNP-BC), which is administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

To qualify, you must have worked as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner for at least 500 supervised hours. You will be tested on your skills and clinical knowledge. It takes 3.5 hours to complete and has 175 multiple-choice questions.

Step Six: Get a Job as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

After becoming certified, you're ready to start working as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner!

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

On average, it will take you about 6 years to qualify as a psychiatric nurse practitioner. However, it depends on whether you're studying part-time or full-time and which route you're taking.

How Much Does A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Make?

The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't have any data on the average salaries of psychiatric nurse practitioners. However, it does include data on all nurse practitioners and notes that these earned an average of $117,670 per year in 2020, equating to $56,57 per hour (see here).

Based on this data, we also know that the amount you earn varies greatly depending on your location and experience level. If you live in states like California, for instance, you can expect to earn significantly more than the average nurse practitioner in South Carolina and Tennessee.

In general, a mental health nurse practitioner is a well-paid position and you may earn more than the average nurse practitioner, but it depends on your experience, location, and employer.

Is A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner As Good As A Psychiatrist?

The daily duties of psychiatrists and psychiatric nurse practitioners are very similar. Both work in mental health services and provide direct and indirect patient care. But there are notable differences between the two professions.

Psychiatrists often work in administrative positions in mental health facilities and also perform research related to disorders and their treatments.

Psychiatrists often study for between 12 and 14 years in total, compared to the 6 to 8 years of study for a mental health nurse practitioner. Of course, psychiatrists also get paid much more, so all that extra work pays off in the end.

Is Becoming A Psych NP Worth It?

It's definitely worth it...assuming you're doing it for the right reasons.

If you are passionate about helping people with their mental health and want to make a difference, psychiatric nursing is definitely worth it. Just don't expect to have an easy ride, as you have a lot of work ahead of you.

Is Psychiatric Nursing Saturated?

Some nursing students are concerned about the apparent increase in students studying to become psychiatric nurse practitioners. They believe that the sector will soon become saturated and there won't be any work for them when they eventually graduate.

But that couldn't be further from the truth.

According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners, fewer than 2% of nurse practitioners specialize in this field, and while the number of qualified psyche NPs might be increasing, we're also seeing a greater need for mental health services.

Not only is the population expanding, but people are more open about their mental health than ever before. Furthermore, the events of the last few years have made everyone a little more anxious and concerned, leading to an uptick in mental health conditions like anxiety and depression.

Combined with the fact that many qualified psychiatric nurse practitioners are retiring—leaving through the back door while newly qualified students enter through the front—it means this field is far from saturated.

Summary: Becoming a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

Psychiatric nurse practitioners use their clinical knowledge and experience to help patients and their families deal with these disorders. They are understanding, intelligent, caring, and knowledgeable. They are also very good listeners and know how to deal with a wide variety of patients and problems.

If you believe you have the skills needed to make it as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, take your first steps today.

A long, rewarding, and lucrative career awaits!