Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Guide 2022

Debra Riley


Welcome to our main Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner guide – part of our series of nurse career guides. This article deals with the specialist area of Psychiatric Nursing or Psych Nurse as it is sometimes known. Everything you need to know about this specialist nursing career.

Below you will find detailed information – job description, salary data and training – how to become a psychiatric nurse. All easy to follow … we hope!

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners help people who are experiencing a wide range of mental health issues. A difficult, but important and rewarding career.

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Do?

Psychiatric nurses, or psych nurses, work with psychiatric patients of all backgrounds and ages. They help children, adults, and teens cope with psychiatric disorders, such as depression, substance abuse, or schizophrenia. In the medical field, a psychiatric nurse is called a psychiatric mental health nurse, or PMHN.

Psych nurses use their nursing expertise in the mental health community. Therefore, they must be good at communicating and relating and be well versed in behavioral science.

Psych Nurse Responsibilities

When working as a psych nurse, you may perform the following tasks :

  • Review a patient’s status
  • Provide care based on a prescribed treatment approach
  • Issue medicine and check side effects and responses
  • Teach patients specific coping skills
  • Offer counseling to patients
  • Work with medical team members
  • Prescribe medicines
  • Offer psychotherapy services
  • Assess and diagnose mental health conditions

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary Range

Psychiatric Nurses can be one of the highest paid nurse specialties. The amount they make will depend on several factors – education level, experience, workplace and location.

The BLS Bureau of Labor Statistics does not have dedicated salary data for Psychiatric Nurses as a category. These nurses can in fact have different levels of education and training.

A registered nurse who specializes and works as a psych nurse will earn similar amounts to other RN’s – average salary $73,550. Further educational qualifications and training will lead to significantly higher salaries.

If you obtain a degree as an advanced practice nurse in the psychiatric field, you will make more money as a certified nurse practitioner (CNP) or clinical nurse specialists (CNS). Psychiatric Nurse practitioners can expect to earn an average salary of $107,480.

A pay differential increases what you make as a psych nurse, and it is included in the hourly rate for working evening or night shifts, or for charge duties. Higher salaries are usually offered to nurses that hold BSN or MSN designations. You may also receive a sign-on bonus, depending on the nursing demand in your area. In some venues, you may be able to make overtime pay.

The state you work in can also have a significant effect on your wages. If you live in California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, Oregon, or Alaska, you will be paid a higher salary than if you live in other states in the US. Always bear in mind the cost of living differences when comparing earnings in different states.

However, making a big salary should not be your primary reason for accepting a psychiatric nurse practitioners job. You also have to regard benefits, such as tuition assistance, health insurance coverage, and paid time off. Also, traveling psych nurses make more money than nurses who work in a healthcare facility.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Training

To begin your career journey, you must complete a nursing program first. Most beginning nursing programs feature a clinic rotation in the psychiatric section, which permits you to experience working in this area. You can receive further insight by volunteering at a mental health agency that helps patients with psychiatric needs.

To become a registered nurse or an RN, you must enroll in either a two-year program in nursing or take part in a three-year hospital-based program. You can also attend a four-year college that issues four-year bachelor degrees in nursing.

After you receive nursing training, you need to sit for an RN licensing exam. This exam is referred to as the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX, for short. Once you have passed the exam, you are ready to apply for nursing jobs.

To become a psych nurse, you need to become certified through a credentialing organization, such as the well-known American Nurses Credentialing Center, or the ANCC.

How to Obtain Certification

The five-year certification requires the following:

  • An RN license, currently active
  • Two years’ experience practicing as a registered nurse (RN)
  • At least 2,000 hours of practice in clinical psych nursing within a three-year timeframe
  • Continuing education of at least 30 hours within three years

Becoming an Advance Practice Psych Nurse

If you want to expand your reach as a psychiatric nurse, you need to learn more about becoming an advanced practice psych nurse. This nursing specialty is also referred to as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, or PMHNP-BC or a PMHCNS-BC, a psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialist. It just depends on where you live.

If you want to work as an advanced nurse in psychiatry, you need to obtain a master’s or doctoral degree in the nursing field. You can obtain a certificate for the advanced designation through the ANCC.

If you choose to proceed to graduate school, make sure the institution is accredited. It should be accredited by the National League for Nursing (NLN) or the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, also known as the AACN.

Top Grad Programs for Psych Nurses

Usually, the publication, U.S. News & World Report, is the best source for top grad programs for psychiatric nurses. Popular schools include the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Rush University in Chicago, and Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut and Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore are two other well-respected schools.

Continuing Education

Depending on the state where you live, the continuing education requirements for psych nurses vary. Therefore, you need to contact your state board and nursing organization on how you should keep your RN certification and license current.

Taking the Initial Steps

As you can see, you can find a good deal of opportunity working in the mental health field as a nurse. You just need to enroll in a nursing program first and receive your RN license. Once you have worked as a nurse and honed your skills, you can specialize in the psychiatric field.

Express Your Interest

Even if you have been working in the field of nursing for awhile, you will find that concentrating on a mental health career in nursing is an entirely satisfying goal. Maybe you currently work in a hospital setting. If so, let your employer know that you’re interested in the mental health field. Taking this step will give you the motivation needed to pursue both your professional and educational goals.

Work and Learn – Online Training

Online programs give nurses the ability to pursue a psych nursing certificate while they are working, as well. You can take advantage of today’s technology and become a better nurse. Incorporate a nursing educational program in your daily schedule so you can be more of value to your employer or advance yourself in your nursing career.

psychiatric nurse practitioner

Working as a Psychiatric Nurse

If you work as a psych nurse, you will find that you need to be able to multitask well in a healthcare setting. You also need to handle stress well. After all, you are helping people with emotional problems. Therefore, you need to maintain a professional demeanor and keep your own emotions in check.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Work Settings

You can choose from various venues when working as a psych nurse. Some of the health care facilities you can choose from include the following:

  • Hospitals, including VA hospital and medical centers
  • Primary care facilities
  • Government facilities, such as prisons or agencies connected to the court system
  • Private physician practices
  • Substance abuse treatment centers
  • Community mental health clinics

Where You Can Find Psych Nursing Jobs

According to statistics, psych nurses are needed the most in the western and southern states in the US. The following states, in particular, need to fill psych nursing spots:

  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • Alaska
  • Virginia
  • California
  • Arizona
  • Texas

Career Outlook

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects job growth figures of 16% across all nursing careers through 2024. This will be higher for Psychiatric Nurse practitioners.

A shortage currently exists of psych nurses in the field. That is because mental health is becoming an increasing concern in the US. According to statistics, about 44 million adults were diagnosed with a mental illness in 2015. This total represents almost 18% of the adults in the country, and excludes people diagnosed with substance abuse problems.

Psychiatric nursing is a high demand nursing role, and will continue to be of importance over the next five years. Now is the time to direct your career path so you can make a difference, whether you are currently studying to be a nurse or working as a nurse practitioner.

If you want to help people with substance abuse issues or mental disorders as a nurse, you will find that your opportunities in this area are excellent. You just need to make a commitment along these lines.

Once you know what courses to take and how to incorporate skill training in your schedule, you can look forward to a brighter and more productive tomorrow.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Resources

American Psychiatric Nurses Association APNA


Check out our other main nursing career guides and of course the nursing salary pages for lots of information.