What Does a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Do?

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Americans’ views on mental health have changed. The 21st century has seen new levels of acceptance and understanding of people with mental health concerns. In addition, individuals are more proactive about getting the treatment they need for conditions ranging from anxiety and depression to schizophrenia and addiction. They seek help from doctors’ offices, hospitals, private practices, and group therapy sessions. Many find that the key to good mental health is working with psychiatric and mental health care providers.

With more people seeking treatment for their mental health problems, there is a growing need for medical professionals who can treat patients and advise organizations on public health policy. Along with psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and social workers, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners are helping people across the country live happier, healthier lives. Continue reading to learn more about these specialized mental health nurses, where they work, and how to become one.

A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner meets with a patient

Who Are Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners?

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are nurses with advanced training who are able to assess, diagnose, and treat people with mental health conditions and disorders. They can use both cognitive therapy and medication as treatment methods, tailoring their approach to each patient’s needs and reaction to treatment. As trained nurses, they’re able to use their communication skills to connect with patients on a human level. This helps PMHNPs better understand their patients and ease their concerns. The skills they’ve gained through education and work experience make PMHNPs useful in public policy areas, where they can aid government or community-based organizations in management and treatment of mental health issues that affect a specific population. What psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners do includes treating individuals battling acute and chronic mental health conditions, from substance abuse to trauma.

The Path to Becoming a PMHNP

All aspiring nurses start by earning a registered nurse (RN) certificate. Many earn this credential while completing a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or through a two-year associate degree program. They must then pass an exam to become licensed in their state. The next step to becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is earning a graduate degree, often a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), which typically takes two to three years to complete. Aspiring PMHNPs must then pass one of several national certification programs in their field, such as the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner board certification (PMHNP-BC) from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

The Life of a PMHNP

What psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners do is important, and the growing demand for their services illustrates their value. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that as of May 2018, there were 189,100 nurse practitioners working in the U.S. They’re part of a workforce of 240,700 advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), a group that also includes nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives, all of whom have advanced degrees. Nurse practitioners often work in doctors’ offices (45.3%), hospitals (25.7%), and outpatient care centers (9.3%). About 4% of nurse practitioners work in education, and another 2% work for the government.

The BLS projects the job market for nurse practitioners will grow 28% between 2018 and 2028, with 53,300 new jobs added to the market. The BLS projects outpatient care centers will see an employment increase of 60%, taking them from 9.3% of the job market to 11.6%. Residential mental health and substance abuse facilities, which are most likely to hire PMHNPs, will see a projected 30.7% hiring jump, though there will still only be 600 nurse practitioners working in those facilities across the country. Another 2,900 jobs will open at outpatient facilities, and 1,000 more will be added at psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals.

Nurse practitioners of all kinds must abide by state laws regarding scope of practice. As of 2019, 21 states and the District of Columbia have granted nurse practitioners the ability to practice medicine without oversight, meaning they can open their own practices. In other states, nurse practitioners must work under the supervision of licensed medical doctors.

Become a PMHNP with Maryville University

The path to becoming a PMHNP — and helping people and communities with mental health and substance abuse issues — begins with getting the right education. Find out more about what psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners do and the skills needed to succeed in this discipline through Maryville University’s online psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs. A PMHNP education can help you discover how to make a difference in individual lives and your community.

Recommended Readings

Autonomous Practice an Option for Many of Today’s DNPs

Going Back to School for Nursing

Tomorrow’s Health Care: The Future of Nurse Practitioners


American Nurses Credentialing Center, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification

The Balance Careers, Mental Health Careers

Forbes, “Psychiatrist Shortage Escalates as U.S. Mental Health Needs Grow”

KGW8 News, “Mental Health Nurses Could Play Big Role in Shrinking Psychiatrist Shortage”

Maryville University, Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners