How to Become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

As professionals and the public discuss mental health more openly, the need for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) is becoming more recognized. These well-rounded, advanced-practice registered nurses hold specific competencies in mental health, allowing them to improve the lives of those in need of psychiatric care. Equipped with post-master’s education in their specialization, these healthcare professionals provide a wide range of mental health services to clients. In addition to creating mental health programs, PMHNPs also manage their patients’ treatments and stay attuned to their overall health.

female doctor meeting with teen patient

Equipped with an advanced degree, a post-master’s nursing certification, and years of clinical experience, PMHNPs have the potential to create a substantial impact in the lives of others. They assess their patients’ mental health, write prescriptions, manage medications, provide individual and group psychotherapy, and supply patients with information to promote holistic wellness. If you’re curious about how to become a PMHNP, it’s important to understand the role and how obtaining a PMHNP certification differs from traditional nursing courses of study.

What Does a PMHNP Do?

In general, PMHNPs are responsible for their patients’ mental health, from diagnosis to treatment to management. What a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner does on a day-to-day basis may vary based on that practitioner’s subspecialty. For example, many PMHNPs choose to further specialize in work with children, the elderly, or substance abusers. They operate in a variety of settings, such as hospitals, clinics, assisted living facilities, and private practices. Foundational to this career path is empathy and compassion while assessing mental health, communicating with patients and their families, and engineering appropriate courses of treatment. PMHNPs are careful listeners with strong attention to detail. They enjoy working with people, and are great communicators with ample experience in their field.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners use evidence to guide a course of treatment from start to finish. These healthcare professionals diagnose disease, interpret data, facilitate treatment planning, prescribe medications, and communicate each step to patients and their families. At times, PMHNPs assume the role of therapist, or alternatively help patients select the proper supplementary psychiatric health providers.

The specific responsibilities of a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner may vary depending on setting and subspecialty. However, there are some standard duties these specialists perform. Some common responsibilities of PMHNPs include:

  • Assess and diagnose mental health conditions. The diagnosis of mental health disorders is foundational to what a PMHNP does. These nurse practitioners learn about the patient’s background, and gather evidence to determine and support a diagnosis. This requires an in-depth understanding of various mental health issues and symptoms.
  • Develop and execute treatment plans. Once a diagnosis is established, the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner works with the patient to determine a course of treatment. Communication is vital during this stage, as the nurse practitioner must listen to the patient’s needs and assess his or her comfort level to determine the best path forward.
  • Manage medicines and monitor progress. Individuals in this role are responsible for determining and prescribing appropriate medications and their dosages. They also track their patients’ response to their prescriptions to determine adjustments in treatment. In addition to maintaining detailed records of their clients’ medications, they also monitor and keep records of overall progress.
  • Educate patients to promote wellness and prevent progression of disease. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners are responsible for working closely with their patients to discuss treatment options and determine the most effective therapies and medications. It is also within the purview of the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner to educate their clients on lifestyle factors, personal habits, and other behaviors that contribute to their mental health.

Steps to Become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

PMHNP is an advanced practice position that provides full-scope psychiatric care. Using both independent and collaborative approaches, PMHNPs must confidently approach overall treatment, symptom management, and the promotion of overall health and disease prevention. Because of this, students study at the undergraduate, master’s, and postgraduate levels, in addition to gaining clinical experience.

The path to become a PMHNP may include the following:

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s or Associate Degree in Nursing

Education requirements to become a registered nurse vary from state to state, but often a multi-year postsecondary program is necessary. Motivated students who are seeking a future as a PMHNP may wish to bolster their education as early as possible with a bachelor’s degree in nursing, as this can lead to more and higher-paying career opportunities than associate degrees.

Step 2: Become a Registered Nurse

The next step toward earning the title of psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is to become a registered nurse. This is a requirement before applying to master’s programs in the field, and also offers valuable insight into how to work with patients, assess health issues, and monitor the challenges, successes, and overall efficacy of a course of treatment. An RN will have completed an accredited program, passed required examinations, and obtained state licensure.

Step 3: Earn a Master’s Degree

For those seeking to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, the next step is to acquire a master’s degree. Through this graduate-level education, students may then obtain licensure as a nurse practitioner. While not always necessary, some nurse practitioners go on to earn doctoral degrees. At this phase, nurses often select a specialization. Once they do, aspiring psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners have the opportunity to focus their studies and experience on gaining a position in the mental health field.

Step 4: Complete Post-Master’s Certifications and Training

While not always required, many nurse practitioners gain certifications in their chosen specialization. Online post-master’s nurse practitioner certification programs offer leadership development, advanced clinical training, and the opportunity to enhance understanding of how to work as a PMHNP in a given area of nursing.

Step 5: Complete Clinical Hours

Vital to attaining any job in medicine is completing many hours of clinical practice. Generally, before attaining a license and securing a job as a nurse practitioner in any setting, students complete hundreds of clinical hours. This provides the hands-on experience needed to ensure success in the field.

Step 6: Obtain Licensure

Prior to stepping into the exciting role of a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, students must pass all certification exams, which can vary by state. After earning a license, it is often necessary to renew it every five to 10 years. This generally involves an element of continuing education to remain up-to-date on the latest trends, research, and best practices in the field and in chosen areas of specialization.

PMHNP Salaries

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners earn competitive salaries, given the many years of education and training required to secure their position. According to PayScale, the median annual pay for advanced nurse practitioners in the U.S. is approximately $100,000. Within this specific specialization, the range for PMHNP salaries falls between $80,000 and $130,000 annually.

The path to becoming a mental health nurse practitioner requires a significant investment of time, energy, and resources, but it comes with many rewards. Most psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners report a high level of job satisfaction and enjoy the opportunity to improve their patients’ lives.

Future Growth of Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing

Overall, employment for advanced practice registered nurses, which includes nurse practitioners, is growing. Americans have become increasingly aware of the prevalence of mental health challenges, and as stigma has declined around seeking treatment, the demand for nurse practitioners has climbed.

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of advanced practice nursing will continue to expand at a much faster rate than many other professions, with a forecast of 31 percent growth from 2016 to 2026. Given this growing need for nurse practitioners, it is likely that psychiatric mental health nurses will continue to find satisfying, profitable employment in the field.

Learn More About Becoming a PMHNP

If you’re prepared to take your nursing career further, you could find a rewarding opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others through the field of psychiatric mental health. It all starts with Maryville University’s online Post-Master’s Nurse Practitioner Certification. Enroll today to begin the next stage of your journey.

Sources:

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, APRN Reports and Statistics

Nurse Journal, Psychiatric Nursing Careers & Salary Outlook

Nurse Journal, RN Requirements by State + Qualifications

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

PayScale, Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary