May 26, 2022
how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner

Part One What is a Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse Practitioner?

Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse Practitioners, also known as Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners, are nurse practitioners that specialize in the treatment of mental health. They assess and diagnose patients suffering from mental illnesses, disorders, and substance abuse problems. They are involved in psychotherapy, can prescribe medication, educate patients and families about their diagnosis, and manage their treatment plans.

They focus on helping individuals cope with different psychiatric disorders and illnesses as well as help people with substance abuse disorders.

In this guide, we’ll explain what a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner does, the average psychiatric nurse practitioner salary, how to become one, and more. 

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Part Two What Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Do?

Psychiatric NPs take care of patients suffering from a variety of mental illnesses and disorders. Their duties will vary based on where they work, but they often  include: 

  1. Diagnosing and treating common acute psychiatric problems, illness, and crises
  2. Psychopharmacologic management in collaboration with a psychiatrist
  3. Providing individual, group, and family psychotherapy
  4. Caring for and counseling clients with common identified chronic psychiatric conditions
  5. Coordinating and integrating multidisciplinary services for clients with complex psychiatric problems
  6. Monitoring common health care problems and referring to specialized medical treatment as needed
  7. Providing comprehensive family psychiatric-mental health education
  8. Performing or recommending age-appropriate screening procedures
  9. Promoting wellness-oriented self-care
  10. Being an advocate for family psychiatric-mental health clients and their families

Illnesses and Disorders that Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Treat

Psychiatric nurse practitioners treat a wide variety of mental illnesses and disorders including:

  1. Anxiety
  2. Depression
  3. Bipolar, manic-depressive states
  4. Eating disorders
  5. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  6. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder
  7. Substance abuse 
  8. Panic Disorders
  9. Dementia
  10. Autism Spectrum Disorder 
  11. Schizophrenia
  12. Personality disorders
  13. Trauma, PTSD, adjustment disorders

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Part Three Where Do Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse Practitioners Work?

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners can work in a variety of locations. These include:

  1. Academia
  2. Community Mental Health Centers (urban and rural)
  3. Consulting with businesses and communities
  4. Correctional Facilities
  5. Domestic Violence Shelters
  6. Government Agency
  7. Home Health Agencies
  8. Hospitals
  9. In-patient Psychiatric Facilities
  10. Primary Healthcare Clinics
  11. Private Psychiatric Practices
  12. Psychopharmacology Clinic
  13. Psychiatric Consult Services
  14. Public health agencies
  15. Residential Substance Abuse Facilities
  16. Schools
  17. State Psychiatric Facilities
  18. Student Health Clinics
  19. Urban Nurse-Managed Clinic
  20. Veterans Administration Psychiatric Facilities

Part Four Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse Practitioner Salary

As with other types of nurse practitioners, Psychiatric NPS can expect to earn salaries on the higher end of the spectrum. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median pay for nurse practitioners is $120,680 per year as of May 2022.

However, the BLS does not differentiate between different types of Nurse Practitioners. But, according to Indeed, the average psychiatric nurse practitioner salary is $139,261

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary by Years of Experience

Psychiatric NPs can earn a higher annual salary with increased years of experience. Per, this is how much people are earning at different levels of experience in 2022 : 

  1. Less than 1 years of experience earn an average salary of $105,794
  2. 1-4 years of experience earn an average salary of $118,742
  3. 5-9 years of experience earns an average salary of $121,830
  4. 10-19 years of experience earns an average salary of $120,601

Highest Paying Cities for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

In 2022, the highest paying cities for Psychiatric NPs according to Indeed are:

  1. New York, NY - $161,313
  2. San Diego, CA - $148,806
  3. Philadelphia, PA - $146,897
  4. San Angelo, TX - $121,099

Benefits for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

Regardless of workplace setting, full-time and part-time nurses enjoy similar benefits. While actual benefits may vary depending on the institution most include the following:

  1. Health insurance
  2. Certification Reimbursement      
  3. Retirement Options
  4. Holiday Pay
  5. Family Leave of Absence
  6. Maternity Leave
  7. Dental Insurance
  8. Dependent health insurance coverage
  9. Life Insurance
  10. Paid time off
  11. Relocation assistance
  12. Childcare
  13. Bereavement leave       
  14. Vision Insurance        
  15. Discounts on extracurricular activities      
  16. Continuing Education Reimbursement
  17. Relocation packages
  18. Attendance at nursing conferences

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Part Five How to Become a Psychiatric Mental-Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

To become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, you’ll need to complete the following steps. 

Step 1: Attend Nursing School

You’ll need to earn either an ADN or a BSN from an accredited nursing program in order to take the first steps to become a registered nurse. ADN-prepared nurses will need to complete an additional step of either completing their BSN degree or entering into an accelerated RN to MSN program which will let them earn their BSN and MSN at the same time.

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

Become a Registered Nurse by passing the NCLEX examination.

Step 3: Gain Experience or Continue Your Education

Nurses can choose to gain some nursing experience before going back to school or go directly into an MSN program depending on their unique situation. Most NP programs will require a minimum of TWO years of relevant work experience.

Step 4: Graduate With Your Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Degree From an Accredited Nursing Program

Enter into an MSN/NP program that offers a program to become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. For tips on getting into nursing school, check out our article on What To Know About Applying to Nursing Schools

Step 5: Become Certified

The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC). This certification is available to APRNs that meet the following criteria. 

PMHNP-BC Certification Requirements

  • Current U.S. nursing license is required
  • Hold a master's, postgraduate, or doctoral degree from a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
  • A minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours must be included in your psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program.
  • Three separate, comprehensive graduate-level courses in:
    • Advanced physiology/pathophysiology, including general principles that apply across the life span
    • Advanced health assessment, which includes assessment of all human systems, advanced assessment techniques, concepts, and approaches
    • Advanced pharmacology, which includes pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacotherapeutics of all broad categories of agents
  • Content in:
    • Health promotion and/or maintenance
    • Differential diagnosis and disease management, including the use and prescription of pharmacologic and nonpharmacologic interventions
  • Clinical training in at least two psychotherapeutic treatment modalities

Additional Exam Information

  • $395 examination fee. Discounts are available for members of specific nursing associations
  • This certification exam is a 3.5-hour test consisting of 175 multiple-choice items.  
  • Of the 175 items, 150 are scored and 25 are used to gather statistical data on item performance for future exams.

What’s in the Exam?

  • Scientific Foundation (20%)
  • Advanced Practice Skills (25%
  • Diagnosis and Treatment (25%)
  • Psychotherapy and Related Theories (15%)
  • Ethical and Legal Principles (15%)

Step 6: Get a Job as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Now you’re ready to start working as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner!

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Part Six Top Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

We’ve rounded up some of the top Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner programs, also called Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) programs. Below are five of the top programs available for getting your PMHNP education. Check out our article on the Top 10 Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs for the full list and more information. 

  1. 1. University of Pennsylvania
  2. 2. Rush University
  3. 3. University of Washington
  4. 4. University of California – San Francisco
  5. 5. Yale University

Part Seven Day in the Life of a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

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Part Eight What are the Continuing Education Requirements for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners?

CEU hours will vary based on the state of licensure. For each state an individual is licensed, CEU hours will be required. Generally, NPs are required a minimum of 75 contact hours of continuing education in the specialty area (psychiatric nursing).

Additionally, even though they are functioning in an APRN role, they must maintain their RN certification.  In order for an individual to renew their RN license, they will need to fill out an application, complete a specific number of CEU hours, and pay a nominal fee. Each state has specific requirements and it is important to check with the board of nursing prior to applying for license renewal.

A detailed look at Continuing Nurse Education hours can be found here

Part Nine What is the Career Outlook for a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the career outlook for NPs is excellent. From 2020 to 2030 there is predicted to be a 45% growth in employment for NPs, which is MUCH faster than the average for all occupations.  

The American Association of Nurse Practitioners estimates that there are approximately 15,275 or 4.7% NPs certified in psychiatric mental health. As mental health disorders continue to rise in the United States, Psychiatric Mental Health NPs are continued to be needed. 

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Part Ten Where Can I Learn More About Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

  1. 10 Top Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs 2021
  2. How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse
  3. How Much Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Make? 
  4. American Psychiatric Nurses Association
  5. American Association of Nurse Practitioners
  6. American Nurses Association (ANA)
  7. Foundations for Addictions Nursing (FAN)
  8. International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses (ISPN) 

Part Eleven Other Nurse Practitioner Specialties

  1. General Nurse Practitioner
  2. Family Nurse Practitioner
  3. Aesthetic Nurse Practitioner
  4. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner
  5. Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
  6. Neonatal Nurse Practitioner
  7. Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
  8. Orthopedic Nurse Practitioner
  9. Emergency Nurse Practitioner
  10. Adult-Gerontology Nurse Practitioner
  11. Oncology Nurse Practitioner

Part Twelve Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner FAQs

  • How long does it take to become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

    • There are numerous steps to becoming a Psychiatric Mental Health NP. Typically, from the start of undergraduate education to the completion of an Advanced Practice NP degree, an individual can expect it to take a minimum of 10 years. Earning a BSN is roughly four years from start to finish. Gaining relevant bedside experience is essential prior to starting a nurse practitioner program. Most programs want a minimum of two years of experience. An NP program typically takes three years to complete. 
  • What can you do as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

    • Psychiatric NPs assess and diagnose patients suffering from mental illnesses, disorders, and substance abuse problems. They are involved in psychotherapy, can prescribe medication, educate patients and families about their diagnosis, and manage their treatment plans. PMHNP can expect to treat patients suffering from the following conditions: anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse, PTSD, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and personality disorders. 
  • How much do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners make?

    • According to Indeed, the average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner salary is $143,240 per year.
  • What is the difference between a Psychiatrist and a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

    • A psychiatrist is a physician that attended medical school and completed a fellowship in psychiatry. A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner or PMHNP is an advanced practice nurse that has completed an advanced nursing program specializing in psychiatry. 

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