Psychiatric nurse practitioners (NPs) are certified advanced practice nurses who administer to the mental health needs of individuals, families, groups or communities. To become certified as a psychiatric NP, nursing professionals must hold a Master of Science in Nursing degree specializing in psychiatric healthcare, current Registered Nurse licensure and certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Nursing professionals who wish to further specialize may choose from programs in child, adolescent, gerontological, substance abuse or forensic psychiatry. Some psychiatric NPs go on to earn a doctoral degree within their specialty, though this is not a requirement.
What Does a Psychiatric NP Do?
Psychiatric NPs assess and diagnose patients, provide psychotherapy and prescribe medication. They treat patients with diagnosed disorders, as well as those with family histories or other factors that increase the likelihood of potential mental illness. In keeping with nurse practitioners’ holistic approach to health care, psychiatric nurse practitioners educate and inform patients and their families about mental health issues and steps they can take to boost their care.
Typical duties for a psychiatric NP include assessing and diagnosing mental health problems like anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, substance abuse or dementia; other patients may struggle with grief, anger, adjustment issues or other conditions. Diagnostic steps for these problems include recording a patient’s verbal history, performing a physical exam and ordering diagnostic tests. When a diagnosis is made, the nurse practitioner develops and manages a treatment plan, prescribing medication and administering psychotherapy as necessary. Nurses treat patients one-on-one or in group settings with family members or other patients.
Potential Work Settings
- Private practice
- Psychiatric and behavioral treatment clinics
- Consulting with businesses or communities
- Residential treatment facilities
- Public health agencies
- Family practice or pediatric clinics
- Correctional Facilities
What Does It Take to Become a Psychiatric NP?
Nurse practitioners often work with little physician oversight. To independently assess, diagnose and treat patients just as physicians do, a psychiatric nurse practitioner must be confident in their ability to develop effective treatment plans.
Nurse practitioners spend most of their day contacting patients, families and colleagues. Successful NPs must be able to work effectively with all of them, regardless of their communication styles. Adaptability and the ability to collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds are essential for success in this field.
Listening is a crucial skill for any nurse, but especially so in psychiatric care. For many patients, it’s therapeutic to feel that they’re heard and acknowledged; good listening skills allow these patients to feel safe and able to speak freely.
Patients who are experiencing difficult or emotionally-fraught situations often need help navigating their feelings. Therapeutic communication is specifically designed to help these individuals, and psychiatric NPs must be able to deploy professional communication techniques to assist patients in delicate situations. Thorough knowledge of verbal and nonverbal cues is essential to evaluating patients, particularly those who are unable to be forthcoming in a psychiatric healthcare setting.
Desire to Educate
Psychiatry, and mental health issues in general, are subject to more societal stigma than many other branches of healthcare. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are in a unique position to correct common misunderstandings by educating patients, families and the broader public. Successful psychiatric NPs welcome the opportunity to reject common myths about mental health.
Boundaries can be especially important in this specialty. Practitioners should be able to confront any issues their patients experience, no matter how dark or personally triggering they may be.
Staying calm in a crisis is particularly important in a specialty that lends itself to tense situations. Nurses must be able to project calmness in the presence of agitated or excited patients, while still maintaining a position of authority. Professionals in the field must be able to defuse potentially volatile situations. Maintaining objectivity while assessing patients is crucial.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners may need to make decisions within a rapidly changing environment. Mental health patients can be unpredictable in their behavior, which requires professionals to react quickly. If a patient suddenly threatens or attempts suicide, for example, an nurse’s reaction could mean the difference between life and death. Advanced problem-solving skills can prevent devastating outcomes for these patients.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Information and Job Outlook
How Much Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Make?$82,780+$91,030+$99,280+$107,520+
- Median Hourly Wage: $50.00
- Mean Salary: $90,661
Nurses Are in Demand
- 712,000 New Jobs
- 495,500 Replacement Jobs
- 10.2 Million by 2020
- 26% More Nursing Jobs Expected to Be Created between 2010 and 2020
Source: Data taken from The Bureau of Labor Statistics. Accessed: December 2015.
Meet a Psychiatric NP
Psychiatric Nurse Resources
Certification Resources for Psychiatric Nurses
Massive Open Online Courses for Psychiatric Nurses
Online Psychiatric Nursing Programs
In alphabetical order, here is a list of accredited online psychiatric nursing programs for your review.
Students: Before enrolling, please be sure to double-check that the program is accredited, offered online during your period of study, and all eligibility and licensing requirements meet your situation.
- Drexel University, Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Program
- Eastern Kentucky University Online Nursing Programs, Online Master of Science in Nursing – Advanced Practice Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
- Gonzaga University, Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Program
- Idaho State University, Online Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Degree Option
- Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certificate
- Northern Kentucky University, Online Post Master’s Family Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
- Rush University, Online Psychiatric -Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (DNP) Program
- University of Cincinnati, Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Post-Master’s Certificate Program
- University of Colorado-Anschutz Medical Campus, Onsite & Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Post-Graduate Certificate Program
- University of Miami, Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, Post Master’s Certificate
- University of Missouri-Kansas City, Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
- University of North Dakota College of Nursing & Professional Disciplines, Online Family Psychiatric-Mental Health Advanced Practice Nurses (PMH-APRN) program
- University of South Alabama, Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program
- Vanderbilt University School of Nursing, Modified Distance Learning Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Lifespan) Program
- Washburn University Online Post-Graduate Certificate – Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Program
If you are an accredited, not-for-profit institution that offers an online nurse anesthetist program and that isn’t listed, please contact us with details about your program, a link to your program page and proof of accreditation.
Psychiatric Nursing Programs
If you notice any errors in the database below or are a college or university that is not represented here, please contact us. We will get on it immediately!