Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

A psychiatric nurse practitioner (PNP) program prepares registered nurses for work as primary care mental health providers. This is a post-bachelor’s degree, and graduates must be certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to practice. Students learn about topics such as psychiatric mental health disorders, advanced statistics and research methods, and pharmacology. They also develop key skills that are vital to a successful and rewarding career as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). These include psychopharmacology and biological interventions, making timely and accurate physical and psychiatric assessments, and serving as counselors and educators for mental health patients and their families.

Psychiatric nurse practitioner students learn about topics such as psychiatric mental health disorders, advanced statistics and research methods, and pharmacology.

PMHNPs work in a variety of settings across a multi-generational patient pool. They are uniquely positioned and trained to help patients with severe mental health episodes and those suffering from chronic mental health conditions. A PMHNP can also choose to work for organizations and nonprofits that help shape and influence the direction of the field through governmental policy. A seasoned and licensed PMHNP will have no difficulty finding an avenue of service where they can enhance the lives of individuals with mental health issues. There are several accredited colleges and universities across the country that now offer online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs.

Is an Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Master's Program Right for Me?

The curriculum and academic rigor of online PMHNP programs are as challenging and demanding as their on-campus counterparts. To succeed as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, graduates must have good mental and physical endurance; an empathetic, caring, and patient demeanor; and strong and clear communication skills. PMHNPs often see several patients throughout the day; prescribe and monitor patient medication and progress; and write reports, patient evaluations, and treatment recommendations.

How Do Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Classes Work?

Several online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs allow students to complete all coursework off-campus. Other universities offer online PMHNP programs that follow a hybrid format, with on-campus attendance required during certain semesters. Registered nurses, who make up the majority of PMHNP students, often have erratic job schedules or work in 12-hour shifts. This often prevents them from attending regular on-campus classes. These nurses benefit from online PMHNP programs since they can earn their degree without having to quit their job.

Courses are often available asynchronously, which gives students maximum flexibility. Just like on-campus programs, online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs require students to complete clinical hours. Students pursuing the master of science in nursing (MSN) path typically complete a minimum of 600 to 700 clinical hours. Students enrolled in a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program usually complete at least 360 clinical hours to get their degree.

Admissions Requirements for an Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program

Applicants to a psychiatric nurse practitioner program must already have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited university. In addition, they must hold an active registered nurse (RN) license without encumbrances.

PMHNP programs are rigorous and challenging. Applicants must prove they can meet the educational demands of the program by having an excellent academic record. Most schools offering PMHNP programs require prospective students to have an overall GPA of 3.0 or higher.

There are accelerated nursing programs that allow professionals with non-nursing undergraduate degrees to earn a degree in nursing in a relatively brief period of time. It often takes more than a year to complete an accelerated bachelor’s degree in nursing. However, before students can apply to a PMHNP program, they must first obtain their RN license so they can practice nursing. After completing these steps, it often takes another two years to earn the degree.

What to Expect From Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program

Both on-campus and online PMHNP programs prepare RNs for national certification. Schools offer courses that correspond to the general areas covered by the certification exam. Although specific courses may differ, PMHNP programs typically require students to enroll in pathophysiology, clinical reasoning and health assessment, and neuroscience courses.

Curriculum for an Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program

Every PMHNP applicant comes to the program with a specific skill set, academic background, and clinical work experience. A school’s PMHNP curriculum may be geared towards a specific patient demographic or mental health condition. It is vital that students work with an adviser to craft an individualized plan of study that corresponds to their strengths and supports their goals while taking advantage of a school’s particular area of specialization.

Advanced Pathophysiology

The course covers the mechanism of diseases as they correspond to system-related disorders. It combines the study of scientific concepts, principles, and theories with advanced pathophysiologic processes. Students learn critical thinking and problem solving skills in various clinical settings that train them to evaluate and apply practical solutions.

Diagnostics and Management—Evidence-Based Treatment

The course examines psychotherapeutic interventions across the lifespan, with emphasis on evidence-based therapy techniques and cognitive treatment. Students learn to manage common psychiatric disorders through clinical practice.

Major Psychopathological Disorders

This course emphasizes the assessment and intervention of selected psychopathological disorders in different environments. The course also focuses on the clinical manifestation, epidemiology, and etiology of these disorders. Students learn about the role and impact of culture on the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of mental health disorders.


This course includes instruction on the use of medication for the diagnosis and treatment of psychological and psychiatric disorders and how to monitor the behavioral, physiological, and psychiatric responses to intervention. Students learn about the role and uses of pharmacotherapeutics to address common chronic mental health conditions.

Leadership in Evolving Healthcare Environments

The course explores emerging leadership issues in the current healthcare environment. Students study leadership competencies and trends as they pertain specifically to the psychiatric mental health field. The course also provides students with an assessment and analysis of their personal leadership style. At the end of the course, students draft an E-portfolio that contains their leadership vision and goals.

How Long Does It Take to Get an Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Degree?

For students who begin the program with a BSN, a valid RN license, and relevant professional nursing experience, it usually takes two years of full-time study to earn a 30-credit MSN degree. Part-time students can take up to three years to complete an MSN program. RNs can also become PMHNPs by earning a DNP degree without first earning an MSN. This option can take three to fours years of full-time study. Most programs give students up to seven years to finish their DNP studies. Students with an MSN degree need to complete another 30-35 credit hours to earn the DNP. A student’s specialization, the number of clinical hours they have to complete, and the course load they take each semester all affect the length of time it takes to complete a program.

Some online PMHNP programs follow a cohort learning model. This means students go through the program as a group, and this format sometimes requires more time to complete. Other programs allow students to graduate at their own pace.

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Have a High School Diploma

The journey to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner begins with a high school diploma. Earning a diploma is a clear and early indication that a student possesses the discipline and focus necessary for collegiate and postgraduate study.

Earn a Degree in Nursing

The next step is to earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing (some PMHNP programs will accept an associate degree). It is important at this point to find a college or university with accreditation that is recognized in the nursing field. The Accreditation for Education in Nursing accredits all types of nursing programs at the diploma, associate, baccalaureate, and master’s level. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education accredits baccalaureate and master’s programs only.

Become a Registered Nurse

To become an RN, students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). State nursing boards throughout the country use this standardized exam to determine a candidate’s eligibility for entry-level nursing work. To sign up for the exam, aspiring RNs must first register with the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The NCSBN then sends out notifications to qualified applicants with further information about test dates and testing center locations. Although the NCLEX is a standardized test, nursing state boards may have other requirements that test takers must meet before they become eligible to sit for the exam. The NCLEX is a computerized, multiple-choice test that must be completed in six hours. The test contains a minimum of 75 questions and a maximum of 265. Test topics include safety and infection control, pharmacological and parenteral therapies, and health promotion and maintenance. Test takers who fail the exam must wait at least 45 days before they can retake it.

Earn a Master’s Degree

Most MSN programs accept applications from RNs with at least one year of clinical experience. Several colleges and universities now offer their MSN degrees on-campus and online. Students often select a nursing area to specialize in at this point. The four advanced practice areas are: nurse practitioner (NP), certified nurse anesthetist (CRNA), clinical nurse specialist (CNS), and certified nurse midwife (CRN).

Take the National Certification Test

After earning an MSN degree, nurses must take a national certification test to become a certified nurse practitioner (CNP). There are different industry-recognized certification boards that offer these exams. Each board offers an exam, or exams, covering a specific advanced nursing practice area. The ANCC certifies nurse practitioners with a psychiatric mental health specialization. The ANCC exam for PMHNPs consists of 150 to 175 test items, in addition to 25 pilot test questions. The exam is administered by Prometric Testing Services, and they offer testing centers throughout the U.S. Prospective PMHNPs must take the exam onsite, which typically costs $395. Members of professional nursing associations, such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), receive a discount. A well-designed MSN program offers a curriculum that corresponds to key certification topics, giving candidates a relevant and current knowledge base that they can draw from during the exam. Additionally, an MSN program sharpens a student’s writing and thinking skills, both of which play a critical role in taking practically any test.

Maintain and Renew Certification

Initial credentialing for the PMHNP specialization is good for five years. Nurses must submit their renewal application at least three months prior to the expiration of their current certification. Both initial application and subsequent renewals can be completed online. It is best to check the website of the original credentialing board for up-to-date requirements and changes to the renewal process.

What Can I Do With an Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Degree?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners work in a variety of settings, including mental health clinics, psychiatric hospitals, health maintenance organizations, and private practice. They diagnose mental health conditions across the lifespan, prescribe medication and other types of intervention as needed, and develop and manage a patient’s treatment plan. PMHNPs practice a holistic approach to healthcare and often act as patient advocates. They educate and inform patients and their families about relevant mental health issues and provide constant support throughout the treatment process. Below, we have compiled relevant salary data for psychiatric nurses based on their experience level and place of work.

Certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary by Experience

Experience Salary
Entry-Level (0-5 years) $97,000
Mid-Career (5-10 years) $106,000
Experienced (10-20 years) $109,000
Late Career (20+ years) $115,000

Certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary by Hospital Setting