Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

What Is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

As an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), a psychiatric nurse practitioner needs at least a master's degree in nursing. Often referred to as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), these professionals care for patients struggling with mental health disorders. They craft patient care plans that incorporate medicinal and therapeutic interventions.

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

Each state maintains specific laws and regulations regarding a PMHNP's scope of practice and professional responsibilities. PMHNPs should familiarize themselves with these laws to make sure they are working within the legal limits of their profession. Typical PMHNP responsibilities include the following:

  • Perform patient assessments, including diagnostic exams, risk analysis, and mental health tests
  • Prescribe medications according to their scope of practice under state laws
  • Evaluate treatment effectiveness
  • Maintain accurate and detailed patient history and records
  • Conduct mental health field research
  • Develop interdisciplinary treatment plans that address a patient's complete care needs
  • Consult for various healthcare groups and facilities, such as legislative bodies, community groups, and hospitals

Why Should You Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

PMHNPs enter a dynamic professional arena where they can make a lasting contribution to patients and the mental health field as a whole. They also enjoy strong job prospects. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 31% increase in APRN jobs by 2026. This growth reflects a high demand for educated nursing professionals.

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 indicates 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. Students should look for nursing programs with accreditation. The Accreditation for Education in Nursing accredits nursing programs at the diploma, associate, baccalaureate, and master's levels. The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education accredits baccalaureate and master's programs.

Become a Registered Nurse

To become a RN, students must pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). State nursing boards use this standardized exam to determine a candidate's eligibility for entry-level nursing work. To sign up for the exam, aspiring RNs must 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 locations. The NCLEX is a computerized, multiple-choice test with a six-hour time limit. The test contains 75-265 questions, covering topics such as 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 retaking it.

Earn a Master's Degree

Most MSN programs require at least one year of clinical experience, a bachelor's degree, and an unencumbered nursing license. Several colleges and universities offer MSN degrees online. Master's students often select a nursing specialization, such as nurse practitioner, certified nurse anesthetist, clinical nurse specialist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner.

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 exams that cover a specific advanced nursing practice area. Members of professional nursing associations, such as the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, may receive a discount on certain exams.

Maintain and Renew Certification

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

Factors to Consider When Choosing a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program

Several colleges and universities offer online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs. Before choosing a program, students should research its curriculum and requirements to ensure they're aligned with their educational and professional objectives. The following section examines key factors that students should consider when researching potential PMHNP programs.


Colleges and universities voluntarily seek accreditation to indicate the quality of the education they provide. The U.S. Department of Education (ED) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) oversee the accreditation process.

Regional accrediting bodies focus on private and public nonprofit, degree-granting institutions. Both CHEA and ED recognize six regional accrediting organizations. National accrediting bodies review mostly for-profit, sectarian schools. Programmatic accrediting organizations accredit specific fields of study. The two recognized accrediting bodies for the nursing field are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing.

Most employers prefer job candidates with an accredited degree because it indicates that prospective employees possess the training and knowledge needed to fulfill their job responsibilities. Accreditation also expands financial aid opportunities.

Admission Requirements

Applicants to psychiatric nurse practitioner programs need a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), at least a year of professional experience, and an active, unencumbered registered nursing (RN) license. Most PMHNP programs require applicants to possess a minimum 3.0 GPA.

Benefits of Online Learning

Online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs offer the same rigor and requirements as their on-campus counterparts, so graduates of online programs qualify for the same employment opportunities as graduates of onsite programs. Online PMHNP programs often offer asynchronous classes, allowing students to complete coursework at their own pace. This flexibility allows students to continue working while pursuing their degree. Online learners also benefit from savings on housing and commuting costs.

What to Expect From a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program

Program Length

Students who begin a master's program with a BSN, valid RN license, and relevant professional nursing experience typically take two years of full-time study to earn a 30-credit MSN degree. Part-time learners may take an extra year or two to finish. RNs can also become PMHNPs by earning a DNP degree. This option can take three to four years of full-time study. Most programs give students up to seven years to finish their DNP studies.

Common Coursework

Psychiatric nurse master's programs vary by school; however, there are several classes that are common among many online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs. Several of those classes are outlined below.

  • Advanced Health Assessment Applications for the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Students examine the interrelationship of psychiatric and physical conditions and explore various treatment options that address both components. They also learn to implement health assessment strategies that consider patients' psychosocial needs.
  • Advanced Pathophysiology This course teaches students how to identify and analyze the effects and progression of diseases in various populations. It provides students with the foundation for clinical assessment, diagnosis, and management of at-risk clients experiencing changes in their health status.
  • Neuroscience for Mental Health Practitioners Students study advanced concepts in neuroscience as they relate to the treatment and clinical management of different psychiatric disorders. The course covers topics such as neurophysiology, psychopharmacology, and neurochemistry.
  • Roles and Contexts for Advanced Nursing Practice In this introductory course, students learn about the role of advanced nursing practice in various healthcare environments. They study principles of evidence-based nursing practice, ethics, policymaking, leadership, and the quality and safety of healthcare services.
  • Theoretical Foundations for Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Across the Lifespan This course introduces students to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used to diagnose mental illnesses. The course focuses on evidence-based treatment of mental health disorders.

What Can You 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 develop and manage a patient's treatment plan.

PMHNPs typically practice a holistic approach to healthcare and act as patient advocates. They educate and inform patients and their families about relevant mental health issues and provide support throughout the treatment process. The following table outlines salary data for psychiatric nurses based on experience.

Paying For Your Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program

Nursing students enjoy many financial aid opportunities, such as private scholarships, federal grants, and loan forgiveness programs. To learn their eligibility for federal financial aid, students must submit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Healthcare institutions and nursing associations often offer nursing scholarships and grants as well. The following section outlines several scholarship opportunities for students in PMHNP programs.

Scholarships for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Students

American Association Nurse Practitioners Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Licensed RNs and AANP members pursuing a graduate nursing degree can apply for this funding opportunity. Applicants must submit a current resume, official transcript, two professional references, and a copy of their nurse practitioner program of study.

Amount: $2,500-$5,000

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Geraldine "Polly" Bednash Scholarship

Who Can Apply: Students enrolled in a bachelor's, master's, or doctoral nursing program at an AACN member institution can apply to this scholarship program. Applicants need at least a 3.2 GPA in their current program. The program distributes two, $5,000 awards four times each year.

Amount: $5,000

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Tylenol Future Care Scholarship

Who Can Apply: This scholarship program accepts applications from undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in a healthcare program. Program administrators consider the following criteria: undergraduate GPA, community service/volunteer work, academic performance in nursing coursework, and essay content.

Amount: $10,000 (10 scholarships); $5,000 (30 scholarships)

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