How Do You Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), more than one in five U.S. adults have a mental illness. Mental illnesses include many conditions that vary in severity, ranging from mild to moderate to severe.

Furthermore, the CDC reports that mental health disorders are the primary diagnosis for almost sixty million physician office visits and over six million emergency department visits annually.

For these very reasons, our world needs trained mental health professionals to help people positively manage their stress and overall mental well-being. Psychiatric nurse practitioners fulfill this role and help educate and care for children, adolescents, and adults with psychiatric problems.

This article will discuss what a psychiatric nurse practitioner does and show students how to become a psychiatric nurse.

What is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) that specialize in providing mental health care to many different patient populations, including children, adults, families, and communities.
They focus on administering therapy, advocating, diagnosing, evaluating treatment plans, and prescribing medication to patients with psychiatric disorders.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners follow a holistic approach to healthcare by informing and educating patients and their families about various mental health issues. In addition, they are responsible for diagnosing a variety of mental health issues, including:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety and trauma disorders
  • Substance use disorders
  • Psychotic disorders
  • Neurodevelopmental disorders

Where do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Work?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners work in many healthcare and mental health settings, such as:

  1. Hospital psychiatry and mental health departments. Jobs include delivering patient care directly, supervising nursing assistants or registered nurses (RNs), and collaborating with physicians on care planning and delivery.
  2. Private psychiatric practices. Psychiatric nurses may manage their practice or work with physicians to see and diagnose patients, oversee their care, and prescribe medications.
  3. Social services settings. In schools, they provide counseling and other psychiatric services to students. In domestic violence shelters, psychiatric nurse practitioners aid victims and help them recover from psychological trauma.

In these settings, psychiatric nurses can work closely with fellow RNs, psychiatrists, case managers, social workers, psychologists, and other mental health specialists as part of a patient’s interdisciplinary health services team.

How Much Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Make?

Psychiatric nurse salaries vary depending on the individual’s level of education, their years of experience, the size of their employer, and the location where they live and work.

That said, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the median annual salary for nurse practitioners is $121,610, making it one of the highest-paying nurse careers.

Pay differentials can also boost a nurse’s salary and are added to the base hourly rate for night shifts, charge duties, and mentoring new nurses. Nurses also earn higher wages for having a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Nurses can choose many paths and educational institutions to become psychiatric nurse practitioners, but all paths start with earning a nursing degree.

Step 1: Enroll and Complete a Nursing Program

Candidates will need an associate’s degree in Nursing or a bachelor’s degree in Nursing from an accredited nursing program to become a registered nurse.

These programs will typically offer a clinical rotation in psych nursing for candidates to see what it’s like to work in that field.

Students in associate degree programs can expect to graduate in two years, whereas students in bachelor’s degree programs typically graduate in four years. The exception is an accelerated BSN program, where a student who already has an existing bachelor’s degree can earn an additional bachelor’s in nursing degree in as few as 16 months.

Step 2: Earn your RN License and Gain Experience

Upon earning one of the abovementioned degrees, the next step for psychiatric nurse practitioner candidates is to become licensed.

Candidates prove their competency in the field by passing the NCLEX-RN exam (National Council Licensure Examination-Registered Nurse). Once candidates pass their exam in their intended state of practice, they can practice in the field and gain nursing experience.

Step 3: Pursue an Advanced Degree

After laying the foundation for a nursing career, gaining experience and additional certifications, psychiatric nurse practitioner candidates should earn an advanced degree in this specialization.

A Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program provides the resources and knowledge to work with patients and teach them how to handle stress while promoting healthy life choices positively.


Ready to learn how Goodwin can help you become an advocate for your patients?

Download our APRN-PMHNP Get Started Guide today!


Step 4: Earn a Certification in Psychiatric Nursing

Many candidates choose to become certified in psychiatric nursing through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). This certification is valid for five years and has the following requirements:

  • Held a current and active RN license in a US state or territory or the professional, legally recognized equivalent in another country.
  • Practiced the equivalent of two years full-time as a registered nurse.
  • Obtained a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in psychiatric-mental health nursing within the last three years.
  • Completed thirty hours of continuing education in psychiatric-mental health nursing within the last three years.

Step 5: Find Employment

Now that you’ve earned all necessary degrees and certifications, you can officially become a psychiatric nurse practitioner and begin working in the field.

Graduates are prepared and qualified to treat and care for patients with various mental health illnesses and disorders in community mental health centers, domestic violence shelters, hospitals, in-patient psychiatric facilities, schools, and veterans’ hospitals.

If you are passionate about supporting those struggling with mental health, becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner is a great career choice. And at Goodwin University, you can earn your Master’s in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner degree online in as few as seven semesters part-time.

Contact us today to accelerate your career as an advanced practice registered nurse. Applications close July 14, 2023 for fall 2023 start. Don’t wait to invest in yourself!