psychiatric nurse practitioner vs. psychiatrist

PMHNP vs. Psychiatrist: What’s the Difference?

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) and psychiatrists are pivotal members of a patient’s complete and comprehensive healthcare team. Both professionals work in the mental health field, serving populations with behavioral, emotional, and mental conditions.

PMHNP vs. Psychiatrist: Similarities Between the Specialties

Many occupational duties between Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners and psychiatrists overlap. Both Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) and psychiatrists are responsible for:

  • Assessing, developing, monitoring, and treating patients’ behavioral and mental health conditions
  • Conducting individual, group, and family counseling, and recommending hospitalization if needed
  • Developing advanced knowledge of human behavior, mental health afflictions, and substance use disorders
  • Educating patients and their families on well-being practices and techniques
  • Managing physical exams and ordering medical tests
  • Prescribing medications and following the same general treatment procedures
  • Using the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose patients
  • Treating mental illnesses like anxiety, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, bipolar and eating disorders, gender dysphoria, substance abuse, and trauma

However, there are also a number of differences between a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) and a psychiatrist, and one essential factor is education.

PMHNP vs. Psychiatrist Education Requirements

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are considered licensed advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). To become a PMHNP, one must complete their bachelor’s degree in Nursing, as well as a nursing graduate program with a psychiatric-mental health concentration. For example, the PMHNP-APRN program at Goodwin University awards graduates with a master’s degree. It typically takes six to eight years to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners are typically board-certified and hold a nurse practitioner license in the state in which they reside.

Psychiatrists, on the other hand, are physicians who have completed a bachelor’s degree and medical school, earned a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO), and finished a four-year residency program specializing in psychiatry. It takes a minimum of 12 years total to become a psychiatrist.

Psychiatrists receive board certification from the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and obtain their MD license within their state to practice. Board certification is valid for ten years, and psychiatrists retake the exam once each decade to uphold the credential.

PMHNP vs. Psychiatrist: Roles and Responsibilities

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) take on administrative and case management roles, treating more common mental disorders like addiction and depression. These advanced practice registered nurses may also extend their work to communities at large — performing research outside their offices to grow knowledge in the field. PMHNPs may also meet with legislators to improve mental health proposals and policies.

Psychiatrists, unlike PMHNPs, can subspecialize in multiple areas of mental health, including child and adolescent psychiatry, cognitive behavioral therapy, learning disabilities, liaison psychiatry for hospital-based care, and more.

A psychiatrist’s scope of practice adheres to more complex patient cases such as dissociative identity disorder or complicated cases of PTSD. Psychiatrists also perform advanced psychological testing, implement high-level interventions, and may review team consultations and care plans within decision-making roles.

PMHNP vs. Psychiatrist: Practice Settings and Professional Skills

Most PMHNPs provide service in hospitals or mental health clinics, while more than half of psychiatrists work in private practice. However, like nurse practitioners, psychiatrists can also be employed by correctional facilities, inpatient hospitals, rehabilitation treatment programs, outpatient clinics, and other healthcare settings.

Strong Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners typically possess the following skills:

  • Active listening and asking appropriate follow-up questions
  • Adaptability to continually work on an array of mental health conditions
  • Communication, to interact with patient populations of diverse ages, backgrounds, and cultures
  • Perception, or picking up on verbal and non-verbal cues of patients
  • Self-control and the ability to maintain composure and impartiality during a crisis, diffusing emergency, or unpredictable situations as they arise

Advantageous psychiatrist abilities include:

  • Detail-oriented diagnostics, including analytical skills and the ability to reason
  • Empathy, curiosity, and compassionate responsiveness
  • Interpersonal skills and the ability to gain patients’ trust
  • Listening skills, and to respond intently while alert to facial expressions
  • Patience while gaining client background, persistence with complex cases, and persevering while gaining clinical perspective
  • Understanding of biology, psychology, and social behaviors that may influence patient assessments

PMHNP vs. Psychiatrist: Salary Potential

According to the U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics, psychiatrists earned an average salary of $217,100 per year in May of 2020. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners earned an average annual wage of $114,510 during that same year.

Just as the salary potential is high in both professions, the job outlook is bright. We are in the midst of a mental health crisis in America, and the need for mental health services – as well as qualified practitioners – will continue to grow. Between 2020 and 2030, the BLS predicts that employment of psychiatrists will increase 13%, with 3,500 new jobs being added to the field. For nurse practitioners overall, the BLS expects a 52% increase in job opportunities, with almost 115,000 openings expected for APRNs.

Both the PMHNP and psychiatrist career path can offer you a promising, valued, and rewarding career where you can make a difference. Both professionals have the unique opportunity to help people struggling with mental illness and to spread awareness about the growing importance of mental health. Ultimately, the career path you choose will depend on your interests, your goals, and your ability to commit to postsecondary learning.

Today, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners are in-demand, and graduate nursing degree holders are needed to promote well-being across the lifespan.

Are you interested in learning more about a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner career? Click here to discover a caring, cognitive profession that could be your calling.