mental health nurse practitioner certification

A Guide to Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Certification

Before the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Behavioral Health Workforce projected a rapid rise in psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) by 2030. Yet, with the ongoing Coronavirus health crisis, the essential need for mental health nurse practitioners is now more evident than ever.

Today, mental health statistics are even more staggering than years prior.

  • One in five adults (21% of U.S. adults) experienced mental illness in 2020 — representative of 52.9 million people.
  • Also in 2020, 46.2% of adults in the United States with mental illness received treatment.
  • And as of 2022, 141 million United States residents currently live in a designated Mental Health Professional Shortage Area.

This underlines a significant need for trained and certified mental health practitioners to step in and help. Learn about earning your psychiatric nurse practitioner certification below.

How can psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners help?

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) trained in mental health. Psychiatric nurse practitioners use a combination of holistic, patient-centered nursing as well as psychosocial, and neurobiological competencies to treat mental health patients across the lifespan. PMHNPs are typically communicative and collaborative while improving mental health access, equity, and outcomes for the well-being of communities.

What are the education requirements for PMHNP certification?

Those seeking to become psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners can obtain national certification through an accredited master’s program. After becoming a registered nurse (RN), passing the NCLEX (the RN licensing exam), earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and possessing active state or territory licensure, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner hopefuls may then apply to PMHNP graduate programs.

Future PMHNPs must also:

  • Graduate from a PMHNP program in good academic standing. This requires completing courses in advanced health assessment, advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced pharmacology, differential diagnosis and disease management, and health promotion and maintenance.
  • Possess experience in clinical training in at least two psychotherapeutic modalities, while completing 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours accredited by Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).
  • Apply and pass the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner exam (PMHNP-BC™).
  • Apply for and receive state-specific psychiatric nurse practitioner certification. Please note that different requirements and regulations, practice laws, and qualifications vary across the United States.

The PMHNP certification exam, explained

The psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner board certification (PMHNP-BC™) credential is awarded to students who pass the mandatory PMHNP certification exam.

The PMHNP-BC™ exam enacts a nurse practitioner’s mental health and psychiatric expertise — validating their ability to evaluate, diagnose, provide therapy and emergency psychiatric care, prescribe medication, and treat the mental health needs of patients.
Becoming an accredited PMHNP is imperative because most states require certification to practice.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) administers and evaluates the psychiatric nurse practitioner certification exam. The PMHNP-BC™ exam assesses the competency of core PMHNP clinical knowledge and skills.

The test scores 150 questions broken down into five categories:

  1. 22 of the exam questions (15%) are based on psychotherapy and related theories.
  2. 23 of the questions (15%) are based on ethical and legal principles.
  3. 30 of the test questions (20%) are based on scientific foundation.
  4. 37 (25%) are based on diagnosis and treatment.
  5. 38 questions (25%) are based on advanced practice skills.

The PMHNP credential expires after five years and can be continued by maintaining licensure to practice and meeting the renewal requirements during the time of renewal.

What can I expect from a psychiatric nurse practitioner career?

PMHNPs serve individuals, families, groups, and communities. Mental health nurse practitioner appointments can vary — as the frequency and need among individual clients differ, with interactions spanning a few months to some patient treatment lasting several years.
PMHNP patient profiles can include (but are not limited to):

  • Children exposed to trauma
  • Adolescents with anxiety and depression
  • Military personnel
  • Those with substance abuse disorders
  • Older adults with Alzheimer’s

Mental health nurse practitioners maintain careers in a wide variety of work settings, including clinics, hospital settings, inpatient units, primary care offices, private practices, public health facilities, telemedicine environments, and more.

Benefits of earning psychiatric nurse practitioner certification

Earning your master’s degree through a flexible PMHNP program can take many of the foreseen obstacles out of graduate school. The adaptable curriculum can catapult your professional career post-commencement and prepare you for a successful career as a certified psychiatric nurse practitioner.

According to a 2020 American Association of Nurse Practitioners survey, full-time psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners have a median income of $137,000 annually, including base salary, bonuses, and incentive payouts.
PMHNPs also report their job satisfaction as a fulfilling, worthwhile, and rewarding role because they appropriately teach patients to prioritize their self-care and well-being.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners also actively fight societal mental health stigmas and feel genuinely compelled to inspire and create optimistic, lasting change, influencing individual and family lives to countless groups and communities at large.

Are you looking for a flexible psychiatric nurse practitioner program?

Click here to learn more about becoming a proud PMHNP!