best BSN to PMHNP programs

RN to PMHNP: A Guide to Advancing Your Nursing Career

The nursing field holds many exciting career options for those looking to advance their skills and careers. All these paths offer nurses the opportunity for a dynamic and rewarding career filled with personal and professional growth.

One way to advance a nursing career is to go from a registered nurse (RN) to a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). While becoming a mental health nurse practitioner requires candidates to obtain additional certifications and experience, this certification leads to higher levels of income and greater control over their career.

This article will explore the benefits and steps to advance a career from registered nurse (RN) to mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).

RN vs. PMHNP: What’s the Difference?

Registered nurses are licensed nursing professionals who provide and coordinate patient care. They find work in hospitals, health clinics, schools, home healthcare facilities, private practices, and other clinical settings.

RNs work with all types of patients suffering from illness, injury, or disability and also educate patients and their families on proper healthcare.

On the other hand, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who work independently or in collaboration with doctors and other healthcare professionals to help patients cope with psychiatric disorders and illnesses.

Like RNs, they also work with patients of all ages, populations, and genders. However, they focus on individuals with mood disorders, anxiety, substance abuse, depression, and other mental health needs.

What Does a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Do?

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners provide mental health care to patients suffering from acute or chronic psychiatric disorders.

Their job is to see patients through their mental health healing and coping journey. This includes intaking a patient’s medical and personal history, making diagnoses, advocating for patients, and administering and evaluating treatment plans.

Through their advanced education and training, mental health nurse practitioners provide therapy and can prescribe medications for patients.

They are employed in a variety of settings, such as:

  • Dedicated mental health departments inside hospitals
  • Independent practices
  • Psychiatric facilities
  • Correctional facilities
  • In-patient and at-home care services
  • Educational services or public health initiatives

Six Steps to Go from RN to Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Patients who visit psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners need help coping with various chronic or acute psychiatric disorders. For this very reason, mental health practitioners commit to advanced education and training to navigate patients safely through mental health struggles.

Here are the six steps candidates need to take to do so:

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree

The first step toward a career as a mental health nurse practitioner begins with earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.

This degree typically takes four years of full-time study to complete. However, if you are already an RN with an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or someone who has a Bachelor’s degree in a different subject, you can shorten this time through RN-to-BSN programs and Accelerated Bachelor of Science in Nursing (ABSN) programs, respectively.

RN to BSN programs can be completed in as few as twelve months part-time, and ABSN programs can be completed in as few as sixteen months full-time.

Step 2: Pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX)

All states require practicing RNs to earn a nursing license by passing the National Council of State Boards of Nursing Licensing Examination (NCLEX).

This exam ensures applicants demonstrate strong nursing knowledge and skills and an entry-level understanding of safe and effective nursing practices. Candidates will receive their nursing license upon registering and passing the exam in the state they wish to practice in.

Step 3: Gain Work Experience

Most Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner degree programs require applicants to have some form of relevant work experience working directly with patients.

Real-world work experience ensures candidates have learned about nursing and working with other healthcare professionals.

Step 4: Earn a Nursing Graduate Degree

As mentioned, interested candidates must complete an advanced degree, such as an Online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner.

While programs will vary, Goodwin University’s fifty-credit graduate-level program can be completed in as few as seven semesters. Plus—excluding immersion weekends and on-campus clinical hours—students can complete their coursework online.


Ready to take your nursing skills to the next level? Check out our  APRN-PMHNP Get Started Guide to discover all there is to know about earning your advanced degree at Goodwin University!


Step 5: Obtain A Psychiatric Mental Health Certification and Nurse Practitioner License

After earning their graduate degree and achieving five hundred supervised hours working as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, practitioners are ready to take the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner board certification (PMHNP-BC), administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Like RN certification and licensure, each state will have unique requirements, so candidates should ensure they apply through their desired state’s board of nursing and meet all the necessary qualifications.

Step 6: Start Your Career

Having completed an advanced degree, certification, and licensure, it’s time to officially begin an exciting and rewarding psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner career. In addition to finding work in various workplaces like hospitals, primary care clinics, and private practices, psychiatric nurse practitioners can expect an enviable salary.

While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn’t specifically cover this career, these advanced nurses fit under the Advanced Practice Nurse Practitioners (APRNs) category. Meaning that they can expect to earn a median annual salary of $123,780 and an employment growth rate of forty percent by 2031.

But pursuing a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner career has more than monetary benefits. Being fulfilled by helping patients navigate mental health needs is only the start. You can also expect to find work in exciting settings and roles and high levels of job security by working a routine schedule in this stable, in-demand profession.

All this and more, begins with earning your Online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) degree today. At Goodwin University, we want you to secure a rewarding career no matter where you are in your nursing career or how long ago you graduated.

It’s never too late. Let Goodwin University can support you every step of the way. Applications for the fall 2023 class start are due by August 14th. Reach out today to get started and invest in yourself.