Meet a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Nalea Ko, MFA
Updated February 29, 2024
Edited by
    A psychiatric nurse practitioner gets candid about the realities of the job. Plus, we discuss more about how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
    An Asian-American female nurse listens intently during an appointment with one of her patients. The two individuals are sitting next to each other inside a clinical office.

    Psychiatric mental health is the third largest specialty area for nurse practitioners (NPs). Psychiatric nurse practitioners provide psychoeducation to groups and individuals. In various settings, they diagnose mental health disorders by conducting psychiatric evaluations and prescribing psychotropic medications.

    Explore what psychiatric nurse practitioners do, their career requirements, and how much they make.

    Modupe Mary Okonofua, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNP-C, MBA, a first-generation immigrant who became a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and a family nurse practitioner, shares a candid experience about the typical day for a psychiatric nurse practitioner, including the biggest challenges and rewards.

    Q&A With a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

    Portrait of Modupe Mary Okonofua, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNP-C, MBA

    Modupe Mary Okonofua, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNP-C, MBA

    Modupe Mary Okonofua, DNP, PMHNP-BC, FNP-C, MBA, is a faculty member in Walden’s Master of Science in Nursing program and holds dual-board certifications as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and a family nurse practitioner. Her expertise is in suicide risk assessment and prevention.

    Q: Why did you choose a career in psychiatric nursing?

    As a first-generation immigrant to the United States, I quickly learned the value of perseverance, determination, and optimism in the face of daily challenges or stressors. With my personality, I derive pleasure from assisting others, and I was dissatisfied with my first career path as a technician.

    So, at the age of 38, I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a registered nurse (RN) after interacting with mental health patients in a nursing home in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. While in nursing school, my favorite course was psychiatric mental health nursing, where I was very intrigued with how the mind works, its effect on one’s well-being, and mental health in general.

    As I progressed with my career, I knew with my knowledge of psychotherapy, psychopharmacological interventions, and spirituality, I could help others dealing with mental health issues such as depression.

    Q: While every patient and situation is unique, what might a “typical” day look like for you as a psychiatric nurse practitioner?

    A typical day for a psychiatric nurse practitioner varies based on the work location or setting, such as inpatient or outpatient, in-person or telehealth, direct patient care, consulting, or teaching.

    As a core faculty member in Walden University’s master of science in nursing program and a practice owner, my typical day involves teaching responsibilities such as grading and interacting with students, preceptors, and other faculty members. I also consult with patients in person or through telehealth, prescribe medications, and conduct psychotherapy sessions.

    Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of your work?

    The biggest challenge in my role as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is seeing patients who are not compliant with the treatment plan they agreed to. This poses a challenge with such patients not recovering, and it becomes more difficult for the provider to help. In such instances, the provider constantly re-educates such patients about the benefits of the prescribed evidence-based psychotropic medications or alternate interventions.

    Q: And the greatest rewards?

    The greatest rewards in my career are twofold: First, the satisfaction of guiding my students to succeed in their education, and second, treating my patients to the point where they are happy and live a fulfilled life.

    Q: What advice would you give to those considering a career as a psychiatric nurse?

    As a psychiatric nurse, you will interact with patients who have mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, acute grief, alcohol or drug addiction, personality disorders, and psychoses. Therefore, caring for your patients with compassion is very important.

    As a psychiatric nurse, you can work in a variety of community healthcare settings, including hospitals, outpatient clinics, and addiction/recovery centers with flexible work hours. In the workplace, mental health nurses are typically part of a healthcare team that includes social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, and patient care assistants. Finally, there is a constant demand for psychiatric nurses with a promising growth outlook.

    What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

    Psychiatric nurse practitioners provide psychiatric care and treatment. They also focus on behavioral health and addiction treatment. Their job usually includes conducting psychiatric evaluations, managing medication, and administering and assessing treatments.

    Psychiatric nurse practitioners mostly practice in behavioral health and addictions clinics, private practice, and psychiatric mental health facilities.

    Their work involves teams that also consist of other healthcare professionals. In complex cases, they seek advice from psychiatrists.

    A routine day for a psychiatric nurse practitioner depends on where they work. Common duties include:

    • Conducting psychiatric evaluations
    • Maintaining records of clients in accordance with the HIPAA code of ethics
    • Prescribing medication for mental and physical needs
    • Modifying treatment plans with input from nurses, psychologists, and psychiatrists.

    How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

    Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners understand diverse assessment, diagnosis, and treatment approaches through their academic and clinical training.

    Every psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner starts as a registered nurse (RN). You can qualify for an RN license after passing the NCLEX-RN exam. The NCLEX-RN requires a four-year bachelor’s degree or a two-year associate degree in nursing.

    After about two years of RN experience, you can apply to a nurse practitioner program, which requires a minimum of 500 direct patient clinical supervised hours.

    A master’s in nursing degree and 500 supervised hours qualify you to apply for the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner board certification exam administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

    Popular Online MSN Programs

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    How Much Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Make?

    According to the BLS, nurse practitioners earn a median annual wage of $121,610 as of May 2022. Nurse practitioners working in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals earned an average annual wage of $134,540.

    Experience heavily influences psychiatric nurse practitioner salaries. Payscale reports that nurse practitioners earn an average of $188,000 with 1-4 years of experience, and $126,000 with 10-19 years of experience as of September 2023. Nurse practitioners can also earn higher pay by obtaining certifications and a doctoral degree.