Psychiatric Nurse Career Overview
February 16, 2022 , Modified on April 26, 2022 · 6 Min Read
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Psychiatric nurses play an important role in the delivery of mental health services. This guide explains how to become a psychiatric nurse, what they make, and where they work.
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Psychiatric nurses work double duty in this clinical nursing specialty to provide physical and mental health care. Unlike psychiatric nurse practitioners who hold a graduate degree and are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), psychiatric nurses only need either a nursing diploma, associate, or a bachelor's degree in nursing to enter the workforce.
Many nursing programs provide a rotation in psychiatric-mental health nursing that introduces students to the specialty. They also must obtain a registered nurse (RN) license, certification, and two years of work experience.
What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Do?
It takes a team of psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, and psychiatric nurses to administer mental health care. While some psychiatric nurses work in a community capacity to deliver mental health services, others help individuals one-on-one to accomplish daily tasks and improve their lives.
When psychiatric nurses earn a master's in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP), they can become APRNs who can assess, diagnose, and treat the mental health needs of a patient, which can include prescribing medication and providing psychotherapy.
Psychiatric nurses who hold a bachelor's degree undertake these skills and responsibilities:
Credit: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images
Where Do Psychiatric Nurses Work?
Psychiatric nurses work in any setting that provides mental health treatment services which, in addition to hospitals and clinics, can include rehabilitation centers, schools, and state or federal agencies. They help individuals with mood disorders such as depression and bipolar disorder, psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia, dementia disorders, eating disorders, and psychoses. Psychiatric nurses, as explained below, perform different duties depending on the work setting.
General and Psychiatric Hospitals
Psychiatric nurses admit or discharge patients, monitor patients being detained for psychiatric hospitalization for safety, perform high-risk assessments, manage medications, and groom and bathe patients.
Psychiatric nurses facilitate social and emotional needs, provide crisis intervention and treatment, and administer cognitive-behavioral therapy.
Assisted Living Facilities
Psychiatric nurses assess patient's mental and physical health, develop treatment plans, consult with psychiatrists and other health professionals, and manage medications.
The Pros and Cons of Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse?
Working long hours as a psychiatric nurse requires patience, endurance, and attentiveness. Psychiatric nurses regularly navigate volatile situations. Patients with a psychosis or dementia can be physically or verbally abusive. Furthermore, the mental health field seems undervalued compared to other nursing sectors. That said, the job offers many rewards. Psychiatric nursing, despite all of its challenges, provides an opportunity to join a team of devoted professionals who strive to better patients' lives for the long term. The job offers many pros and cons as the list below details.
Advantages to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse
Disadvantages to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse
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How To Become a Psychiatric Nurse
The steps below outline the process to becoming a psychiatric nurse. They include education, licensure, and certification.
Graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN).
Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive RN licensure.
Complete the required nursing experience.
Apply for your psychiatric-mental health nursing certification (PMH-BC).
Advance your career with a graduate degree.
How Much Do Psychiatric Nurses Make?
Psychiatric nurses can make higher wages when compared to other nursing specialties. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that RNs working in psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals make an annual mean wage of $77,250, or $37.14 an hour. Data from Payscale show salaries increase with experience. Entry-level psychiatric nurses who have worked less than one year make about $29.10 an hour, whereas those with 5-9 years of experience earn $32.00 an hour.
While the data refers to RNs in general, an expected job growth rate of 9% should create 276,800 jobs from 2020-2030, according to the BLS.
Frequently Asked Questions
How are psychiatric nurses different from psychologists, psychiatrists, or therapists?
Psychiatric nurses work in bedside roles that differ from psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists who can diagnose patients. Psychiatric nurses, on the other hand, assist patients with activities of daily living, administer medication and help to manage any side effects, observe patients to evaluate their progress, and offer guidance, education, and other forms of interpersonal support to patients and their families.
What types of conditions do psychiatric nurses treat?
Psychiatric nurses treat patients with a variety of mental health illnesses. For example, they may work in a senior living facility helping people living with dementia or in a mental health center overseeing patients recovering from eating disorders. In a psychiatric hospital, psychiatric nurses might work with people diagnosed with a mood disorder.
How do psychiatric nurses remain safe while working?
According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), the key to maintaining a safe healthcare environment includes awareness, attending, caring, and connecting. Psychiatric teams use risk management strategies to maintain safety. To do this, psychiatric nurses perform routine safety checks, avoid dangerous closed areas, wear appropriate clothing, maintain awareness, and keep in communication with other staff.
What skills make for a good psychiatric nurse?
A good psychiatric nurse must demonstrate empathy and strong communication and problem-solving skills. Psychiatric nurses should maintain open communication and collaborate with other staff members to carry out interventions plans. The job also requires strong interpersonal skills to build trusting relationships with patients and the emotional stability to handle high-stress environments.
Resources for Psychiatric Nurses
American Psychiatric Nurses AssociationAPNA, founded in 1986, boasts more than 11,000 members who work in psychiatric mental health nursing. Psychiatric nurses and psychiatric nurse practitioners join this professional organization to connect with other members and gain access to the 230 online continuing education ebooks and sessions. Job postings, grants, and scholarship opportunities also offer an additional incentive to join APNA.
International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health NursesSince its inaugural conference in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1999, ISPN has remained committed to promoting mental health care across the globe. Members can attend the annual conference and the annual business meeting. They also receive access to international networking services and an online membership directory. Additionally, ISPN offers its members free quarterly webinars.
Karen Luu is a board-certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Luu holds an MSN from Azusa Pacific University as well as an undergraduate degree in public health science. She currently works at a private practice which specializes in bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, depression, anxiety, and PTSD.
Luu is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners.
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