Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Career Overview
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Nurse Practitioner Psychiatrist
What is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?
Psychiatric NPs work primarily in hospitals, psychiatric facilities, outpatient clinics, substance abuse programs, and private psychiatric or mental health practices where they diagnose conditions and prescribe treatment. Behavioral telehealth is a growing area as well, offering patients accessible virtual mental healthcare no matter where they live. Some psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) specialize in certain patient populations as well, such as pediatrics or military/veterans.
Salaries for psychiatric NPs are considerably above the U.S. average. Like other practitioners, PMHNPs have high levels of professional autonomy.
What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?
Psychiatric NPs care for patients with psychiatric/mental health conditions. Many supervise registered nurses (RNs) or nursing assistants. Depending on the state where they practice, PMHNPs may need to work under the supervision of or in collaboration with a physician; however, the supervision requirements are generally light. These are among PMHNPs' key responsibilities:
- Ordering appropriate diagnostics, including bloodwork to monitor psychotropic medication levels
- Diagnosing conditions
- Prescribing treatments, including medication
- Educating patients and their families
- Consulting physicians as appropriate
- Dedication to continual professional education
- Understanding of medicine and the healthcare field
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Where Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Work?
Psychiatric NPs work in a variety of settings usually, but not always, dedicated to mental health. Some of the more common healthcare settings include hospital psychiatry/mental health departments, mental health centers, private psychiatric practices, and clinics. They may also work in correctional systems, social services settings (such as schools), and domestic violence shelters.
Hospital Psychiatry and Mental Health Departments
Psychiatric NP jobs in hospitals include delivering care to patients directly, supervising nursing assistants or RNs, and collaborating with physicians on care planning and delivery.
Private Psychiatric Practices
Depending on the state, psychiatric NPs may manage their own practices or work with physicians. Their responsibilities include seeing and diagnosing patients, overseeing their care, and prescribing medications.
Social Services Settings
In schools, particularly colleges and universities, PMHNPs provide counseling and other psychiatric services to students, referring them to psychiatrists as needed. In some states, PMHNPs can work autonomously. In shelters, psychiatric NPs work with people who have experienced domestic violence and help them recover from psychological trauma.
Why Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?
Psychiatric NP salaries are considerably above the national average salary. These professionals have high levels of professional autonomy. However, working with patients with psychiatric conditions can be emotionally demanding.
Advantages to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Increasing demand for psychiatric NPs to critically assess patients who are a danger to self, danger to others, or gravely disabled
Above average salaries
Trusted and respected
Emotional rewards of helping those who need care
Disadvantages to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Mentally and emotionally taxing work
Potentially high-risk work settings
Extensive administrative and paperwork demands
How To Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
For a broader overview, see How To Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.
Graduate with a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) or associate degree in nursing (ADN).
Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive RN licensure.
Complete the required nursing experience.
Attend an accredited MSN or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program.
Graduate with your MSN-PMHNP degree or DNP.
Apply for your PMHNP board certification.
How Much Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Make?
Psychiatric NP salaries are considerably higher than the U.S. average median annual salary of $39,810. As of 2019, the median annual base salary was $120,000 and the total median annual compensation was $131,500. Psychiatric NP salaries for family practice were slightly lower at a median of $125,000 total annual compensation, and psychiatric NPs specializing in adult care earned a median $135,000 in total annual compensation — making this the highest paid specialty among NPs.
The number of NP jobs in the U.S. is growing dramatically with approximately 24,000 new jobs projected each year between 2019 and 2029. Though this figure includes all NP jobs, not just PMHNPs, it is indicative of strong growth ahead.
Frequently Asked Questions
What types of conditions do psychiatric nurse practitioners treat?
Psychiatric NPs treat both chronic and acute mental health conditions as well as neurodevelopmental disorders. Some of the most common conditions they treat include anxiety disorders (such as phobias), mood disorders (such as depression), personality disorders (such as narcissism), psychotic disorders (such as schizophrenia), substance use disorders, trauma/stressor related disorders, and eating disorders.
What is accreditation and why is it important?
The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing helps to ensure the quality and integrity of baccalaureate, graduate, and residency programs in nursing. The accreditation process reviews the curriculum, faculty qualifications, policies, and other academic and administrative facets of a program to determine whether it provides the education and training graduates need to perform psychiatric NP jobs safely and effectively.
What is the curriculum for psychiatric nurse practitioner programs?
The psychiatric NP curriculum includes courses in nursing, psychological and psychiatric assessment, advanced physiology and pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, cognitive science, counseling, and psychopharmacology. It also includes fieldwork in settings such as mental health centers and clinics, hospitals, private practices, residential programs, and emergency psychiatric services.
What kinds of questions are on the PMHNP certification exam?
Questions on the PMHNP certification exam cover the content included in accredited programs' curricula, including practice skills for working with patients and their families, diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions, the scientific and biological underpinnings of mental health, psychotherapy/counseling, and legal/ethical principles and considerations.
Resources for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners
American Psychiatric Nurses AssociationThe APNA is open to RNs as well as psychiatric NPs. Services include continuing professional education, publications, online resource collections, and awards and scholarships. Approximately 40% of its 13,500 members are psychiatric RNs, and the remaining 60% are PMHNPs.
International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health NursesISPN's mission is “to support advanced-practice psychiatric-mental health nurses in promoting mental health care, literacy, and policy worldwide.” The society performs research on best practices, publishes members' research, advocates for psychiatric advanced practice RNs and psychiatric NPs, holds conferences, and provides networking opportunities including mentorships. While it focuses on PMHNPs, membership is open to all nurses, students, and retirees.
The Society of Psychiatric Advanced Practice NursesThis society aims “to foster excellence in psychiatric advanced practice nursing.” Member services include continuing education, networking, mentoring and peer supervision, scholarships and awards, meetings, and advocacy. The society also works to educate the public on the value of psychiatric NPs' work. Full membership is open to PMHNPs. There is a student/associate membership option for students and recent graduates who are awaiting their certification examination results.
Karen Luu, MSN, PMHNP-BC
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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