Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Career Overview

NurseJournal Staff
Updated September 21, 2023
    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.
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    Nurse Practitioner Psychiatrist

    how long to become

    job outlook

    job outlook45% growth from 2019-2029Multiple Nurse Practitioner Roles

    average earning potential

    average earning potential$120,000SOURCE: 2019 AANP National Nurse Practitioner Sample Survey

    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?

    MSN or DNP required
    certification optional

    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:

    Primary 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

    Skills Learned

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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

    • check-circleIncreasing demand for psychiatric NPs to critically assess patients who are a danger to self, danger to others, or gravely disabled
    • check-circleAbove average salaries
    • check-circleTrusted and respected
    • check-circleEmotional rewards of helping those who need care

    Disadvantages to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

    • x-circleMentally and emotionally taxing work
    • x-circlePotentially high-risk work settings
    • x-circleExtensive 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).

    An associate degree takes two years and a bachelor’s degree takes four years to earn. However, to become a psychiatric NP, students must have a BSN or earn the equivalent through a bridge program as part of their master of science in nursing (MSN) program.

    Pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive RN licensure.

    The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is the national exam to determine that graduates have the required knowledge to practice nursing. States have additional requirements for RN licensing, such as a criminal background check.

    Complete the required nursing experience.

    Many master’s programs require at least two years of full-time experience as an RN. All accredited nurse practitioner programs require an unencumbered RN license.

    Attend an accredited MSN or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) program.

    The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education accredits nurse practitioner programs. Students who aspire to a leadership role or wish to teach may want to consider a DNP program. NPs with a DNP are able to still practice, but a doctorate can open more opportunities for leadership or academic roles.

    Graduate with your MSN-PMHNP degree or DNP.

    The MSN program typically takes two years of full-time study and includes fieldwork or clinical rotations in a variety of settings. Online programs generally allow for remote students to do their fieldwork or clinicals in their own communities, but online programs generally require students to coordinate their own clinical sites and preceptors.

    Apply for your PMHNP board certification.

    The American Nurses Credentialing Center designs and administers the credentialing exam. Applicants must submit transcripts and documents verifying their education; they may apply with unofficial transcripts but must submit official transcripts before receiving their PMHNP 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 Association

      The 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 Nurses

      ISPNs 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 Nurses

      This 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.

    Related Pages

    Reviewed by:

    Portrait of Karen Luu, MSN, PMHNP-BC

    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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