How to become a psych nurse

  1. 0
    Hi there!

    I was recently accepted into an ADN program (woot woot!), and will begin in January. I received my BA in psychology and absolutely love the field. I felt a stronger pull towards health care, which is what eventually lead me to nursing. Nonetheless, my passion in mental health continues strong, and my goal is to become a psych nurse. What is the process nowadays to becoming a psych nurse only holding an RN (No masters/NP), and with little experience (as I will certainly have as a new grad)? Is it even possible to work in a psych unit without a masters degree? I "job search" a lot online, just to see what is currently out there, and the kind of qualifications most hospitals are seeking. It seems to be that many places will only consider if you have 1+ years of experience. I find that difficult to have as a new grad. How can it be done? I've researched RN residency programs, etc., so is that usually the only way to make the transition? Yes, nurses are certainly in high demand, but I feel that only EXPERIENCED nurses are what currently are being sought after. So back to my original question, if my goal is to become a psych nurse (without a masters degree -- if that is even possible), how can I go about it? And as a new nursing student (and someone who likes to get ahead), what can I start doing -now- to make myself a stronger candidate?

    Thanks to everyone in advance for their advice and support! xo
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  3. 7 Comments so far...

  4. 0
    I just graduated with ADN, have BS in another field, and just started in in-patient psych. Depending on what's in your area, only thing you may need is to finish BSN 1st, but if like me, maybe not.
  5. 0
    Slow down newbie- quit trying to run before you can crawl. The reason most places want at least 1 year exp. is because psych nursing requires an additional set of nursing skills which you will not have as a new grad.
    Psych nursing requires good basic medical skills- you need to know how draw blood, give IM injections, take a manual bp, etc.- all while under intense pressure and often times in dangerous, volatile situations.You need to work med-surg for at least a year so that you have solid basic nursing skills.
    Also, med-surg is a great place to learn the difference between normal and abnormal assessments. If you work in psych, you need to know how to assess a pt for medical and psych issues. Psych pts may have medical issues that must be ruled out as a primary cause for their mental disturbance before attempting any type of psych intervention. A medical problem may be causing a psych problem, if you correct the medical problem then the psych problem may disappear.
    With the current downsizing of mental health care, psych is everywhere and you will experience it in any area where you work.
  6. 2
    1. Graduate nursing school.

    1b. While in nursing school, see if you can get a job as a mental health tech or a CNA/tech on a psych unit. That will give you related experience and a chance to network. Plus you'll get to see what psych nursing is like.

    2. Pass the NCLEX.

    3. Look for psych jobs. There are new grad residencies in psych--they're not as common as the others but they do exist. Some facilities take a chance on new grads in pysch, but be warned that there is a steep learning curve. This is where getting prior experience as a tech can be an asset.

    4. While it definitely can't hurt, working med-surg first is NOT required for a successful psych career. You are going to learn the basics of nursing such as organization, delegation, time management, med administration, etc. no matter where you work your first year. You can keep up on the medical side through CEUs and education. Most importantly, since psych patients do not check their medical issues at the door when they're admitted, you'll be working with both psych and medical issues from day 1, so you'll learn a lot from there. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that you'll never use your medical nursing assessment skills in psych--you'll use them more than you think.

    Of course, land on a psych-medical unit (a cross between a med-surg floor and a psych unit: patients are more medically acute than you'd find on a psych unit, and more psychiatrically acute than you'd find on a medical unit) and you score the best of both worlds.

    Hope this helps.
    nursing_n00b and Hygiene Queen like this.
  7. 2
    I have an ASN in Nursing. Found a 15 week psych internship program straight out of passing the NCLEX in 2006. I have been a psych nurse ever since. I have never drawn blood or set up an IV. I work at an inpatient psych hospital, and while we do have medically acute patients, none of them need that level of care.

    Good luck! I hope you follow your passion and find a home for your skills and grow.
    CMA2013 and Meriwhen like this.
  8. 0
    I don't know how it works in the ADN program, but in the BSN program we spend almost 300 hours during our final semester of school doing what's basically the same as an internship, except it's for school, so we don't get paid.

    We got to choose 3 areas we were interested in to spend the final semester. I chose psych as my first choice. Since specialties are harder to get into they used test scores from some practice exams we took to decide who would get to go where. If you didn't score so well on the test then you probably got sent to med surg. I got lucky and got placed in a psych facility just like I wanted. I got really lucky by having a preceptor who let me do pretty much everything!

    I made up a really good resume just for psych positions. It mentions all the things I did during my 300 hour psych rotation. I assessed patients, admitted pts, gave and received report, participated in treatment team where I collaborated with physicians, therapists, and other healthcare professionals. I gained knowledge of psychotropic medication administration blah blah blah. I don't have 1 year of experience, but since the semester is from august to december....it at least looks like I have a good half a year experience (i got my 300 hours in sooner)...just unpaid experience! That makes a big difference when you're in a stack with 50 other new grads who have ZERO!

    I only started applying to jobs last week and I've already had one interview (with a tentative offer since I haven't graduated yet) and I got a voicemail that I need to return a call to tomorrow. I guess I'm lucky after reading all the new grads who are having trouble finding jobs. I haven't put in tons of applications...maybe a dozen. Anyway, the point is, see if you can get into psych for whatever kind of clinical experience you do for your degree! And like someone else said.....apply for jobs as a tech/CNA/whatever so you can be there already!
  9. 1
    Just apply for psych positions. I have no experience in nursing and I just landed my first job on a psych floor. You do not need to do med-surg first.
    Meriwhen likes this.
  10. 1
    I was hired directly out of nursing school to an inpatient psych unit.
    CMA2013 likes this.


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