Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Job Description, Salary, and How to Become One

Are you interested in becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner? Here's everything you need to know, from job description to salary to how to become one. Careers

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Psychiatric nurse practitioners (psychiatric NPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who achieved a master's degree (MSN) or doctoral degree program (DNP) with a specialization in mental health treatment.

With mental health challenges becoming more prevalent, nurses passionate about addressing this area of health may find it both lucrative and fulfilling.

Psychiatric Mental Health NP Job Description

Psychiatric NPs generally oversee patients who exhibit psychiatric disorders (depression, anxiety, substance use, grief, coping deficits, etc.). There are several options for practice locations for psychiatric NPs, and they are often based on the scope and needs of the practice.

They can work in emergency departments, pediatrics, geriatrics, inpatient treatment facilities, behavioral health clinics, correctional facilities, hospitals, family medicine, and more. They work collaboratively with physicians and other healthcare professionals rather than replace the need for them altogether.

A psychiatric mental health NPs skillset emphasizes the optimization of a therapeutic environment and psychotherapy techniques, demonstrating the following qualities:

  • Emotional Intelligence: Acknowledging their patients' feelings and engaging with them appropriately, with a patient-centered focus.
  • Emotional Stability: Psychiatric NPs should be aware of the potential abuse that a patient has experienced; thus, demonstrating empathetic, non-judgemental, and non-reactive attitudes is a cornerstone to engaging with psychiatric patients; psychiatric NPs should also be firm and stick to their boundaries.
  • Nurse-Patient Therapeutic Relationship-Building: Due to the complex nature of tending to psychiatric patients, a psychiatric NP should be mindful of the effort and patience needed to foster trust among their patients, which would dictate the level of success in treatment outcomes.
  • Collaboration: Working well with other interdisciplinary team members can help optimize patient outcomes.
  • Advocacy: Like any effective healthcare professional, when you demonstrate the ability to support your patient, the patient may also learn to seek treatment and make better-informed decisions.

Psychiatric Mental Health NP Responsibilities

Psychiatric NPs work autonomously and collaboratively to perform many duties related to treating psychiatric patients. Due to their extended class of licensure, they are equipped with more capabilities for practice and possess critical thinking skills to make more accountable decisions that other healthcare team members may carry out. Their responsibilities include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • Diagnosing, prescribing, and treating common psychiatric problems, potentially with a psychiatrist
  • Facilitating individual and group psychotherapy
  • Performing health and family histories
  • Providing family psychiatric-mental health education and advocacy
  • Health promotion activities
  • Evaluating symptomatology

Related: 10 Best BSN to MSN Programs in 2023


In psychiatric emergency settings, psychiatric NPs can demonstrate their capabilities by performing the following responsibilities:

  • Medical clearance, which may include lab work, physical assessments, and gathering medical histories
  • Suicide risk screening using various triage tools
  • Psychiatric evaluation and differential diagnosis in areas of suicide risk, altered mental status, and agitation
  • Stabilization using the least restrictive interventions (de-escalation, calming milieu, etc.) and then considering other methods (antipsychotic medications, rapid tranquilizations) if the behaviors cannot be adequately managed

Psychiatric Mental Health NP Career Outlook 

Recent data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) illuminates a significant uptick in demand across various healthcare sectors, with roles such as Nurse Practitioners (NPs), Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists (CRNAs), and Certified Nurse Midwives expected to experience a remarkable 38% growth by 2023, paving the way for approximately 123,600 new job opportunities.

However, the United States faces a glaring shortage of mental health practitioners, leaving more than 150 million individuals residing in areas where access to adequate mental health services is severely lacking. While the BLS doesn't offer specific projections for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs), the expanding population coupled with heightened demand for mental health services underscores a pressing need for professionals in this specialized field. Analysts anticipate a shortfall ranging between 14,280 and 31,109 mental health professionals due to the scarcity of psychiatrists. This burgeoning demand is poised to place additional strain on various mental health professions, including psychologists and social workers, highlighting the need for more PMHNPs to fill this gap. 

Psychiatric Mental Health NP Salary

The salary of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) is subject to numerous factors. Salaries vary from city to city, and the industry in which they work also significantly impacts their earnings. Factors such as previous clinical experience, educational background, and acquired certifications further influence salary.

As per data from the U.S. Board of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average mean salary for Nurse Practitioners (NPs) was $129,480 annually or $62.25 per hour.

The top-paying states for NPs are:

  • California: $158,130
  • New Jersey: $143,250
  • Massachusetts: $138,700
  • Oregon: $136,250
  • Nevada: $136,230

There is potential for psychiatric NPs to make more, but it would depend on jurisdiction, work setting, and experience level.

Unfortunately, the BLS does not furnish specialized data for different NP fields. Nevertheless, as per ZipRecruiter, PMHNPs generally command salaries ranging from $118,500 to $211,500, contingent upon their practice locale. Although a majority of PMHNPs earn around $118,500, the national average salary is $139,486.

Top paying states for PMHNPs:

  • Washington: $158,804
  • Colorado: $157,510
  • Delaware: $147,478
  • Illinois: $146,111
  • New York: $145,222

In addition, to this salary outlook, psychiatric NPs can expect several benefits depending on the work setting and organization for whom they work, including:

  • Health, medical, and life insurance
  • Holiday pay
  • Certification and continuing education reimbursements
  • Parental leave
  • Various types of leaves of absence and paid time off
  • Discounts on various products and services
  • Relocation packages
  • Nursing conference invitations

How to Become a Psychiatric Mental Health NP 

Becoming a PMHNP can be done in just five steps!

Step 1: Basic Nursing Education

Begin your journey to become a PMHNP by obtaining an undergraduate degree in nursing, either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Completion of either program makes you eligible to take the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN) to become a Registered Nurse (RN).

Step 2: Become a Licensed RN

After passing the NCLEX-RN, obtain your RN license to practice. Gaining real-world nursing experience is crucial, and for a PMHNP program, it's often required that this experience specifically includes work in mental health settings. The amount of experience needed can vary but typically ranges from one to two years.

Step 3: Advanced Nursing Education

Your next step is applying to a psychiatric nurse practitioner program. Here are the common pathways:

  • MSN PMHNP Pathway: This involves enrolling in a Master of Science in Nursing program with a focus on psychiatric-mental health. This pathway is available to those with a BSN or, through bridge programs, those with an ADN. Typically, these programs take 2 to 3 years to complete.
  • Post-Master's PMHNP Certificate Pathway: If you already hold an MSN in another nursing specialty, you can opt for a post-master's certificate in psychiatric-mental health to specialize as a PMHNP. This usually takes about one to two years.
  • DNP PMHNP Pathway: For those seeking a doctoral level of education, a Doctor of Nursing Practice with a PMHNP specialization offers an in-depth focus on clinical practice in mental health. The duration depends on your starting point: 3 to 4 years post-BSN or 2 to 3 years post-MSN.

Ensure your chosen program is accredited by a recognized body such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Step 4: PMHNP Certification Exam

Upon completion of your PMHNP program, you'll need to pass a national APRN NP certification exam offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) or the American Association of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board (AANPCB). This exam assesses your knowledge and skills in psychiatric-mental health nursing at the advanced practice level. The certification must be maintained every five years, along with re-certification requirements.

Step 5: Obtain State Licensure as a PMHNP

After passing the certification exam, apply for your APRN licensure as a PMHNP in the state where you intend to practice. Each state has specific requirements for licensure, including the certification and proof of educational qualifications.

Pursuing a career as a PMHNP is an excellent choice for nurses interested in mental health. It offers the opportunity to significantly impact the well-being of patients dealing with psychiatric disorders and contributes to a growing field in healthcare. With dedication and the right educational pathway, you can achieve a rewarding career as a PMHNP.

Prepared to kickstart your career as a PMHNP? Explore the following articles on the Best, Fastest & Most Affordable PMHNP Programs to get started!

Columnist

Kyle Oliver has 6 years experience as a BSN, RN.

4 Articles   9 Posts

L12M

1 Post

Specializes in Hospice.

Hi,

Am seeking info rt MSN to NP in Mental Health. I also have a Ph.D in Education. Is there a fast teack for someone like me? 

Thank you!

Edited by L12M
Typo

Editorial Team / Admin

Erin Lee, BSN, RN

23 Articles | 196 Posts

Specializes in Critical Care, Procedural, Care Coordination, LNC. Has 12 years experience.
L12M said:

Hi,

Am seeking info rt MSN to NP in Mental Health. I also have a Ph.D in Education. Is there a fast teack for someone like me? 

Thank you!

Yes, with your advanced nursing degree, there is absolutely a fast-track path for you! 

I would check out the following articles to find the program that is perfect for you. While the fastest and most affordable aren't geared for post-graduate certificates only, there are post-graduate certificate programs included, as these are often the fastest and most affordable pathways to becoming a PMHNP. 

Fastest PMHNP Programs
Most Affordable PMHNP Programs
Best Online Post Master's NP Certifications

Best of luck on your journey!