Years of experience necessary/recommended before becoming CNS in psychiatric nursing?

  1. Hi,

    I am a new grad and have a strong interest in eventually becoming a psychiatric clinical nurse specialist because I like the idea of having psychotherapy sessions, most likely in pediatrics. I am planning on working a few years on a pediatric medical-surgical unit to get a background because I've heard it is difficult to find work if you have no floor experience even if you become a CNS. Anyway, I realized that only doing a few years of med-surg won't give me the experience I could get from an actual pediatric psychiatric unit. So would you recommend I work on such a unit for a few more years (after med-surg) before I jump into a CNS program or would it be okay to go from a med-surg background and right into a CNS program? Would such a program even accept me if I haven't had any psychiatric nursing experience except for school clinicals?

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    About jo716

    Joined: Jul '07; Posts: 28; Likes: 3


  3. by   Whispera
    What I"ve seen is that psych CNSs work out of the psych hospital. Psych hospitals tend to hire social workers for therapy rather than CNSs. CNSs get paid alot more. You could work outpatient though (I did) and maybe set up your own practice.

    I think you should work in psych before you start your CNS, at least a few years. Schools might accept you without experience, but it will be much more difficult for you to do the work if you haven't any experience. I went to grad school with someone who was a peds nurse who got her CNS in psych. She said it was incredibly difficult to learn the whole topic while the others of us, with experience, already had a basis to build on.
  4. by   elkpark
    I am a child psych CNS who went to grad school with no experience in peds, but many years of experience in adult and child/adolescent psych. I can't imagine going through a psych CNS program (adult or child) without significant psych experience. I attended a grad program that included "direct-entry" non-nurse students, but even the direct-entry students in my group had significant psych experience (undergrad psychology degrees, years of experience working as a tech in inpatient settings).

    I second what Whispera said -- it is getting extremely difficult to find inpatient psych CNS jobs. So many states now offer Rx authority to psych CNSs, and employers want you to have Rx authority and they want to use you to write Rxs and do med management. It's v. hard to find a position as a psychotherapist, outside of starting your own practice, because there are so many other disciplines out there doing psychotherapy for a lot less money. Most employers would rather hire someone with minimal education and experience who will work for peanuts.
  5. by   Gentleman_nurse
    I find this post very informative. Becoming a psych NP is my goal too. I know this has been debated back and forth. I agree that working as a psych nurse before going to grad school is needed. What about med/surg experience?
  6. by   Whispera
    I started out in psych and never intended to work in any other field, but the psych unit in which I worked was fact psych was eliminated totally from my hospital. So, I worked med/surg for awhile. I got a great orientation and felt comfortable being able to do the work (even though it wasn't my cup of tea and I left to go to another psych facility).

    Sometimes psych treatment places are med/surg/psych, so med/surg skills come in very handy. Psych patients even in a non-med/surg/psych facility often have medical needs that make med/surg skills valuable. I didn't have those skills other than what I learned in nursing school, when I was first working, so there were times I had to learn quickly, but it was definitely do-able.

    As for becoming a psych will be doing lots of physical assessments at work, so it would definitely be a good thing to have experience in that sort of thing. You'll get lots of such things in your NP schooling though. LOTS!
    Experience in med/surg will make things easier for you though.
  7. by   jo716
    Thanks for all the great info everyone!!!
  8. by   UVA Grad Nursing
    My program offers both CNS and PMHNP preparation. We like to see 1 year experience in PMH nursing before starting classes.

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