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.


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

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 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 NP's 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 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 NP Salary

Most sources report Psychiatric NPs have an expected annual salary of at least $100,000. The U.S. Board of Labor Statistics (BLS) doesn't specify precisely for psychiatric but states that the median annual wage for NPs is $123,780.

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

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

  • 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 NP

The successful candidate must possess a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) degree and be a registered nurse (RN) to be eligible for a psychiatric NP Program. Most psychiatric NP programs are Master's degrees, focusing on general advanced practice courses, predominantly in psychiatric/mental health. Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) also exists for those who wish to further their education.

Most programs require the candidates to have some clinical experience (usually a minimum of 2 years), especially in mental health fields, for enrollment consideration. In addition, some university programs offer the ability to work concurrently during the program. Generally, the duration of psychiatric NP programs is 2 to 3 years following their BScN (3 to 4 years if the candidate wishes to pursue their DNP).

Related: 10 Best DNP Programs in 2023

Along with the educational background, candidates can also anticipate completing around 500 supervised clinical hours and expect to enroll in advanced-level courses in pathophysiology, health assessment, and pharmacology. Further, other education topics would include, but are not limited to, health promotion, differential diagnosis, disease management, and psychotherapy.

Clinical training in at least two psychotherapeutic treatment modalities would also be required to be certified as a psychiatric NP. Those wishing to pursue accreditation to be certified as a psychiatric NP should consult their licensing body for specialty certification for jurisdiction-specific requirements.

In the U.S., except for five states, a national certification exam issued by the American Nurses Credentialing Centre (ANCC) must be written and passed to practice as a psychiatric NP. The certification must be maintained every five years, along with re-certification requirements.

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