What is a psych ward like?

Specialties Psychiatric


Hi there,

My name is Stephanie. I am interested in becoming a nurse, but am currently finishing up my BA in English.

I have grow up around people with mental illnesses, and worked in a transitional community for the mentally ill this summer. I was an "overnight staff", and dispensed meds, talked with people if they were hearing voices or needed to just talk, played games with people, went for walks, and basically interacted with people in their home, and was available all night. After the summer, I moved back out to Boston to continue going to school. I am continuing work with the "graduate" program of the place I worked at this summer. It has been great!! The program is small (10 people) and I work from friday evening until sunday afternoon, all weekend. I sleep in the house, and do the same sort of work that I did this summer. I absolutly love it, and I am very intrigued by the field of psychiatric nursing.

So, here is are my questions: Would my experience as a psych nurse be anything like the work I just described to you? What are different settings (besides a hospital) that a psych nurse can work in? With what kinds of populations, besides the mentally ill, does a psych nurse work? What is it like working on a locked psych floor, or a open floor?

I am very curious about it all, so please share your experiences with me.


sanakruz, ADN

735 Posts

You can find answers to many of your questions by surfing through the threads in this forum.

The transitional housing you worked in sounds great! The current treatment modality for people with schizophrenia is a focus on recovery much like 12 steps for addiction- and on- going process.

Are you sure you want to be a nurse? You could be a psychiatric social worker, work as a casemanager, then continue your education to be therapist.

Nurses are always needed on inpt acute psych wards. It can be rewarding, but is also grueling, potentially dangerous, and deeply frustrating to watch patients cycle through the system repeatedly with out much improvment. managed care is very harsh on the mentally ill. There is no parity with physical based health care, and more anbd more people every year are denied the care they need.(especially here in CA. Now that we have the GOVENATOR its going to get worse and I wiil probally be out of a job in the next 5 years....grist for another thread tho)

Thank you for the insights. I am interested in becoming a nurse because the medical aspect intrigues me. Although the work I am doing with the mentally ill is much along the lines of social work, I do not think I could do it full time -- the emotional involvment required of social workers seems like it might completly drain my resources. I think I need a career where I am caring for people, supporting them in their struggles, but not entirely guiding them through their transitions. I need to be able to have some distance.

On another note:

I talked a lot with the people I worked with, and their experiences as patients in a psych ward. Most people said it was the worst experience of their lives because of the turmoil and pain they were experiencing. But when I asked them if it was because of the people staffing the wards, most of them said something like: "Absolutly not. The nurses on my floor did as much as they could to help me survive. I owe a lot to them".

So, I just wanted to share that message with all the nurses here working on psych wards. People certainly do not wish to linger in the psych ward, but I saw them being so thankful for the compassion they recieved there.


1,041 Posts

Certainly there are some similarities to what you described with what a nurse might do. Psych nursing is a wonderful, fulfilling experience. In nursing school you are taught as a student nurse that you are a holistic caregiver. In practice, this isn't always the case in some medical settings. You barely have time to pass out meds to 7, 8, 9 patients, much less talk to them about their troubles, issues, problems, concerns. In the setting I am in (and the circumstances) I find myself able to get to take time in conversing with my patients as well as treating them on a medical level--since my ward does take care of chronically ill (and occassionally acutely ill) patients as well in terms of physical health.

Yes there are frustrations with those who know the system and abuse it to the very ends (often times axis II patients), and those who are chronic psychiatric patients. Conversely there are many times a patient comes in catatonic (or some other acute stage of their psych disorder) and leaves smiling, talking, walking and with a renewed outlook. I'm fortunate to be working in a setting where I do really see miracles happen on a somewhat consistent basis.

In my opinion, the only problem with a career in psych nursing (vs most other fields of nursing) is that there is less of a demand in general. I could walk into any hospital and have a job as a medical nurse (which would land me on a psych ward as a patient in a short amount of time). The same can't be said for a psych nurse. In addition, you cannot eliminate medical caregivers, but who knows what the future holds for the psycholigically ill patients of the world.

Bottom line...if you enjoy(ed) the 2 jobs you described, I could only encourage you to venture into psych nursing. I could go on about the virtues of this profession (as it pertains to me) but I've gone on long enough...it's now bedtime.

Good luck with whatever career avenue you take.


23 Posts

psychiatry can be a very rewarding field. it has it's ups and downs but best all you really feel needed. the problems with

financing for medical problems makes staffing--in all areas of nursing now--a major issue. keeping floors staffed enough to be safe is so important. so we need you honey. stick with it and

come join us in our fight to provide good, competent, safe nursing care to individuals at the most vulnerable times of their lives--lauren

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