The human mind is intriguing. It allows you to read the very words you’re currently reading, show empathy toward your patients and memorize all those pharmaceutical terms from your nursing textbooks. If your fascination with the brain goes beyond admiration and you want to help people living with mental health conditions, consider a career as a behavioral nurse.
There are different types of behavioral health nurses. Registered nurses (RNs) interested in psychology can start working in the specialty after getting certified as a psych RN. From there, mental health nurses can advance their careers by becoming nurse practitioners (NPs). As an NP, professionals take over some of the tasks physicians usually perform. Thanks to their specialized education, they have advanced responsibilities.
We encourage all medical workers to shoot for the stars and continue pushing their careers forward. Ready to learn what it takes to become an advanced registered nurse practitioner (ARNP) in psychiatry like a psychiatric mental health NP? A stimulating and challenging career awaits!
What is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner?
Let’s start at the beginning. An NP is an advanced practice nurse who takes on high-level clinical tasks after receiving a master’s education.
There are all sorts of NPs, from adult-gerontology nurse practitioners to ones with a pediatric focus. A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) treats patients with psychological conditions.
What does a psychiatric mental health NP do?
Wondering what advanced nursing care looks like in practice? PMHNPs treat patients experiencing:
- Bipolar disorder
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Substance use disorders/addiction
- Panic disorders
In their daily work, PMHNPs:
- Screen patients for psychological illnesses
- Perform health assessments
- Prescribe and treat mental illnesses
- Evaluate mental health treatments
- Provide psychotherapy or counsel clients
- Care for and counsel clients with commonly identified chronic psychiatric conditions
- Monitor patients’ general health, and make recommendations for specialists when needed
- Educate patients and their families
- Promote wellness
- Advocate for patients
- Administer medication via a psychopharmacology plan decided by a physician
How to become a PMHNP
If this sounds like exciting work, it’s time to hit the books and start your nursing education. Here’s the route to becoming a PMHNP:
Earn an undergraduate nursing degree
All RNs must hold a college-level degree. The two standard nursing programs are an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Anyone pursuing education to become an NP should get a bachelor’s degree, as a master’s program will require it for entry.
Get licensed as a registered nurse
After you complete your coursework, you’re ready to sit for (and ace!) the National Council Licensure Examination Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN). Once you do, you can apply for licensure from your state.
Get some clinical experience
Apply for an entry-level role in a psychology-related specialty area. Most master’s programs require at least two years of experience, and these hands-on clinical hours in a mental health care role will also help you get your bearings.
Get your master’s degree
Earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) at a school that offers a PMHNP program.
Earn your certification
You’re not entirely done with your educational journey yet. You’ll need to get your PMHNP-BC. What is a PMHNP-BC (aside from a very complex acronym)? Glad you asked. It’s the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (Across the Lifespan) Certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The full name of the credential isn’t any less complex!
How to know if PMH nursing is the right specialty for you
Before you embark on your six years of schooling, you’ll want to ensure this specialty is right for you. But, if you’re 0.001% unsure, there are more than 100 others in the field of nursing to choose from.
PMHNPs are passionate about helping people with mental health needs, want to break down stigmas around psychiatric care, and wish to expand the reach of psychological services so that an increasing number of patients have access to them.
PMHNPs have workplace potential
If you’re feeling enthusiastic and passionate about this specialty area, that’s already a perk. But PMHNPs also enjoy the benefit of getting to work in a wide variety of workplaces. Here are a few:
- Private practices
- In-patient psychiatric facilities
- Public health agencies
- Substance abuse facilities
- Student health centers
Psychiatric nurse practitioner career outlook
Another perk of this career is the salary. Those extra years of schooling to pursue an advanced degree will pay off. While a psychiatric nurse’s salary is around $70,000 annually, a psychiatric nurse practitioner earns well in the six-figure range. Many sources cite the average annual salary of full-time PMHNPs is anywhere from $113,000 to more than $150,000.
The job outlook is also positive. While registered nursing career opportunities are growing at a rate of 9%, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 40% growth rate for NP roles. So you and your advanced nursing colleagues should enjoy job stability for years to come.
A note on mental health and nurses
Speaking of mental health, it’s not only patients who need support and care but also medical professionals.
Nurses work long hours, often in stressful, fast-paced settings. They provide emotional and physical support to their patients, which takes a toll on their mind and body. For that reason, many nurses and other healthcare professionals experience burnout, compassion fatigue, and depression.
It’s one thing to run yourself a hot bath when you get home (which will help combat some of the physical stressors of the job), but all medical professionals should consider getting professional help from a therapist and joining a support group. Let others take care of you as much as possible so you have the physical and mental energy to continue caring for others.
The PMHNP role is a rewarding career choice. Your patients are always thanking you for your constant support and understanding attitude. You might feel overwhelmed at the end of the day after an enduring shift, but the smile on your patients’ faces makes it all worthwhile.
We’re proud of you. You’re about to embark on a challenging and rewarding career path. As you help others, let us help you with premium performance scrubs that’ll make your day a bit more comfortable.