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Psychiatric Nurse Certification: How to Earn It and Why You Need It

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If you’re interested in psychiatric nursing or already work in the field, you’ve probably considered earning your psychiatric nurse certification. Perhaps you already have it, and you’re looking to bolster your psychiatric nursing training and hours of clinical practice to become even better at your job. 

This certification is all about becoming a better, more well-rounded RN or certified mental health nurse (because knowledge is power!). Many nursing roles don’t require this certification, but that doesn’t lessen its value.

Whether you’re a certified psychiatric nurse or simply looking to further your certifications in behavioral health and scope of practice, read on for the ins and outs of psychiatric nursing. 


What is a psychiatric nurse certification? 

Certification in psychiatric nursing represents an advanced skill set for a registered nurse. When you become more skilled at your trade, you can offer more to your patients. You’ll even have access to more specialized and (often) higher-paying roles. 

You may be surprised to learn that certain psychiatry positions don’t require this certification, but it will certainly help you land them, especially when they’re competitive. 

Who needs a psychiatric nurse certification?

Again, some roles that you might expect would require this certification don’t, so we recommend you research any requirements on a job-by-job basis. However, having accreditation tells potential employers you’re knowledgeable and probably a better candidate. 

Also, let’s make an important distinction. Not all nurses are eligible for this certification, including licensed practical nurses (LPNs) and licensed vocational nurses (LVNs), though they can specialize in psychiatry. Psychiatric nurse certification is only open to RNs and nurses who hold more advanced titles, like APRNs. 

What personal qualities do psychiatric nurses need?

While psychiatric mental health nurses (PMHNs) specialize in treating mental health and behavioral disorders in individuals and families, many other nursing specializations also work with mental illnesses. The musts for anyone who works in mental health care are compassion, empathy, discernment and a deep sense of professionalism. Psychiatric healthcare professionals must understand that patient confidentiality is second to none. 


What are some common conditions that psychiatric nurses treat?

“Mental health conditions” is an umbrella term. So let’s take a deeper look at some of the conditions that psychiatric nurses may treat in their patients.

  • Substance abuse and addiction
  • Mood disorders like bipolar disorder and depression
  • Stress and anxiety
  • Eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia
  • Psychosis
  • Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease 

What are some tasks that psychiatric nurses perform?

You’re now clear on what kind of conditions psychiatric nurses treat, so let’s delve into the “how.” Here are some of the primary tasks nurses in this field perform.

  • Performing mental health assessments and evaluations 
  • Helping patients cope with or work to improve their condition 
  • Working with patients on their general health and wellbeing 
  • Administering and monitoring the use of psychotropic medications
  • Helping with self-care or hygiene activities 
  • Providing basic education, counseling, or guidance (not to mention support)
  • Mitigating and managing crises
  • Getting patients moving through recreational activities 
  • Mediating group therapy sessions 
  • Helping the people in a patient’s support network, like family members and friends, understand mental health conditions and treatments 

How to earn (and keep) your psychiatric nurse certification

Figuring out educational requirements isn’t always the easiest route to navigate, so here’s a handy roadmap for how to become a certified psychiatric nurse:

Basic steps

  1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) at an accredited nursing school. You can also get a higher nursing degree like a Master of Science or Doctorate. 
  2. Become certified as a registered nurse by passing the NCLEX. 
  3. Sit for the competency-based psychiatric-mental health exam given by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
  4. Receive your Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse-Board Certified (PMH-BC) credential.
  5. Renew your certification every five years.

Taking the test 

There are a few important nuances to getting this certification (and keeping it). Here are some pointers: 

  1. Research pricing and make sure you’re eligible to sit for the exam.
  2. Apply to take the test (this is the most important part because now you’re officially committed!).
  3. Find your closest testing center or determine whether you can take the exam at home. 

Eligibility requirements 

Depending on the type of nursing you do, the eligibility requirements for getting this certification may vary, but here are some basic must-haves:  

  • Hold an active RN license. 
  • Have two years of experience as a full-time registered nurse.
  • Have 2,000 hours of clinical experience in mental health nursing (within the last three years.)
  • Complete 30 hours of continuing nursing education in a mental health program (within the last three years).

Where can I get the psychiatric nurse certification? 

There are two ways you may sit for this exam:

  1. In-person at a Prometric testing center.  
  2. Via a proctored exam at home (someone will monitor you virtually as you take the test).

Whichever route you choose, you’ll take the exam on a computer. 

What is the psychiatric nurse certification exam like? 

It’s always good to know what you’re getting into beforehand (again, knowledge is power!), so here’s a brief rundown of the four sections of the exam and what they will evaluate:

  1. Assessment and diagnosis: this part of the test covers developmental stages, psychiatric disorders, and evaluation techniques.
  2. Planning: this section of the exam covers treatment plans, patient care, and cultural awareness.
  3. Implementation: this part of the test looks at treatment, therapy, communication, and medication.
  4. Evaluation: this part of the exam addresses intervention, process improvement, and outcomes.

As you study for your psychiatric nursing certification—or any other specialty—remember, we’ll be right by your side with all the moral support and student discounts on our comfortable, luxe scrubs to have you looking and feeling your best.

Best of luck in your studies and career, always!

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