For nurses interested in the interrelatedness of mental and physical health, attending a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) program can impart the fundamentals of this high-growth subfield of healthcare. The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) reports that these professionals diagnose disease holistically; develop multi-pronged treatment plans paying thought to psychological considerations; prescribe and monitor psychiatric medications; and educate patients and their families about conditions. PMHNPs work with both individuals and families, lending their knowledge to policy development and research.
The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing: Scope and Standards of Practice guide expounds the reasons for pursuing an advanced degree for this career. This multidisciplinary NP specialty involves cross-cutting knowledge of mental health conditions, psychopharmacology, and counseling. By pursuing a master of science in nursing (MSN) or a doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, PMHNPs can become prepared for a variety of roles, and may work across a wealth of environments such as public policy organizations, mental health hospitals, community health clinics, and other entities which focus on helping underserved populations.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP June 2016), there are more than 248,000 licensed NPs in the US and 97.8 percent hold graduate degrees. Among those, 43.8 percent work as PMHNPs. As of April 2018, a master of science in nursing (MSN) is the typical baseline education to become certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), the predominant credentialing organization for PMHNPs.
It’s important to note that a growing number of prospective PMH practitioners are choosing to pursue a DNP, the terminal degree in nursing. The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) points out several reasons for the widening adoption of the DNP, including serving the nation’s complex healthcare needs; addressing the shortage of qualified nurses; meeting the national expectations of delivering quality healthcare; and keeping abreast of continually evolving medical technologies and methodologies.
Luckily for prospective PMHNPs, there’s an abundance of convenient, online PMHNP schools across the country at the MSN, post-master’s certificate, and DNP levels. Read on to discover what to expect from a distance-based PMHNP program—including the admissions requirements, typical coursework, and a detailed overview of accredited online PMHNP programs.
In late 2017 and early 2018, NursePractitionerSchools.com updated its database of more than 500 online nurse practitioner programs across the U.S. at the MSN, DNP, and post-master’s certificate level. Notably, many schools offered multiple pathways for students pursuing an online NP education. To be categorized as an "online program," schools must require fewer than 10 campus visits over the course of their degree program. In terms of affordability, programs are ranked by the total (not annual) cost of tuition for out-of-state students attending part-time (in cases where that option existed) according to the degree plan set forth on the university's website. In most cases, additional fees apply.
Every effort was made to ensure the accuracy of this data, but as with any university, the tuition and availability of the PMHNP programs listed are likely to change over time. A majority of the most affordable PMHNP programs are listed at the MSN level, but many of the schools also offer an affordable DNP option at a similar cost-per-credit. For those students looking for the most affordable option possible, post-master's certificates will generally come at the lowest cost; this is because qualifying students already have finished their MSN core coursework and therefore have to complete fewer credits overall. This list focuses on degree-awarding programs. Aspiring PMHNPs with questions not answered in this analysis are encouraged to contact program coordinators directly. To add programs or correct existing information, please contact us.
To gain entry into an online PMHNP program, applicants typically have at least a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), although there are exceptions. For example, Frontier Nursing University (FNU) provides an “ADN Bridge” program (i.e., RN-to-DNP) and will be adding the PMHNP specialty to that pathway in 2018.
Typical admissions requirements to online PMHNP programs include:
Furthermore, for working PMHNPs interested in pursuing an online DNP, the application may call for national certification in the PMHNP subfield through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) as well.
Coursework in online PMHNP programs differs by a student’s academic point of entry and degree desired. For example, post-BSN candidates generally take much more foundational coursework related to psychiatric-mental health (PMH), while post-MSN candidates may focus more on advanced DNP classes common to all NP specialties (e.g., theories of leadership & organizational management). In all cases, distance-based PMHNP students typically complete a combination of online didactic coursework and mentor-supervised clinical practicums at approved facilities close to their homes. For MSN programs, students generally complete at least 500 clinical hours, and for DNP programs, it’s 1,000.
Online MSN-PMHNP and post-master’s certificate students generally take classes such as:
By comparison, online DNP-PMHNP programs generally share much of their coursework with other specialties at the post-MSN level, honing NPs’ advanced research and management skills. These leadership-focused online DNP classes typically include:
Additionally, many online DNP students are required to complete a DNP capstone or scholarly project, an original evidence-based research paper which serves to advance the PMH discipline and add to the delivery of quality patient healthcare.
Here is an overview of the various distance-based pathways and online degrees to prepare someone in the PMHNP field.
For registered nurses (RNs) with associate degrees in nursing or non-nursing bachelor’s degrees, there are a few online RN-to-MSN programs—also known as “bridge programs” or in the case of bachelor’s entry “accelerated programs”—to consider in the psychiatric-mental health NP specialization. This pathway typically takes at least three years of full-time study to complete.
For example, the University of South Alabama (USA) provides an exemplary psychiatric (family) nurse practitioner program for qualifying applicants with an ADN or a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. Notably, students are not required to visit the Mobile, AL campus for “practice integrated experiences” during the first phase of the program. The second graduate-level phase of the program requires a campus visit for orientation. Online courses include concepts of professional nursing; scientific underpinnings of advanced nursing practice; pharmacology; physio-pathological basis of advanced nursing; and nursing in community systems. Finally, this relatively affordable program costs $459 per credit-hour for undergraduate coursework, and $566 for graduate-level nursing courses.
Eastern Kentucky University of Richmond has an online RN-to-BSN program, which can be parlayed into EKU’s online MSN program in the PMHNP specialty. The RN-to-BSN program can be completed in as little as a year and similar to USA’s offering, it is 100 percent online. It costs $450 per credit hour. EKU’s online MSN-PMHNP program provides foundational instruction in advanced pathophysiology; rural PMHNP practice; principles of epidemiology; and applied psychopharmacology. This portion of EKU’s program costs between $460 and $825 per credit-hour, depending on the course level.
Wilkes University based in Wilkes-Barre, PA offers an online RN-to-MSN program for aspiring PMHNPs. It includes two intensive “bridge” courses to prepare RNs for graduate-level coursework. Please note that a BSN is not awarded as part of this program. There is a brief on-campus residency required for the advanced health assessment course, and depending on a student’s practice site, he or she may be required to visit campus for two later clinical courses. The graduate nursing core of this distance-based PMHNP program includes training in advanced nursing research; advanced pathophysiology; health policy & politics for advancing nursing practice; and diagnostic reasoning for NPs. This program costs $674 per credit hour.
Finally, Ohio State University offers an online MSN-PMHNP program to candidates who are RNs with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree. This “traditional master’s” pathway offers a distance-based option, where students complete all coursework online. Classes include quality improvement & informatics; innovation leadership in advanced nursing practice; nursing in the American healthcare system; neuroscience principles & concepts; and health promotion & disease prevention across the lifespan.
Please note that the above programs are also offered to post-BSN candidates seeking an online MSN-PMHNP degree, a pathway detailed below. Please note that the online NP schools profiled below generally accommodate a range of academic starting points.
Finally, prior to enrolling in any online PMHNP program, prospective students are advised to verify its accreditation and “state authorization” statuses. The main accreditation entities for nursing programs are the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, Inc. (ACEN). To learn more about how accreditation is established, please visit the organizations’ websites or the accreditation section of the online nurse practitioner programs page. “State authorization” refers to the ability of a distance-based program in one state to provide education to a student residing in another state. If the information isn’t readily available, prospective students are encouraged to contact program coordinators to ensure their eligibility.
As mentioned above, most online MSN programs in all NP subfields require candidates to have completed at least a BSN prior to enrollment. This is because most BSN programs include hands-on, foundational preparation under the guidance of nursing faculty. This training serves as a practical base, particularly for students who engage in online programs which require a measure of autonomy. This pathway typically takes two years of full-time study to complete.
Maryville University provides an online MSN for NPs in the PMH specialty, which can be completed in as few as 32 months. Boasting three convenient starting dates in January, May, and August, Maryville’s program is 100 percent online. Classes include evidence-based practice in nursing; theoretical foundations of nursing practice; leadership & quality; and healthcare policy. Notably, Maryville’s online MSN program transitions seamlessly into the DNP program for interested students.
The Massachusetts College of Pharmacy & Health Sciences (MCPHS) of Worcester offers a distance-based MSN-PMHNP program, comprising 11 courses such as human diversity, social & political issues; psychiatric mental health nursing (child & adolescent); and building an evidence-based practice. Please note that there are three campus visits required throughout the duration of the program: a new student orientation, a pre-clinical residency, and a thesis residency. MCPHS also requires students to complete 630 clinical hours at approved clinical sites close to the students’ homes. This program costs $930 per credit hour.
Lastly, the University of Missouri—Kansas City has a 53-credit hour online MSN program for PMHNPs. In addition to 660 hours of clinical training, students take distance-based classes such as cultural diversity & values; concepts & approaches of epidemiology; nursing research; and instruction in two psychotherapeutic modalities. Please note that students must travel to KC during semesters which include clinical courses.
Please note that the programs above can also be taken as online post-master’s certificates in the PMHNP specialty, a pathway for working NPs seeking entry into the psychiatric specialty and a new certification.
The prestigious Johns Hopkins University provides a competitive online certificate program in the PMH specialization for NPs. This 13-credit program includes 500 hours of hands-on clinical practicums and unique coursework in neurobiology of mental disorders; clinical psychopharmacology; differential diagnosis of mental disorders; and psychotherapeutic frameworks & modalities. JHU’s program costs $1,639 per credit-hour.
Drexel University has an online PMHNP certificate which typically takes one-to-two years to complete and requires minimal campus visitation. Classes at Drexel include foundations & psychopathology; treatment modalities for diverse populations across the lifespan; and professional issues for NPs. This program costs $1,228 per credit hour.
The University of Cincinnati offers an online post-MSN PMHNP certificate with only one campus visit required. UC’s distance-based coursework includes units in psychopathological disorders across the lifespan; neurobiology & psychopharmacology (life cycle perspectives); clinical psychiatric diagnostics & management of adults; and systems interventions for individuals & groups.
Online RN-to-DNP programs are relatively rare, although some schools provide ways to transition seamlessly from post-RN undergraduate coursework into the graduate portion in the PMHNP discipline.
As mentioned above, one exception is Frontier Nursing University (FNU), which offers an exceptional “ADN Bridge” program (i.e., RN-to-DNP). Beginning in 2017, FNU added the PMHNP specialty to its MSN offerings, and finally to “bridge” students in 2018. Courses include principles of independent practice; psychiatric-mental healthcare of individuals & groups; and psychotherapy foundations across the lifespan. Tuition costs $565 per credit-hour.
To discover the variety of online RN-to-DNP programs and options for bachelor’s degree holders in non-nursing disciplines, please check out the online NP programs page.
Please note that the following programs typically take three-to-four years to complete, and generally award a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree en route to completing the DNP.
The Medical University of South Carolina (MUSC) has a top-ranked online BSN-to-DNP program in the PMHNP specialty. In fact, MUSC ranked third among US News & World Report’s (2018) best online graduate nursing programs. MUSC’s course of study typically takes three years of full-time study to complete and requires minimal campus visitation, featuring classes such as applied epidemiology & biostatistics in healthcare; scientific underpinnings for practice; advanced clinical assessment & reasoning; advanced care management; informatics in healthcare; and pharmacotherapeutics. Most notably, this is one of the more affordable online DNP-PMHNP programs at $835 (in-state) or $985 (out-of-state) per credit hour.
Rush University offers a distance-based DNP in the PMH subfield, which also requires very few campus visits to Chicago. Rush provides 1,000 clinical hours as part of its training and instructs students in a variety of settings (e.g., outpatient community health clinics, hospitals, therapeutic centers, etc). Rush’s web-based DNP has classes such as organizational & systems management; effective project planning; neuropathophysiology; psychopharmacology; major psychopathological disorders; and several courses on the diagnosis & management of psychological conditions. This CCNE-accredited program costs $1,066 per credit hour.
Saint Louis University also provides a practice-focused, online DNP in the PMH specialty requiring only four campus visits total. This 68-credit program has core coursework in ethics in nursing & healthcare, advanced pharmacology, and biostatistics, as well as PMH-focused classes such as the ecological approach to human behavior, growth & development, and advanced PMH clinical studies.
Finally, the University of South Carolina has a competitive online BSN-to-DNP program in the PMH subfield. Impressively, this school ranked fifth among the best online graduate nursing programs (US News & World Report 2018). With very few mandatory visits to its Columbia campus, this DNP features preparation in areas such as the pharmacologic management of pediatric, adult & gerontological patients across the healthcare delivery continuum; the conceptual basis for family & community health nursing; the management of psychological health; and diagnostic interpretation & therapeutic modalities. This program costs $552.25 (in-state) or $1,182 (out-of-state) per credit-hour.
For aspiring DNP candidates who hold master’s degrees, there’s a wealth of online MSN-to-DNP programs in the psychiatric mental health (PMH) specialty. These programs may be ideal for working PMHNPs seeking to advance their credentials or other NPs seeking to add a new specialty while earning a terminal degree. Please note that a majority of online BSN-to-DNP programs also accommodate MSN-prepared candidates and vice versa.
The University of Arizona provides a CCNE-accredited online DNP program with PMH tracks for both working NPs (43 credits) or master’s degree holders seeking to become NPs (71-74 credits). This program requires students to complete a five-day Resident Intensive Summer Experience (RISE) before their first fall term, a scholar-in-residence period designed to orient admittees into their web-based DNP. In addition to a capstone project, students in the PMHNP track take classes such as statistical inference for evidence-based practice; philosophy of nursing science & practice; advanced physiology & pathophysiology; evidence-based practice; and advanced pharmacotherapeutics for nursing.
Lastly, the University of Massachusetts—Amherst has a web-based MS-to-DNP program accredited by CCNE. With plans of study tailored to each student based on a portfolio review, Amherst has classes such as the theoretical components of nursing science; informatics for nursing practice; organizational behavior; and health disparities & social justice. Please contact the UMass Bursar’s Office for tuition rates which vary based on state of residence and other factors.
In addition to checking a school or program’s accreditation status, prospective students are urged to verify an online school’s “state authorization” status as well. Recent changes to the Higher Education Act (HEA) have altered the ability of some states to provide online education to residents of other states. The state authorization information is typically available on school websites. For example, the University of Arizona has a detailed DNP state authorization map, and the University of South Carolina has an interactive feature to determine which state residents can qualify for its distance-based programs. If the state authorization status is not included on a school website, students should reach out to program coordinators to determine their eligibility.
After completing a master’s or DNP program in the PMH specialty, candidates may qualify for professional credentialing. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) is the main national certification agency for PMHNPs and offers one PMHNP-BC (“Board Certified”) credential: PMH across the lifespan. Please note that the adult PMHNP certification has been retired.
To qualify as a PMHNP-BC, candidates must have:
Finally, the PMHNP-BC credential is valid for five years and can be renewed following the completion of 75 hours of continuing education (CE) and 25 additional hours of advanced pharmacotherapeutics CE. To learn more about how to achieve and maintain the PMHNP certification, please check out the ANCC general testing & renewal page.
For RNs with an ADN degree
For RNs with a BSN degree
For RNs with an MSN degree
*Also requires a non-nursing bachelor's degree; please see the "Online Accelerated MSN – NP" programs page for more details.