How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Professionals researching how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner can explore this guide to learn about the profession, including detailed steps for starting the career. This guide outlines what psychiatric nurse practitioners (NPs) are, what they do, and where they work. Individuals can also explore licensing and certification details, related careers and programs, and helpful resources.

In addition to psychiatric nurse practitioner requirements, this page also highlights how much psychiatric NPs make and projected field growth.

What Is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Responsible for helping patients heal from a variety of psychiatric disorders, psychiatric NPs help patients manage different psychiatric illnesses and disorders, including anxiety, ADHD, mood disorders, and substance abuse. They also help patients with more serious disorders, including schizophrenia.

Psychiatric NPs evaluate patients before and during their administered care to effectively monitor their progress. These NPs educate patients and their families and evaluate the care they administer.

What Do Psychiatric NPs Do?

Psychiatric NPs cover a wide scope of job responsibilities, including assessing and diagnosing patients and providing them with psychotherapy. They treat patients with diagnosed disorders along with patients who have family histories and other factors that increase their likelihood of mental illness.

These NPs prescribe medication and follow a holistic approach to healthcare, informing and educating patients and their families about a variety of mental health issues. Common responsibilities of psychiatric NPs include diagnosing mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and bipolar disorder.

Where Do Psychiatric NPs Work?

After completing psychiatric nurse practitioner schooling, psychiatric NPs can explore job opportunities across a variety of settings, including private practices, corporations, and correctional facilities.

Psychiatric NPs can also consult with businesses and communities, providing a range of services. They can establish their own private practices, researching the standards and requirements and deriving effective business and financial plans. Psychiatric NPs can focus their careers anywhere that allows them to order diagnostic tests to care for patients dealing with mental illnesses.

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Steps to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

The section below explains how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Read on to explore psychiatric nurse practitioner requirements and certification information.

  1. Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Many master of science in nursing (MSN) programs require students to hold a BSN. Throughout their bachelor’s program, degree-seekers review a variety of topics related to core coursework before focusing on specialty coursework. At the bachelor’s level, students can often pursue concentration opportunities, allowing them to tailor their program to fit their career goals and personal interests. In addition to coursework, degree-seekers must complete clinical experience.

  2. Obtain Licensure as a Registered Nurse (RN) Before professionals can pursue careers as psychiatric NPs, they must obtain an RN license. RN licensure requires candidates to complete a BSN and pass the NCLEX-RN examination. Individuals can also pursue RN licensure if they complete an associate degree in nursing.

  3. Pursue Specializations While Working as an RN Upon RN licensure, professionals can begin working in the psychiatric nursing discipline. Professionals can obtain the Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Certification by passing a competency-based examination, allowing professionals to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in the field. With certification requirements met, professionals become nursing professional development-board certified — a credential that remains valid for five years.

  4. Gain Admission to an Accredited MSN or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) Program With a Specialty in Psychiatric-Mental Health Care Professionals planning to pursue careers as psychiatric NPs must gain admission to an accredited MSN or DNP program, pursuing a specialization in psychiatric-mental health care. Admissions processes vary by school, but MSN programs require students to hold RN licensure and complete a BSN. DNP programs require applicants to hold an MSN.

  5. Earn an MSN or DNP To work as a psychiatric NP, individuals must obtain either an MSN or DNP. Professionals can consider a variety of program formats, including a BSN-to-DNP and an MSN-to-DNP. Students interested in pursuing advanced degrees should ensure their program is accredited and meets state licensing board requirements.

  6. Obtain Certification Professionals interested in working as psychiatric NPs can consider a variety of certification opportunities. The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner credential requires professionals to complete a board certification competency-based examination, with credentials that remain valid for five years. The Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist certification requires candidates to hold an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) license and certification in their chosen specialty, along with 2,000 clinical hours and continuing education (CE) hours.

  7. Obtain NP State Licensure Each state maintains its own licensing requirements for NPs. Licensing requirements typically include educational, experience, and examination components. Once individuals hold licensure, they possess the necessary credentials to begin their psychiatric NP careers.

  8. Find Employment After earning a BSN, MSN, and an optional DNP, obtaining certification, and accomplishing state licensure, professionals can explore career opportunities. Individuals with a doctorate expand their job options.

Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner FAQs

  • What Happens if I Don't Renew My APRN License?

    In order to continue practicing professionally as psychiatric NPs with the APRN credential, professionals must maintain their license. Renewal for APRN licensure requires professionals to fulfill CE requirements, often facilitated by employers.

  • Can I Get Licensed if My Degree Is From an Unaccredited Program?

    Individuals must complete a BSN from a regionally accredited college or university to obtain RN licensure. To become psychiatric NPs, professionals need RN licensure along with an MSN from regionally accredited institutions. Students’ programs must possess specialized accreditation.

  • Can NPs Start Their Own Practice?

    To start their own practice, NPs must determine the practice requirements for their particular state and file the necessary paperwork. Next, they must become credentialed and create both a business and financial plan before they determine insurance reimbursements, staffing needs, and necessary supplies.

  • Can a Psychiatric NP Diagnose Mental Illness?

    Psychiatric NPs diagnose and assess patients, prescribe medicine, and provide psychotherapy in addition to treating patients for diagnosed disorders.

  • Can a Psychiatric NP Do Counseling?

    Psychiatric nurses provide patients with a variety of services. They offer support and advice to patients and their families similar to psychiatrists and other medical professionals. Additionally, psychiatric NPs provide psychotherapy services and counseling to patients.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Credentials

Becoming a psychiatric NP requires professionals to meet a variety of credentials before they can obtain licensure to practice professionally. In the following sections, readers can learn about the psychiatric NP licensing process, including the requirements to obtain RN licensure and APRN licensure, both required to satisfy the specialty-specific national certification exam components of the licensing process.

Additionally, professionals can review the discipline’s certification opportunities, including eligibility requirements for each certification type.

Psychiatric NP Licensing

RN licensure requirements vary by state. However, all 50 states use the same certification examination: the NCLEX-RN exam. Potential RNs must enroll in a board-approved nursing program and complete the national licensing exam.

Candidates for licensure should be of good character. Many states require individuals to undergo fingerprinting and federal background checks. During the certification process, professionals must submit an application outlining their personal information and professional experience. Individuals can pursue professional nursing programs at the associate and bachelor’s levels. Many states feature some hospital-based diploma programs.

Eligible candidates for APRN licensure must hold an active, current RN license by completing a hospital nursing program or a two- or four-year nursing degree and passing the national examination. APRN candidates must continue their education, pursuing an MSN, finishing training in their chosen specialty, and completing additional national certification in their chosen field.

APRNs must complete specific CE requirements in order to renew their specialty certifications. Many employers provide online and onsite training for nurses, offering CE courses to members to satisfy the renewal requirements.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Certification

Across the psychiatric NP field, professionals can seek a variety of certification opportunities. The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification requires professionals to complete a competency-based examination demonstrating their clinical skills and field knowledge. Upon completing the eligibility requirements for examination and passing the exam, professionals achieve the RN board-certified credential, valid for five years.

The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner certification requires professionals to complete and pass a national certification examination, allowing professionals to complete a competency-based examination to demonstrate their skills and knowledge in the field, accomplishing the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner-board certified credential which remains valid for five years.

The Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist credential requires professionals to hold their APRN license and complete certification in a particular nursing specialty. Additionally, they must complete a minimum of 2,000 hours of pediatric behavioral, mental health, and developmental experience within five years, along with 30 hours of CE requirements.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Resources

  • American Psychiatric Nurses Association A professional association of psychiatric-mental health nurses, APNA provides a range of professional services and CE opportunities for professionals in the field.
  • American Association of Nurse Practitioners AANP is dedicated to providing NPs across all specialties with resources and networking opportunities.
  • International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses Founded as the result of the combination of four independent psychiatric-mental health nursing organizations, ISPN supports field professionals worldwide.
  • American Nurses Association ANA aims to improve patient care by supporting individuals and organizations to advance the nursing profession, providing CE, certification, and professional development opportunities across the field.
  • Job Search Professionals in the psychiatric NP field can access the job search function on to find career opportunities specific to their nursing specialty. Additionally, professionals can input distance parameters to locate job opportunities within a certain area.

Learn More About Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners and Related Careers

To learn more about the psychiatric NP occupation and related career opportunities, professionals can review the resources below. This section highlights job responsibilities and duties of nurses related to the psychiatric NP discipline, including salary information and pathways to certain occupations.

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Psychiatric NP

Focusing on providing clinical care to patients suffering from psychiatric disorders and mental illnesses, psychiatric NPs work in hospitals, community health centers, mental health facilities, and outpatient mental health clinics.

Related FAQs

Professionals interested in learning how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner can review the resources below to explore more information about the profession, including salary data and educational requirements.

How Much Does a Psychiatric NP Make?

Psychiatric NPs anticipate a thriving employment along with high salaries. AANP reports that the average full-time salary for NPs was $102,526 in 2016.

PMHNP vs Psychiatrist

Psychiatric-mental health NPs perform similar duties as psychiatrists, diagnosing, assessing, and treating individuals with mental health conditions, but the path they take to licensure is different. Psychiatrists attend medical school and graduate to become a medical doctor or doctor of osteopathic medicine, while psychiatric NPs graduate from nursing programs.

How to Become a Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS)

Professionals interested in becoming a CNS must earn a BSN, obtain RN licensure, gain clinical experience, earn an MSN, achieve board certification and state licensure, and earn a DNP.

What Is a Psychiatric-Mental Health NP?

Psychiatric-mental health NPs make psychiatric and medical diagnoses and perform a variety of mental health and physical assessments, creating effective health treatment plans.

How Do I Become a Nurse Anesthetist?

To become a nurse anesthetist, individuals must earn a BSN, obtain an RN license, complete a year of professional experience as an RN, graduate from an accredited nurse anesthesia program, and pass the national certification exam.

What Is a Nurse Educator?

Nurse educators use their clinical experience and academic expertise to teach nursing students and develop educational standards and curriculum.

Why Pursue a DNP?

NPs who earn a doctoral degree can explore a wider scope of career opportunities than those who hold a master’s degree. They can take advantage of clinical and non-clinical occupations with the field’s highest salary opportunities.

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