What is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

What is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Nursing is an ever-growing field that changes and expands each year. There are dozens of different types of nurses and different fields that current nurses can pursue in an effort to specialize their skills and become a better nurse. For those nurses that want to pursue a career in the mental health field, becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner is a great career to pursue that can truly help to expand a nurse’s skill set and make a huge difference in the world around them.

So what does a psychiatric nurse practitioner do? A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner is a licensed nurse practitioner that works in the field of mental health. These nurses not only take on the responsibility of a nurse, but also of a mental health professional. They help to address mental health issues and work to create treatment plans that include medication, therapy and more to help promote the psychiatric well-being of each and every patient that they work with. A psychiatric nurse practitioner might work in a hospital or a mental health facility. They may work with children, the elderly, or with those that are struggling with substance abuse. The horizons for a psychiatric nurse practitioner are broad and employment options are vast.

What does a psychiatric nurse practitioner do?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners have a range of different responsibilities that set them apart from other medical professionals. Psychiatric nurse practitioners work to help create outpatient or home-based care for those that have issues with mental health that might not be able to get to a hospital or other medical facility. They may also work as consultants for larger medical groups or corporations and work to create treatment plans, prescribe medication as needed, and perform patient assessments that allow a patient to move forward in their treatment plan.

These professionals might also work with doctors to help create patient referrals, help other professionals to conduct research or author scholarly articles, help to evaluate the effectiveness of specific treatments, or educate patients about the challenges that mental health presents. This is a much-diversified field where those pursuant can find the niche that fits not only their desires but also their specific skill sets so they can make the biggest difference possible.

Why is a psychiatric nurse practitioner so important?

For starters, a psychiatric nurse practitioner is important because they work as a liaison between the family and the patient, helping to explain the treatment that is needed and help those involved feel like they know what is going on. A psychiatric nurse practitioner works to create viable plans that will help the patient grow and get better, or at the very least, to improve their overall mental state and their mental well-being.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners fill a unique role. They are not only mental health professionals that can perform mental health checks, mental health assessments, and mental health treatment, but they can also perform other basic health assessments and treatments as well. They fill the role of a nurse practitioner and a mental health professional so that those under their care can look to one familiar face for their needs and through the duration of their treatment. On top of that, they can also fill the role of a researcher, a consultant and much more.

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner takes time, effort, and immense dedication to becoming better and following your goals and dreams. There is a range of different classes and certifications that are needed in order to be a fully certified psychiatric nurse practitioner.

Education Requirements and Training

There are a few different prerequisite courses that students are expected to have before they can be admitted to any psychiatric nurse practitioner program. For the most part, many people that pursue the psychiatric nurse practitioner degree are already a nurse of some sort with a degree from a university that is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. Students will often first take this degree path to lay a foundation for their continuing education.

Some classes you may take in the degree program for a nurse before entering the nurse practitioner program is integrated pathophysiology, scientific inquiry for evidence based practice, nursing and women, leadership and more. For those that are planning on becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner, it is important to then take elective courses that are focused on mental health like psychiatry and psychology.

There is a range of different programs to choose from when it comes to getting your nurse practitioner degree. If you already have a traditional four-year nursing degree and are working as a nurse, it may be best to pursue a psychiatric nurse practitioner degree online. The online format allows you to continue working as a nurse and does not weigh you down or require that you attend typical classes at a regularly scheduled time.

This type of program also allows for flexibility as far as when you take courses and how many courses you take at the same time. Another benefit of online courses is that you can complete your degree on your own time and at your own pace. You may also be able to use your clinical hours from your current job and count them towards your degree and certification.

You can also pursue a traditional nurse practitioner degree on campus. This is going to be a bit more hands-on and might allow for a better understanding as you are going to be able to ask your instructor questions face to face. It’s typically a bit more restrictive in that students have to attend class in-person and on a set schedule.

To become a psychiatric nurse practitioner there are a few different tests that you must pass. The first is the National Council Licensure Examination or the NCLEX. This test is going to test a range of different basic skills as well as some advanced skills. This test is required for all nurses and in most cases, universities require that those applying for the nurse practitioner program already be nurses.

To become a board-certified nurse practitioner you are going to need to take the assessments that are set forth by the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners National Certification Board and will need to find a program that is accredited by them as well. The overall cost for this program varies depending on the university chosen, the course work you need to complete, and the method of delivery you choose. In some cases, online classes cost more than in-person classes.

To get your master’s degree as a nurse practitioner you need to have at least 2,500 hours of advanced practice work in the field of nursing you are pursuing. Your individual university may have different standards so it’s important to take the time to determine what your individual university requires.

Some basic skills needed to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner:

  • Attention to detail
  • High level understanding and perception of how mental health impacts society
  • Compassion, empathy, sensitivity and the ability to understand human problems and conditions
  • Experience with medical software like coding software and electronic health records
  • Ability to use and competence with medical equipment

There are a few different things you may need to submit to the admissions committee that are fairly standard for all psychiatric nurse practitioner programs. Most programs will ask for a resume, official transcripts with a GPA requirement, letter of recommendation, personal statement, proof of RN, your GRE or graduate record exam scores, or your Miller Analogies Test scores, and you may also need to have an interview. Along with these basic requirements, your individual university may require other documents or paperwork.

Certifications are normally the same no matter what state you are in but there may be extra certifications that are needed if you want to go into a specialty field. You are required to have your nursing certification which is good for five years. You can either renew your certification by meeting minimum continuing education requirements based on your day-to-day work or you can reapply online through the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board website.

PNP Career Outlook

This is a great career for nurses that are already working and want to advance in their career outlook. Those that are already working as nurses have the framework that is necessary to begin the process of becoming a nurse practitioner. This type of work requires focus, attention to detail, the ability to multitask, and the ability to work for long hours with a passion for what you do.

Those pursuing this career path may work in clinics, hospitals, doctor’s offices and more. They will likely work with a wide range of different patients and may work in a range of different facilities. The shifts you work will vary depending on what area you work and the hours of operation of the facility in which you work.

Salary and Employment

This is a steadily growing career that is set to keep growing. The average salary of a nurse practitioner according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics is around $100,000 per year. The highest paying states for this occupation are California, New York, and Texas, with average incomes over $100,000.

Those that choose this career path can expect to be on their feet for long periods of time and may work longer shifts. This is a very labor intensive job that will often require you to work quickly. If you work in a hospital setting you will likely be working with a team of nurses and will need to be detail oriented and focused.

Top 5 Specialties

There are plenty of specialties to choose from on the nurse practitioner career path. Knowing what they are might open up your mind to the program that works best for you.

1. Family Nurse Practitioner – this is a nurse practitioner that works with patients of all ages. They generally work in a doctor’s office or in a hospital. The average salary for this specialty is around $97,000 per year.

2. Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner – this specialty works with older patients and is generally their primary care practitioner. This means they care for day-to-day concerns and work to make sure they are taken care of each day. The average salary for this specialty is around $102,000 per year.

3. Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner – this discipline is taking care of older patients during very unique circumstances. This might include trauma, it might be when they are having breathing issues, or when they are near the end of life. The average salary for this specialty is around $70,000 per year.

4. Pediatric Nurse Practitioner – this nurse practitioner works with the children and youth. They might work in a doctor’s office or a pediatrician’s office and may also work in hospitals. The average salary for this discipline is around $80,000 per year.

5. Emergency Nurse Practitioner – this is a nurse practitioner that generally works in the emergency room or works with patients in a time of emergency. The average salary for this specialty is about $110,000.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Resources

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner FAQs

Q – What does a NP do?

A – they work with patients directly and are authorized to administer care and medication as well as medical treatment. They can also assess medical histories, examine patients, and may refer patients to other medical facilities.

Q – Can NPs specialize to one type of patient?

A – Yes, they can become nurse practitioners that work with only children, only older patients, only those in duress and only those that are in the emergency room, to name a few.

Q – Can I pursue my NP online without having to take classes in person?

A – Yes, you can pursue your degree online. You will still have to do clinical hours but you can do your coursework online then submit your clinical hours apart.

Q – Do you have to be a nurse to enter a nurse practitioner program?

A – Most universities will require that you are already a nurse in order to enter the nurse practitioner program.

Q – Are there different nurse practitioner programs I can choose from?

A – There are many great nurse practitioner programs to choose from. There are specialty programs that are designed to help current nurses become nurse practitioners faster, programs that can be done online, and more.

Helpful Organizations, Societies and Agencies

There are plenty of resources out there that can help you learn more about certification, standard operating procedures and will help aid you in your pursuit of a nurse practitioner degree. Knowing what resources are out there can save you time and inform you about the nurse practitioner specialty options. These resources are designed to give you the information you need to make the choice you want toward a career you will always love.

American Academy of Nurse Practitioners

Bureau of Labor Statistics

The Nurse Practitioner: the American Journal of Primary Healthcare

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Scholarships

Take a look at the scholarship we offer just for people like you!

List of Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

Don’t know where to start? Take a look at our list of the best psychiatric nurse practitioner programs to help you take that first step.


Becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner is a fantastic career choice. It can truly change your outlook and your abilities and will challenge you in ways you never expected. This is a very rewarding and lucrative career path that can truly make a difference in the way you practice medicine. Being a nurse practitioner gives you the ability to do more, to help more, and to truly make a bigger difference in the lives of the patients that you treat. There are opportunities to expand, to grow, and to challenge yourself in ways you never thought possible.

For more information, contact us today.

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