If you’re planning to become a Nurse Practitioner and are interested in what it would be like to work with the psychiatric population, you’re in the right place. This career path is rewarding and important, and there is a significant need for nurses who want to work with patients—and often, primary care providers—to provide patient-centered mental health care. As a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), you could work in many different settings in which you provide advanced care to patients with a range of mental health needs.
What is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
Of the more than 290,000 Nurse Practitioners licensed in the United States (per the American Association of Nurse Practitioners), 1.8% are certified as Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners as their primary care focus.
AANP explains that Psychiatric Mental Health NPs “assess, diagnose and treat the mental health needs of patients.” That generally involves providing therapy for those with mental health disorders—such as anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder or substance abuse disorders—and prescribing medications, and it could require PMHNPs to provide psychosocial assessments and emergency psychiatric care. You could work in your own private practice or in the hospital setting.
What is required to be a PMHNP?
Nurse Practitioners are one of four Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (the other three being Certified Nurse Midwife, Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist and Clinical Nurse Specialist). These types of nurses hold master’s or doctoral degrees and work with specific patient populations. Here are the steps involved in becoming a Psychiatric Mental Health NP:
- Become a Registered Nurse.
- Earn the Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Even if you hold a bachelor’s degree in another field, you’ll need to have a BSN to apply to a graduate Nurse Practitioner program.
- Complete a Nurse Practitioner-focused graduate master’s or doctoral nursing program. Explore American Sentinel University’s online MSN Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner degree.
- Pass a national Nurse Practitioner board certification exam. This national board certification exam will be specific to your population focus—in this case, psychiatric mental health.
- Apply for licensure. You’ll need to get licensed in the state where you live. Every state has different requirements, and over time, you’ll need to renew your certification and state license by meeting continuing education and other requirements.
You can learn more about the path to become a PMHNP on the American Association of Nurse Practitioners website.This blog on our website also has more details on the requirements.
Where do psychiatric nurses work?
There are many settings that need PMHNPs, including outpatient clinics, inpatient facilities, private psychiatric or mental health practices, community healthcare centers, hospitals, substance abuse programs, trauma centers, prisons and correctional facilities, or high-risk/teen pregnancy centers. Behavioral telehealth is a growing area as well, offering patients accessible virtual mental healthcare no matter where they live. Some PMHNPs specialize in certain patients as well, such as pediatrics or military/veterans.
Are mental health nurses in high demand?
Are psych NPs in demand? Yes! The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services reports that the country has 5,766 Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) in the area of mental health—and more than 6,500 practitioners are needed to fulfill the need.
A 2018 study by the University of Michigan Behavioral Health Workforce Research Center funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration (SAMHSA) and the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) shares that…
- Access to behavioral health services remains an issue.
- The psychiatric workforce is in the middle of a professional shortage, which is projected to worsen by 2025.
In addition, the HRSA estimated in 2016 that 20 states had a shortage of psychiatric NPs in one scenario, and that total was 37 states in a different scenario.
Bottom line: the need is dire and the demand is high in many areas of the country.
What is a psychiatric nurse practitioner’s salary?
How much do psychiatric nurses make? That depends on the setting and type of job, but let’s take a look at some of the data:
- According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage of Nurse Practitioners is $111,840.
- According to Payscale, the average salary of PMHNPs is $108,767.
- ZipRecruiter shares that certain states have higher typical salaries for PMHNPs, including New York, New Hampshire, California, Vermont, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Maine and Washington, all with annual salaries of over $120,000 (New York topped the list at $138,474).
What is the projected growth rate for Psych NPs?
The Health Resources & Services Administration shares that the national supply of psychiatric NPs is projected to grow by 6,690 full-time equivalents between 2016 and 2030. The estimated rates of growth for NPs is 18%.
Would You Enjoy a Career as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
This career path can be very fulfilling for those who enjoy working in mental health. As with all nursing pathways, you will have the opportunity to help others and make a difference and work with a population that truly needs it. In addition, the demand is there and the career is lucrative financially.
It’s important to remember that there are other factors to consider too. The nature of psychiatric and mental health care is that it’s not always easy to determine a diagnosis for someone and find a cure easily. Many patients need lifelong help and it may be challenging, even frustrating, to determine the best course of care. Work-life balance is another challenge, with many in this field working longer hours (depending on the setting). In some settings, there are physical dangers if working with violent patients.
The Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner career is an excellent choice, but if you’re interested in the other Nurse Practitioner specialties, contact American Sentinel University. We’ll share more about our four specialty tracks (read more here) and help you make the best decision for your life. Contact us and make plans to attend an upcoming open house!
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