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How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Duties, Schooling, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Young trauma patient wearing virtual reality goggles

Registered Nurses (RNs) can pursue a variety of nursing specialties upon earning their license. Every nursing career has unique job responsibilities, work environments, and perks. There are also varying educational requirements depending on the position. This article will explore one of the most challenging yet rewarding nursing specialties—Psychiatric Nursing.

(Click here to learn how to become a Registered Nurse)

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are highly trained nurses that specialize in treating patients diagnosed with mental health issues. They help patients manage their psychiatric disorders to live better lives. Registered Nurses passionate about assisting patients in dealing with their mental health issues gravitate toward this field.

(Click here to see our complete list of the highest-paid nursing jobs)

For anyone considering this honorable profession, here is a comprehensive guide on becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. With this guide, you will understand a Psychiatric Nurse’s role, responsibilities, educational requirements, job outlook, and salary.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Definition

What is a Psychiatric Nurse?

A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) responsible for providing mental health services to patients. They work closely with their patients to ensure they manage their mental illnesses and live productive lives.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Job Description

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Do?

Psychiatric Nurses help psychiatrists and other physicians create a treatment plan for the individualized mental health care their patients require. They begin by conducting interviews and assessments of their patients to learn about their condition. Throughout their treatment, Psychiatric Nurses provide supportive counseling, prescribe and administer medications, and educate patients and their families regarding mental illness. In some circumstances, Psychiatric Nurses may help patients perform daily tasks such as getting dressed and grooming.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Jobs

Where Do Psychiatric Nurses Work?

Psychiatric Nurses can work in various healthcare settings that focus on mental health. These may include general hospitals, psychiatric specialty hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, and community mental health clinics. In addition, some Psychiatric Nurses work in correctional facilities and school systems.

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of Psychiatric Nurses include:

  • Assessing patients to determine their mental health needs
  • Developing individualized treatment plans
  • Counseling patients throughout treatment
  • Prescribing and administering medication
  • Educating patients and their families regarding mental illness
  • Assisting patients with self-care activities

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Schooling & Certification

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How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatric Nurse?

What Degree Do You Need to Be a Psychiatric Nurse?

Like many of the highest-paid nursing jobs, Psychiatric Nurses must dedicate around 2 to 3 years after earning their BSN towards additional education, as well as two years for gaining RN work experience. Due to the critical nature of their many responsibilities, the eligibility requirements for the psychiatric nursing certification exam are extensive.

Here are the steps required to become a Psychiatric Nurse:

1. Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree

The first step to becoming a Psychiatric Nurse is completing a pre-licensure Registered Nursing program at the bachelor’s level, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree or higher, such as a MEPN program. A BSN program will take about three to four years to complete unless you’ve already earned your Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN). Students who’ve already earned their ADN can enroll in an RN-to-BSN program which can be completed in as little as 20 months.

If you are a Licensed Vocational Nurse with an associate degree in vocational nursing (ASVN), you can also earn your BSN through an advanced placement option (LVN to BSN). This accelerated nursing program allows you to skip the BSN program’s first year (three semesters).

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam

Once you’ve earned your BSN, you’ll have to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) to receive your nursing license. After passing the NCLEX, you can enter the workforce as a Registered Nurse (RN).

(Click here to read our NCLEX-RN Exam Review & Study Guide)

3. Earn a Master’s or Doctoral Degree

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or doctorate from an accredited institution is required for becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. An MSN degree is the most common graduate degree earned by Psychiatric Nurses. You may also obtain your Ph.D. from an accredited institution. MSN degrees usually take about 18–24 months to complete, while doctorate degrees typically require 2–3 years of full-time education. Students enrolled in a graduate-level program will take neurophysiology, physiology, and pharmacology courses.

4. Gain Experience Working as an RN

Before sitting for the final certification exam, you’ll have to fulfill several requirements. The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) requires two years of practice as a full-time Registered Nurse, 20 hours of relevant continuing education completed within three years, and a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice over those two years.

5. Pass the American Nurses Credentialing Center Exam (ANCC)

Upon receiving your Master’s or Doctorate and completing your eligibility requirements, you’ll be one step away from officially becoming a Psychiatric Nurse. To work as a Psychiatric Nurse, you’ll need to become certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The certification exam is computer-based and consists of 175 multiple-choice questions. Each candidate has three and a half hours to complete the exam. Upon successfully passing the exam, credentials are valid for five years.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary

How Much Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary* of Nurse Practitioners, including Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners, was about $118,000 per year or about $57 per hour as of 2021. The top 10% of Nurse Practitioners can earn up to $163,000 or more per year.

Highest Paying Industries for Psychiatric Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the industries where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners:

Industry Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
Home Health Care Services $64.03 $133,170
Psychiatric Hospitals $63.38 $131,830
Outpatient Care Centers $62.11 $129,190
General Hospitals $59.12 $122,960
Physicians’ Offices $55.23 $114,870

Highest Paying States for Psychiatric Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the states where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners:

State  Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
California $72.99 $151,830
New Jersey $65.87 $137,010
New York $64.39 $133,940
Washington $62.90 $130,840
Massachusetts $62.28 $129,540

Highest Paying Cities for Psychiatric Nurses

According to the BLS, these are the cities where you’re most likely to find the top-paying jobs for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners:

City Average Hourly Pay Average Salary
San Jose, CA $95.13 $197,870
Napa, CA $88.80 $184,700
Fairfield, CA $86.72 $180,380
San Francisco, CA $85.18 $177,160
Yuba City, CA $76.57 $159,260
San Luis Obispo, CA $73.70 $153,300
Sacramento, CA $73.58 $153,050
Santa Rosa, CA $73.15 $152,150
Santa Cruz, CA $72.25 $150,280
Fresno, CA $71.04 $147,760

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What Is the Job Outlook for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners?

According to the BLS, Nurse Practitioner job growth is projected to increase by 45% from 2020 to 2030. This is much faster than the average for all occupations (8%).

Team-based models of care will be increasingly using Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners. They will also be needed to care for the aging baby-boomer population.

Psychiatric Nurse Career

Are You Ready to Start Your Career as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Mental health has become a focal point of society in the last decade. Now more than ever, we acknowledge the importance of treating these illnesses. Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are on the front lines when helping patients deal with their mental health issues. If you’re prepared to take on the rigorous training and educational requirements, psychiatric nursing can be a profoundly gratifying career choice, especially for anyone who is genuinely passionate about helping others.

If you feel ready to begin your journey toward Psychiatric Nursing, you can start by earning your BSN degree at Provo College. Learn more about our BSN program today.