How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse

There are a variety of nursing specialties that registered nurses (RNs) can pursue upon earning their license. Every nursing career has its own unique job responsibilities, work environments, and perks. There are also varying educational requirements depending on the position. In this article we’ll explore one of the most challenging yet rewarding nursing specialties, psychiatric nursing.

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

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 a better life. Registered nurses who have a passion for helping patient’s deal with their mental health issues gravitate towards this field.

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

For anyone considering this honorable profession, here is a comprehensive guide on how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. With this guide, you will understand the role of a psychiatric nurse, their 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) who is responsible for providing mental health services to patients. They work closely with their patients to ensure they are managing their mental illnesses and living productive lives.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Job Description

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Do?

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 family 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 a variety of healthcare settings that focus on mental health. These may include general hospitals, psychiatric specialty hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, and community mental health clinics. Some psychiatric nurses work in correctional facilities as well as school systems.

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities for 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

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 be prepared to dedicate around 2 to 3 years post BSN towards higher education, as well as an additional 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 bachelors level, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, or higher, such as an MEPN program (more on that in future posts!). 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-BSN program which can be completed in as little as 20 months.

If you are a licensed vocational nurse with an associates degree in vocational nursing (ASVN), you can also earn your BSN degree through an advanced placement option (LVN to BSN). This accelerate nursing program allows you to skip the first year (three semesters) of the BSN program.

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 earn your nursing license. With the NCLEX, you’ll be licensed to enter the workforce as a registered nurse (RN).

3. Earn a Master’s or Doctoral Degree

Earning a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or doctorate degree 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 courses such as neurophysiology, physiology, and pharmacology.

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 degree, 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 is given three and a half hours to complete the exam.  Upon successfully passing the exam, you are awarded your credential, and it is valid for five years.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary

How Much Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Make?

According to, the average salary* of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner is about $107,000 per year, or about $52 per hour.

Psychiatric nursing salaries in the top 10th percentile can reach as high as $127,000 or more.

What Is the Job Outlook for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners?

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report any specific data on the job outlook of psychiatric nurses. However, it does indicate that the overall employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 45 percent by 2029. This is significantly higher than the average growth of all occupations (4%).

APRNs will be increasingly utilized in team-based models of care. They will also be needed to care for the large, aging baby-boom 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 are acknowledging the importance of these illnesses and how they need to be treated. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are on the front lines when it comes to 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 deeply gratifying career choice, especially for anyone who is truly passionate about helping others.

If you feel ready to begin your journey towards this psychiatric nursing, you can start by earning your BSN degree at Provo College. Click here to learn more about our BSN program.