Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner – PMHNP
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Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Overview

  • What You Will Do: Diagnose mental illnesses, prescribe psychiatric medication, provide counseling and psychotherapy, work with a larger healthcare team
  • Where Will You Work: Private mental health clinics, university counseling services, community health clinics, inpatient and outpatient psychiatric units, correctional facilities
  • Employment Projections: The Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 31 percent growth for NP roles between 2016 and 2026. The Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) profession is included in this estimate.
  • How Much Will I Earn: PMHNPs have a competitive salary typically making between $90,000 and $117,000.
  • Number of Programs: There are 123 PMHNP programs in the U.S.
  • How Long Does It Take to Become an PMHNP: Depending on the program you choose becoming a PMHNP will take 2 to 3 years.
  • Requirements to Become One: You will need a bachelor’s degree, a master’s in nursing, RN and NP licensure in your state, as well as national certification as an NP.

Eight Steps to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

  • Earn Your RN – Complete an RN or BSN program from an ACEN or CCNE accredited university. See our BSN guide for more detail!
  • Pass The NCLEX-RN Exam – Passing the NCLEX-RN exam is crucial. By using strategic studying and taking practice exams you can pass it on the first try. Our NCLEX-RN guide and practice tests can help you.
  • Earn Your MSN – You will take classes in psychopharmacology, psychiatric and mental health nursing theory, research, pathophysiology, and advanced health assessment and more.
  • Complete Supervised Clinical Hours – You must finish 500 supervised clinical hours during your PMHNP program.
  • Become Board Certified – Pass the exam administered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to become a certified PMHNP.
  • Obtain Licensure – Apply for state licensure as an NP.
  • Obtain a DEA Number – DEA registration is required to prescribe medication.
  • Maintain Active Certification and Licensure –100 continuing education (CE) hours and 1,000 hours of clinical practice are required. You must also keep active BLS, DEA, and RN licenses.

What is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

PMHNPs are Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) that provide mental health care for people. As a PMHNP you will assess, diagnose and treat people with mental illnesses. According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association some of your duties may include providing individual or group counseling, or prescribing psychiatric medications. You can work with people throughout their lifespan in both inpatient and outpatient settings.

How Do I Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

To become a PMHNP you will need a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing. Whether you are already an RN or not there are ways for you to become a PMHNP.

  • BSN to MSN: If you are already an RN with a BSN you can do a master’s in nursing program in 2 years.
  • Bachelors to MSN: If you are not a nurse but have a bachelor’s degree in any field you can do a Direct Entry Master’s in Nursing program. If you have a bachelors in something other than nursing you complete a Direct Entry Master’s in Nursing program. To enter one of these programs you will have to complete the pre-requisite nursing courses that will include various biology and chemistry courses as well as anatomy and physiology and more. A Direct Entry Master’s program will take around 2 to 3 years.
  • BSN to DNP: A doctorate in nursing practice (DNP) will give you both an MSN and DNP degree after about 4 years. This degree will prepare you to use evidence based research to guide your clinical practice.
  • MSN to DNP: Obtaining a DNP degree will take around 2 to 3 years if you already have a master’s in nursing.

Certification and Licensure: Certification is used to make sure that you meet the qualifications to care for your designated population. By passing the PMHNP exam through the ANCC you can become a certified PMHNP. You will need to renew your certification every 5 years by meeting the 1,000 clinical hour and 100 CE hours requirements. Once certified you can get licensed through your state’s board of nursing (BON). This means that you will be legally allowed practice as an PMHNP in your state. Your state’s board of nursing (BON) will grant you licensure after you complete the application process. This enables you to practice legally in your state. You will have to submit transcripts from your PMHNP program as well as a fee and proof of RN licensure and national certification.

Where Do PMHNPs Typically Work?

PMHNPs can work in outpatient and inpatient mental health settings. This can be a psychiatric hospital, a private practice, community health clinics, universities, or even prisons. There are many settings where you can choose to work which means that you can change your career focus if you wish to.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Salary Expectation

Your salary is dependent on the state and city where you practice as well as your experience and practice setting. In general, the median salary for all NPs is $104,610 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The salary range for PMHNPs can vary from about $90,000 to $117,000 per year. Certain settings such as private practices will pay you more than community health settings, however there are other financial benefits to working with medically underserved populations. The Nurse Corps Loan Repayment Program is a great service that will help you pay off your loans if you work in medically underserved areas. You may also be eligible for the Public Service Loan Forgiveness and/or Perkins Loan Forgiveness. You can also expect your salary to increase as you gain experience.

Online PMHNP Programs

For many busy professionals pursuing an advanced degree can have many barriers. Online PMHNP programs make this profession more accessible to everyone. With an online PMHNP program you will be able to complete your coursework online in your own time and do clinical hours close to your home. You may only need to go to campus a couple times a year, if at all. These programs allow you to balance all the priorities in your life with a little less stress. The University of Missouri Columbia, Missouri McNeese State University in Louisiana, Eastern Kentucky University, and University of South Alabama offer online PMHNP programs.

What is a Typical PMHNP Curriculum?

Each university will have a little variety in their curriculum. In general, you can expect to take courses similar to what is offered at Vanderbilt University:

  • Ethical Issues in Advanced Practice Nursing
  • Neuroscience for Mental Health Practitioners
  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Research Methods for Advanced Practice Nursing
  • Advanced Pathophysiology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Theory
  • Conceptual Basis for Advanced Practice Nursing

The Role of the PMHNP in the Mental Healthcare Provider Shortage

Like with all nursing specialties, there is a shortage of psychiatric specialists. This means that the job outlook for PMHNPs is good. Additionally, as the public gains more awareness of mental health needs in the country, the role of the PMHNP could continue to become more essential in filling the mental healthcare provider gap. With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, more people have gained access to insurance. This has increased the need for all primary healthcare providers. PMHNPs offer a cost-effective solution to filling the gap in mental healthcare providers.

Number of PMHNP Programs in the United States

In the U.S. there are 123 PMHNP programs with 4 fully online programs at the University of Missouri Columbia, Missouri McNeese State University in Louisiana, Eastern Kentucky University, and University of South Alabama

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Resources

Denisco, S. M., Barker, A. M., (2016). Advanced practice nursing: Essential knowledge for the profession. Burlington, MA: Jones and Barlett Learning.


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