How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Job Duties and Responsibilities
What Are the Education Requirements for a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?
What Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Certification is Needed?
6 Common Steps to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
With different regulatory hurdles, degree options, and specializations, every educational journey is bound to be different. But here are six potential steps on how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
- Attend Nursing School
As with all nursing specializations, education is fundamental to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner. That typically begins at the undergraduate level. While many students choose full Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) programs, others go for a nursing diploma program or a two-year associate in nursing degree.
From there, students can go on to pursue a postgraduate qualification. Some might choose a Master of Science in Nursing. Those who’ve completed a bachelor’s program may choose a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN to DNP) program. Others may opt for post-master’s certificates.
Whatever route you choose, studying to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner means focusing in depth on mental health and disorders. To that end, you’ll learn about psychopharmacology, mental health assessment, and mental health diagnosis, among other topics.
- Pass the NCLEX-RN Exam
After completing an undergraduate program, students must take the NCLEX-RN exam. You should carefully study what the test will entail in advance. Of course, the specific questions vary every year, but they’ll always cover a range of medical topics. That includes safety and infection control, pharmacology, and health promotion and maintenance. Each person studies for the exam differently. But you may find it worthwhile to review the NCLEX test plans before exam day.
Though many of the questions are multiple choice, the so-called ‘alternate item’ format includes other styles, notably fill-in-the-blank questions and ones involving graphs and other images. Finally, make sure you know where your test center is located.
- Obtain Your Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Degree
After securing an undergraduate qualification and becoming a RN, you must then complete a postgraduate degree program focused on psychiatric nursing. There are several options available to you, but an MSN in psychiatric nursing practice is one common pathway. This degree can be completed in around two years. Learn more about getting into nursing school.
For students in a hurry, a joint bachelor’s and doctorate degree (commonly called a BSN to DNP degree) could work well. Combining core nursing courses, PMHNP concentration courses, and clinical hours, this option can be completed in an average of 48 months.
If you’ve already completed a postgraduate nursing degree, but now want to focus on psychiatric practice, a post-master’s psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner certificate is another option, and some of them can be completed online.
Per ANCC certification rules, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs should offer at least 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours.
- Gain Clinical Experience
Part of becoming a certified PMHNP involves gaining clinical experience working in the field. According to the ANCC, the required clinical experience for a psychiatric nurse includes at least 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical practice in psychiatric mental health nursing.
That includes clinical training in at least two psychotherapeutic treatment modalities. In practice, that leaves you with a number of opportunities to specialize. For example, you may choose to focus on Freudian psychoanalysis. Or maybe you want to work in cognitive therapy, or humanistic therapy.
Some nurses don’t tie themselves to any single approach, and instead blend elements from different approaches and tailor their treatment. This is known as integrative or holistic therapy.
- Become a Board-Certified Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Once you’ve taken a postgraduate course in psychiatric nursing, and completed the prerequisite clinical work (see above), you can work on gaining a certification for nurse practitioners via the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
Covering the range of psychiatric nursing, the board-certified psychiatric NP examination tests candidates on relevant knowledge for practice and that includes diagnosis and treatment to psychotherapy to ethical and legal principles. As with the NCLEX, the questions on this exam are multiple choice.
Candidates may be able to sit for the NP examination after all their coursework and faculty-supervised clinical practice hours are complete, even if they haven’t graduated yet It’s also important to note that there are additional requirements for applicants outside the United States.
- Start Your Search for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Jobs
Now that you’re certified, it’s time to start job hunting! There are a number of places to look for psychiatric nurse jobs, from general career portals to specialized health care websites like the American Nurses Association. Looking on specific health care company websites and local government portals may prove successful too.
Though career outlook information for psychiatric nurse practitioners is unavailable, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that demand for nurse practitioners will increase by 52% between 2019 and 2029, which is much higher than the national average for all occupations. Learn more about nursing degree salaries and nurse practitioner careers.