Guide to Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

What is a psychiatric nurse practitioner? Also known as a psychiatric NP, this is someone who earns at least a master’s degree in nursing and specializes in providing mental health services to patients. Below is an overview on how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner and online programs that can help you get there.

What Is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)?

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are healthcare workers grounded in both psychiatry and nursing. While psychiatric NPs may begin their careers as a registered nurse, they earn an advanced degree in the area of mental health, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP).

Nurses interested in advancing their education and skills to become a PMHNP may find the psychiatric field rewarding. The median annual wage for NPs in general earn a is six-figures wage, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and they can elect to work with children, families, seniors or any number of demographics. According to AANP, the role responsibilities of a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner may include:

  • Diagnosing mental health conditions
  • Making mental and physical health assessments
  • Prescribing psychopharmacology
  • Performing consultations
  • Educating others on mental health disorders
  • Creating patient healthcare plans
  • Performing research

In general, the demand for nurse practitioners is expected to increase 45% between 2019 and 2029, making a psychiatric NP a practical career choice. Learn more about common ways on how to become a PMHNP.

What to Expect From an MSN in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Online Program

Online psychiatric mental health NP programs may help students to take courses toward their master’s with more flexibility, possibly with no need for attending traditional on-campus classes. Common elements of online PMHNP programs include:

  • Cloud-based platforms and/or virtual blackboards for accessing and submitting coursework
  • Multimedia learning modules
  • Lecture content in live and prerecorded formats
  • Digital communication (e.g., video conference, email and messaging apps that support collaboration between students and faculty)
  • Technical support staff to help resolve issues

For practicing nurses who may work shifts that do not often align with on-campus program schedules,  these components mean they can complete coursework where and when it is convenient.  

While online psychiatric mental health programs offer convenience, NP students may participate in clinical hours that take place on-site at local facilities. These hands-on experiences may be required for graduation and certification/licensure, and as such, students should make arrangements to meet these requirements.  

RN to MSN Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

You have a couple of pathways from an RN to an MSN psychiatric nurse practitioner program. If you are a registered nurse and possess an associate degree, you can enter a bridge program that replaces the material you would have learned in a bachelor’s program. Another option is to earn a BSN and then enter a master’s in nursing program.

Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program Admissions Requirements

The general requirements for psychiatric nurse program admissions include:

  • Bachelor’s degree in nursing from a regionally or nationally accredited institution
  • Minimum GPA 3.0 on a 4.0 scale
  • Current RN license
  • Completed online application and resume 
  • Statement of purpose
  • Official transcript of college work
  • Two letters of reference from academic or professional sources

The general requirements for RN-to-MSN program admissions may include:

  • Valid RN license 
  • An associate degree, hospital diploma or bachelor’s degree in a subject other than nursing
  • Completed online application and resume
  • Applicable transcripts
  • Letters of reference

Online PMHNP Program Curriculum

In addition to core NP classes, the curriculum for a PMHNP program may require several specialized psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner courses that may include:

  • Integrated Care I
  • Integrated Care II
  • Neurobiology of Mental Disorders 
  • Differential Diagnosis of Mental Disorders 
  • Psychotherapeutic Frameworks and Modalities 
  • Clinical Psychopharmacology 
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Practicum: Adult/Geriatric 
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Practicum: Peds/Family 

Though program commitments vary, it may be as many as a minimum of 30 hours per week to finish this type of online PMHNP program within three semesters. Students may need to complete core coursework credit hours and 448–500 clinical hours prior to graduation. Contact your school’s admission representative for any additional or state-specific information for online programs.

Clinical Experience for PMHNPs

An online psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program may not require regular on-campus visits. However, every would-be nurse practitioner needs to gain clinical experience at local clinical sites under the supervision of an experienced practitioner or a preceptor, whom you find and your school verifies and approves. 

You may need to  work closely with your preceptor and submit hours per your school’s requirement. Clinical rotations cover a person’s life span, so you will spend a set number of hours with pediatric, adult and geriatric clients. Be sure to set aside however many clinical hours you must fulfill, as they may be a requirement to graduate.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Certification Requirements

For nurses, certification in psychiatric nursing may go beyond a professional accomplishment, as it may be required for positions within a department or mental health facility, according to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Psychiatric mental health certification shows evidence that the nurse is knowledgeable in their field and qualified to care for clients in need of mental health services. 

For nurse practitioners, certification is typically required for licensure as an advanced practice registered nurse, or APRN.1 Even students whose program track is mental health must complete the APRN certification exam. In addition, certification is mandatory for a position as a mental health provider. Certification agencies for nurse practitioners include:

Post-Master’s PMHNP Certificate

A post-master’s psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner certificate, or PMHNP certificate, can help prepare you to sit for the ANCC certification exam.  Students gain the knowledge and competence to assess and treat mental health issues, help those suffering from a substance use disorder, collaborate with other healthcare professionals, and the ability to work in a variety of settings. 

Online Psychiatric Mental Health NP Salary and Job Outlook

Mental health nurse practitioners earn a mean annual salary of $125,350, or $60.26 an hour.

Psychiatric nurse practitioner jobs are growing. The BLS reports that employment of all types of nurse practitioners is expected to grow by 52% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Depending on your nursing degree specialty, your nursing career options and nursing degree salary can differ. If you are still undecided, learn more about which nursing degree might be right for you.

Learn more about PMHNP career and salary outlook.

Online MSN in Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs FAQ

Any time you consider furthering your education or changing career goals, you’ll likely have questions. These are not easy decisions, especially when they require you to invest your time and money. Even after you review informational materials and guides, it is expected that a few questions remain. Here are some FAQs that may help answer them.

What’s the Difference Between a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner and a Psychiatrist?

Although the responsibilities for each role can overlap, there is a difference between a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a psychiatrist: education. A psychiatric nurse practitioner holds at least a Master of Science in Nursing degree, whereas a psychiatrist holds a doctorate of medicine, or an MD. A second difference is some states have limitations on the PNP role.

Both roles can assess patients, prescribe medications (in accordance with state regulations), create healthcare plans and prescribe treatments, among other shared duties.

Is There a Demand for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners?

Yes. Overall, job opportunities for nurse practitioners are likely to be excellent, and as mental health awareness grows in the United States, so does the demand for psychiatric NPs. Employment of all types of nurse practitioners is expected to grow by 52% between 2019 and 2029, which is much faster than the average of all other occupations, the BLS reports.

How Can I Become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

Everyone’s journey is different, but some common steps include obtaining the RN credential after earning an associate or a bachelor’s degree in nursing, then earning an MSN, and perhaps even a DNP; then you must pass the PMHNP exam and become certified. It’s important to remember everyone’s journey is different, so the steps you take may not be the same.

How Long Does it Take to Become a Psychiatric NP?

Depending on the program, you can expect to spend two to four years in school. It could take longer if you work full time and study part time.

Last Updated December 2020