What is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

A psychiatric nurse practitioner works with communities, groups, families and individuals, assessing their mental health needs. Psychiatric mental health nurses (PMHNs) are responsible for developing a nursing diagnosis and plan of care before implementing the nursing process and evaluating it for success. Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (PMH-APRNs) provide primary care assistance to those needing psychiatric-mental health services.

What is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners assess, diagnose and treat families and individuals with the potential for psychiatric disorders or those with such disorders using a full scope of therapeutic skills, including the administration of psychotherapy and the prescription of medication, according to Discover Nursing. PMH-APRNs often own private corporations and practices and consult with legislators, groups and communities. The role of psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners is an advanced one, requiring extension education in physical and mental health assessment, development, implementation and integration of care, the diagnosis of mental health conditions, psychotherapy, psychopharmacology, practice evaluation, liaison and consultation. Using these skills requires students to obtain an educational degree, and doctoral and advanced master’s degree allow PMHs to work in particular roles, including university educators, psychotherapists and psychiatric primary care providers.

Education will prepare PMH APRNs to provide mental illness diagnoses and treatments for all ages. Areas of sub-specialty can include substance use disorders, forensics, gerontological-psychiatric nursing and child and adolescent mental health nursing. Some nurses may specialize in the consultation-liason role, providing services and consultations to famliies and patients with multiple complex physical and mental health concerns, while others specialize in integrative, collaborative healthcare roles with primary care providers.

To become a psychiatric-mental health nurse, one must first become a registered nurse (RN) by taking either a two-year program that results in an associate’s degree, a three-year program to earn a diploma in nursing or a four-year university or college program that leads to a bachelor’s degree. Students may sit for the RN licensing examination following graduation. Basic nursing programs will engage students in a “rotation” in psychiatric-mental health nursing, thus introducing them to the industry and helping them to determine if they wish to work in the field of psychiatric nursing or pursue an advanced degree in the field.

In order to work as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN), an individual must earn a degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing at the master’s or doctoral level. These nurses use their knowledge of the nursing practice to identify risk factors for psychiatric disorders and diagnose, assess and treat patients with such disorders. They may also contribute to healthcare reform, quality practice evaluation and policy development. The practice of the PMHN as a nurse practitioner or clinical nurse specialist is considered an advanced specialty in nursing, and APRNs can practice as nurse practitioners (NPs) or Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs). The Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) is the doctoral degree for the advanced clinical practice of psychiatric nursing, and APRNs may also earn additional degrees such as an EdD or Ph.D. that prepares them for work as administrators, researchers or professors.

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Individuals considering this career path may wish to do volunteer work in community programs, hospitals and/or agencies where he or she will encounter families or individuals with psychiatric problems. Although these volunteer positions will not demonstrate the full scope of the role of a psychiatric nurse practitioner, they will provide a good starting point.