Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses
- What do psychiatric-mental health nurses (PMHNs) do?
- Can you specialize within psychiatric nursing?
- How can I become a PMHN?
- Why do psychiatric-mental health nurses obtain a master's or doctoral degree?
- How do I find a good program for psychiatric nursing?
- Are PMHNs certified?
- What about titles for PMHNs?
- How can I determine if psychiatric nursing is for me before I enter a basic nursing program?
- What is the annual salary for PMHMs?
- Is psychiatric-mental health nursing experiencing a shortage now?
- How do psychiatric-mental health nurses differ from psychiatrists, social workers and psychologists?
- How can nurses “switch” to psychiatric nursing?
- How can I find out more about psychiatric nursing?
Psychiatric mental health nursing is a specialty within nursing. Psychiatric mental health registered nurses work with individuals, families, groups, and communities, assessing their mental health needs. The PMHN develops a nursing diagnosis and plan of care, implements the nursing process, and evaluates it for effectiveness. Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (PMH-APRNs) offer primary care services to the psychiatric-mental health population. PMH-APRNs assess, diagnose, and treat individuals and families with psychiatric disorders or the potential for such disorders using their full scope of therapeutic skills, including the prescription of medication and administration of psychotherapy. PMH-APRNs often own private practices and corporations as well as consult with groups, communities, legislators, and corporations.
Advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) earn master’s or doctoral degrees in psychiatric-mental health nursing. APRNs apply the nursing process to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals or families with psychiatric disorders and identify risk factors for such disorders. They also contribute to policy development, quality improvement, practice evaluation, and healthcare reform. The practice of the psychiatric-mental health nurse (PMHN) as a Clinical Nurse Specialist or Nurse Practitioner is considered an advanced specialty in nursing. APRNs practice as Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) or Nurse Practitioners (NPs). The doctoral degree for the advanced clinical practice of psychiatric nursing is the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP). APRNs also earn additional degrees (PhD and EdD) which prepare them to work as professors, researchers, or administrators.
More about what PMH nurses do can be found in(2014).
Through the, all PMH APRNs will be academically prepared to provide mental health promotion and mental illness diagnosis and treatment across the lifespan. Areas of sub-specialty can include child and adolescent mental health nursing, gerontological-psychiatric nursing, forensics, or substance use disorders. Some PMH-APRNs specialize in the consultation-liaison role, providing consultation and services to patients and families with multiple and complex mental and physical health concerns. Others specialize in collaborative, integrative health care roles with primary care providers.
To become a registered nurse (RN), there are two year programs leading to an associate’s degree in nursing, three-year programs for a diploma in nursing (usually hospital-based), or four-year college or university programs leading to a bachelor’s degree. Graduates from all of these programs are eligible to take the RN licensing examination after graduation.
The PMH-APRN role is an advanced nursing role requiring extensive education in development, physical and mental health assessment, the diagnosis of mental health conditions, integration and implementation of care, psychopharmacology, psychotherapy, practice evaluation, consultation, and liaison. To utilize these skills in practice it is necessary to obtain the appropriate educational degree. Advanced masters and doctoral degrees allow the PMH nurse to work in particular roles, such as that of psychiatric primary care provider, psychotherapist, consultant, and university educator.
The American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the National League for Nursing accredit programs. Visit our Psychiatric Nursing Graduate Programs page for a listing of programs in the United States.
Certification for PMHNs at all levels is provided by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).
PMHN is the title for the basic level nurse who works in psychiatric nursing. Some nurses simply have an RN after their name.
Each state legislature and Board of Nursing decides on the title it will use for APRNs and regulates licensure, scope, and standards of practice. Examples of different titles include Advanced Practice Registered Nurse, Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist.
Titles vary depending on the state. For the most accurate information, contact each state for the title, scope of practice and requirements for advanced licensing. The National Council of State Boards of Nursing provides the contact information for state nursing boards.
It is often wise to do some volunteer work in agencies, hospitals, and/or community programs where you encounter individuals or families with psychiatric problems. These volunteer roles will not allow you to experience the full scope of a psychiatric nurse's position, but they will provide a good starting point.
Basic nursing programs provide a “rotation” in psychiatric-mental health nursing that helps introduce students to the specialty and assists them with determining if they want to work in this area or even pursue a master’s degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing.
PMHNs need good communication and relationship skills as well as a broad base of knowledge in the basic and behavioral sciences.
Like most professions, the pay scale depends on many factors, such as level of education, years of experience, size of the agency or hospital, and geographic location. You can find up-to-date salary information for psychiatric mental health registered nurses here: and for psychiatric mental health advanced practice nurses here: .
As with all nursing specialties, there is a shortage of nurses at all levels and in most roles.
Psychiatric-mental health nurses have degrees in nursing. This means that the nursing process informs how they practice. At times, the role of a PMH-APRN with a master’s degree may overlap with that of a psychologist, social worker and psychiatrist. For example, all of these positions usually do psychotherapy. APRNs and psychiatrists can prescribe, whereas psychologists and social workers cannot. Psychologists are trained to do psychological testing and members of the other three disciplines are not trained in this way. All of these different psychiatric providers can practice independently, but are also subject to state laws governing practice and scope of practice.
The best way is to apply for an entry-level psychiatric-mental health nursing position in a hospital or agency. Some schools provide courses for a review of psychiatric nursing. Some individuals choose to obtain an advanced degree such as a master’s or doctoral degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing.
Libraries and online resources are the best vehicle for finding journal articles and books on the specialty of psychiatric nursing. Those persons interested in PMH nursing can call their state chapter of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association to speak with a PMHN in their area.
Additional APNA Resources:
New! Download & Print Brochures about Advanced Practice Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses (PMH NPs and PMH CNSs).
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