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A Psychiatric-Mental Health Advanced Practice Nurse (PMH-APRN) is a nurse with graduate-level training who provides psychiatric-mental health care and promotes mental health across the lifespan. PMH-APRNs assess, diagnose and treat individuals and families who have psychiatric and/or substance disorders. They also help those at risk to prevent the development of these disorders. They use a range of skills to provide holistic care, including prescribing medication and providing individual, family and group therapy. Instead of just treating an illness, PMH-APRNs take time to partner with a patient to help him or her achieve his/her own recovery and wellness goals. PMH-APRNs work in a variety of health care settings and practices and are eligible for reimbursement through private insurers, HMOs, PPOs, Medicare and Medicaid.

How to Become a Psychiatric-Mental Health Advanced Practice Nurse


To become a PMH Nurse Practitioner you will need to:

  • Obtain an entry-level nursing degree that leads to licensure as a registered nurse.
  • Obtain a Master of Science in Nursing or doctoral degree in advanced practice psychiatric nursing from an accredited nursing program.
  • Pass the American Nurses Credentialing Center board certification examination for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMH-NP).
  • Renew your certification every five years, meeting clinical practice and continuing education requirements.


Find accredited psychiatric-mental health nursing graduate programs.


PMH APRNs practice under the rules and regulations of the state in which they are licensed: their titles, scope of practice, and requirements for advance licensing vary depending on the state. For the most accurate information, contact your state’s board of nursing.

PMH APRNs may be licensed in two different roles:

  • Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist (PMHCNS)


Both PMH-NPs and PMH-CNSs share the same core skills.
They are both educated in research, systems leadership, and direct patient care skills needed to provide psychiatric evaluations and treatment. Both licenses require advanced education and clinical knowledge beyond that required of registered nurses, as well as meet high standards for licensure and certification. PMH-APRNs take a national certification examination to validate their expertise. This certification is designated with the initials BC (Board Certified) at the end of the title (e.g., PMHNP-BC). PMH-APRNs must continually enhance their expertise with continuing education to maintain their professional credentials.


Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses work in all areas of health care. They practice in primary care – that is family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology, prisons, home health care, hospitals – as well in outpatient and other subspecialties – treating mental health disorders.They are employed in hospitals, community mental health centers, home health care, partial hospital care, or residential settings. Others own their own private practice businesses that see patients and consult within local communities, with corporations, and even with local government. PMH-APRNs may specialize in a specific area or in treatment of a particular population such as children, adolescents, geriatrics, the seriously mentally ill, substance use disorders, trauma, forensics, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered populations, to name a few.

PMH-APRNs deliver holistic, personalized mental health care as they:

  • Integrate biological, psychological, social, and spiritual elements to treat the whole person.
  • Teach people how to manage their mental health and improve their overall health.
  • Emphasize health education, wellness promotion, and prevention of disease.


Prescriptive Authority
All 50 states permit APRNs some level of prescriptive authority. Many states allow APRNs to diagnose, treat, order diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications to patients without physician oversight under the licensure authority of the state board of nursing. Other states limit APRN scope of practice, such as by requiring a collaborative agreement with another health provider in order to provide patient care.


Advanced practice registered nurses (APRN) earn master’s or doctoral degrees in psychiatric-mental health nursing from accredited graduate programs. Most PMH-NP programs require applicants to have previous health care experience and an undergraduate college degree. The typical applicant may need to have a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a license as a registered nurse (RN). PHM-APRNS may hold a doctoral degree, including either the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD). APRNs also earn additional degrees (PhD and EdD) which prepare them to work as professors, researchers, or administrators. There are also a number of postgraduate PMH-APRN programs have also been established to provide practicing APRNs a post graduate certification as a PMH-NP.

PMH-APRNs are educated in a holistic model of psychiatric-mental health care. Through the APRN Consensus Model, all PMH-APRNs are academically prepared to provide mental health promotion and mental illness diagnosis and treatment across the lifespan. Students learn to diagnose and treat simple and complex psychiatric and mental health problems from adjustment disorders to serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, bipolar illness, major depression or anxiety disorders. The PMH-APRN graduate education consists of:

  • Basic science, i.e., pathophysiology
  • Advanced health assessment
  • Brain and behavioral correlates
  • Advanced psychopharmacology
  • Psychotherapeutic techniques
  • Clinical rotations in outpatient mental health, hospital or residential care settings


A PMH-APRN’s education does not stop after graduation. PMH-APRNs are required to take ongoing continuing education contact hours in areas such as diagnosis, psychotherapeutic treatment, or psychopharmacology.