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About Psychiatric Nursing Graduate Programs

Getting an advanced degree in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing can add options to your career.  Discover more about what it takes to get started here.

What are the differences between the different graduate psychiatric-mental health nursing degrees/programs out there?

MSN vs. DNP vs. PhD

The key difference among the three types of graduate nursing programs is their objective. The MSN is focused on nurse leadership, education, and administration, while the DNP concentrates on nursing practice. The PhD sets its sights on research.

American Association of Colleges of Nursing describes several education pathways, while Nurse Practitioner offers this summary of the MSN.

Expected salary

Salaries can vary due to factors such as geographic location, years of experience, specialty, and type of employer. The following figures help illustrate the range you can expect. lists the salary range for a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner as 88k – 142k (March 2021).

According to the National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the annual mean salary for nurse practitioners is $111,840 (May 2019).

Career Outlook

Another consideration when thinking about seeking a graduate degree is your area of interest. View below the expected employment outcomes for each.


  • Leadership in nursing practice
  • Management positions
  • Healthcare policy, administration, or government positions
  • Academia in practice-based nursing programs


  • Nursing researcher
  • Health policy positions
  • Nursing faculty positions


  • Nurse Practitioner

What are examples of accredited graduate programs?  What programs are not accredited?

The Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education monitors programs nationwide and offers a search for accredited programs by state or institution.

Selecting a non-accredited program may not prevent you from getting a job but it could limit your ability to work for certain organizations, to obtain financial aid or to transfer credits to another institution.

What is a bridge program?

A bridge program is an educational path designed to help you transition from one type of degree to another – enabling you to expand your knowledge and career potential efficiently, minimizing expense and time spent.  Such pathways encourage nursing students to pursue advanced degrees, meeting a growing demand for nurses in advanced practice and faculty roles. Options include MSN to DNP programs and RN to MSN programs.

RN to MSN programs by state.

Is online an option?

Yes! There are many great online programs which can be a good fit for those who choose to work while they earn their degree.

Affordable Colleges Online provides details on online programs for nursing degrees including steps to advance your education and career through a bridge program.

I have a Master’s degree, what sort of program do I need to become licensed as a PMH-NP? How about someone with Master’s in non-nursing field?

Information about certification requirements for PMH-NP is available from American Nurses Credentialing Center.

There are online programs available for post (nursing) Master’s PMH-NP Certificate.

If your Master’s is in a non-nursing field, you will need fulfill a different set of course requirements. These requirements vary among programs and often must be fulfilled within a designated timeframe (within the last 5 years for example). Commonly required courses include:

  • Lifespan Development
  • Natural Science courses
  • Human Anatomy & Physiology
  • Microbiology

What should I look for when selecting a graduate nursing program? (i.e. ANCC Board pass rates, class sizes, etc.)

These programs vary a great deal.  It is important to select that program that best meets your needs and your area of interest. Once you have determined your area of specialty you can evaluate the faculty, their strengths and level of expertise in that area. You can also investigate the amount of clinical work required. The availability of financial aid might also be a consideration.

US News provides a listing of top schools for the PMH NP and the criteria used to select them.

What are the usual admissions requirements?

Each program will have specific requirements, but in general MSN programs require the following:

  • A bachelor of science in nursing (BSN)
  • A registered nurse (RN) license.
  • Minimum GPA and GRE scores
  • Clinical experience

The requirements for PhD and DNP programs are similar and may include a BSN or MSN degree.  Resumes and letters of reference are also needed for admission in many cases.

If you are planning to apply for multiple programs you might consider using this Centralized Application Service offered in partnership with the American Association of Colleges of Nursing.

I have an undergrad background outside of nursing, what do I need to do to get into a grad program?

For those who already have a bachelor’s degree, a direct entry masters is a great solution to help grow your career potential.  In some cases PhD programs will consider applicants with non-nursing Bachelor’s degree.

What are some options to look into to pay for graduate school?

Scholarship opportunities are plentiful for nursing graduate programs.

To learn more about or to apply for federal aid, visit this Federal Student Aid page.

If you plan to concentrate on becoming a nurse educator, AACNE shares this funding information.

APNA offers other helpful resources.

Once I’m in a program, what are some tips for finding a preceptor and/or a clinical site?

Thankfully there is help available for this step in the process.

APNA’s mentor program, allows members to search for preceptors through its Member Bridge.

Your university can contact the American Nurses Credentialing Center to access its Preceptor Bank:

AACN offers general information and the requirements for  clinical practice experiences.

Here is helpful article from US News about what to expect from the process.

APNA Guidance Regarding Precepting and Mentorship

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) receives periodic inquiries seeking advice on the procurement of preceptors and mentors, as well as what role APNA plays in the process. Below is guidance for members and other stakeholders. It provides definitions to clarify the distinction between preceptors and mentors. Foundational to this guidance is that there can be no replacement for the proper due diligence by the organization, institution, and students involved in determining qualifications, credentials, and suitability of preceptors and mentors. The identification and selection of either calls for the careful deliberation of all concerned to assure that these relationships result in positive outcomes for all involved in and affected by the relationship. Click here to download this guidance as a PDF.


  • Definition: Mentoring implies a knowledge or competence gradient, in which the teaching-learning process contributes to a sharing of advice or expertise, role development, and formal and informal support to influence the career of the protégé. [1]
  • Role/Relationship: Mentoring is a reciprocal and collaborative learning relationship between two individuals with mutual goals and shared accountability for the success of the relationship. The mentor is the guide, expert, and role model who helps develop a new or less experienced mentee. [2-3]
  • Initiation: Negotiated between parties.
  • Duration: Longer term/Ongoing. Ends via mutual and negotiated consent. [4]


  • Definition: A preceptor is typically a nurse assigned based on her/his knowledge, skills, and experience in the specialty to assist an entry level nurse or APRN student with competency in the skill and knowledge of philosophies, goals, policies and procedures, expectations, physical environment, and services in learning the practice of nursing.
  • Role/Relationship: An experienced nurse who serves as a short-term clinical teacher, role model, supporter, supervisor, and evaluator to a nurse orientee who is acclimating to the complexities of patient care and the role of professional nurse in a given clinical setting and during work hours. [5]
  • Initiation: Ascribed or appointed by educational institution, employer, or individual*.
  • Duration: Defined period of time determined by established standards and institutional requirements. [4]

*Please note, APNA advocates adherence to the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education’s (CCNE) standards on preceptorship (See Standard II, third bullet point) which states, “In Key Element II-F, CCNE’s expectation has been clarified that individuals serving in roles such as mentors, guides, and coaches are to be included by programs when addressing preceptors. Please note, this key element does not prohibit programs from allowing students to play an active role in identifying a preceptor, but if a student is unable to find an appropriate preceptor, when used by the program as an extension of faculty, the program is ultimately responsible for doing so.” [6]

As a professional membership organization, APNA does not have procedures or authority to accredit individuals for preceptorship. It can provide the opportunity for members to network with each other and express a need for preceptors or mentors. Those willing to serve as preceptors or mentors are encouraged to make their availability known via networking opportunities, such as the APNA Member Bridge community site or the Mentor Match program provided by APNA. APNA makes no warranty or statement as to the qualifications or credentials of potential mentors or preceptors. It is the responsibility of the organizations, institutions, and students to exercise their own due diligence in assessing qualifications, credentials, and suitability of preceptors or mentors.

Approved by the APNA Board of Directors April 2019.


1. Jakubik, L. D., Eliades, A. B., & Weese, M. M. (2016). Part 1: An overview of mentoring practices and mentoring benefits. Pediatric nursing, 42(1), 37.

2. Hnatiuk, C. N. (2012). Mentoring nurses toward success. Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses, 21(5), 9-11.

3. Mariani B. (2012). The effect of mentoring on career satisfaction of registered nurses and intent to stay in the nursing profession. Nursing research and practice, 2012, 168278. doi:10.1155/2012/168278

4. Firtko, A., Stewart, R., & Knox, N. (2005). Understanding mentoring and preceptorship: Clarifying the quagmire. Contemporary Nurse, 19(1-2), 32-40.

5. American Nurses Association – Massachusetts. (n.d.). Mentoring definitions. Retrieved from

6. Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. (2018). Executive Summary of Changes to the 2018 Standards for Accreditation of Baccalaureate and Graduate Nursing Programs. Retrieved from: Standards.pdf