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Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Nursing Specialty Breakdown

Written by Mariya Rizwan, PharmD

Psychiatric NPs, or psychiatric nurse practitioners, are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have advanced training and a master's (MSN) or a doctoral degree program (DNP) with a specialization in mental health treatment.

Mental health challenges are increasing day by day, which makes the job of a psychiatric NP lucrative and fulfilling.

Psychiatric nurses and NPs look after patients with symptoms of mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, substance abuse, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other disorders.

How To Become A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

To become a psychiatric nurse, one must obtain a bachelor's in nursing (BSN) degree with a license to practice. After that, one should enroll in a master's program with advanced practice courses focusing on mental health and psychiatry.

Some programs ask the candidate to have at least two years of working experience (as a nurse) before getting into the school, but some allow the candidate to work while in the program.

Generally, the master's degree in psychiatry takes two to three years to complete.

After completing that degree, one can also enroll in a doctoral program if they wish to further their education, which takes around three to four years in the minimum to complete. The candidate should have 500 supervised clinical hours. Moreover, students must also take advanced courses in pathophysiology, health assessment, health promotion, differential diagnosis, disease management, psychotherapy, and pharmacology.

To be a certified psychiatric NP, one should gain clinical training in at least two psychotherapeutic treatment modalities.

Except for five states in the United States, one must pass a national certification exam issued by the American Nurses Credentialing Centre (ANCC) to practice as a psychiatric NP. The certificate renewal should be maintained every five years following recertification requirements.

Skills And Traits of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Being a psychiatric NP can be challenging. The following skills and traits can be helpful:

Emotional intelligence: to judge and acknowledge the patient’s feelings. It is also required to engage in appropriate conversations.

Emotional stability: to be able to cope with all the patient is going through. One must be empathetic and non-judgmental but be sane enough to help them. If their problems are taken too seriously, the provider may lose the ability to work well.

Good communication skills: to convey your message well to the patients.

Relationship-building techniques: to foster trust between provider and patients. As a psychiatric NP, one should know the techniques to build a trustworthy relationship as it dictates the level of treatment success.

Collaborative effort: Be able to work in a team with other healthcare providers with good communication skills and patience.

Where Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Work?

Psychiatric NPs work with patients dealing with grief, depression, anxiety, or exhibiting symptoms of other mental disorders.

They can work in places such as:

  • Emergency departments
  • Pediatrics
  • Geriatrics
  • Inpatient treatment facilities
  • Behavioral health clinics
  • Correctional facilities
  • Hospitals
  • Family medicine

Job Duties Of A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric NPs work in collaboration with other healthcare providers to give appropriate treatment to the patient. They have an extended license that enables them to make accountable decisions for their patients.

The job duties of a psychiatric NP include:

  • Diagnose, prescribe, and treat common psychiatric illnesses
  • Give and facilitate group or individual psychotherapy
  • Obtain the complete family and medical history of the patient
  • Provide counseling and family psychiatric mental health education
  • Take part in health promotion activities
  • Evaluate symptoms of the patients presenting with mental illness /symptoms

In an emergency, the psychiatric NP may need to perform duties such as:

  • Perform medical clearance such as lab work, physical assessment, and taking medical histories
  • Perform suicide risk screening with the help of triage tools
  • Make differential diagnoses and differentiate systemic illnesses from mental health disorders
  • Stabilizing the patient using the least restrictive interventions

Benefits of Working As A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

The benefits of working as a psychiatric NP are:

Helping Others: as a psychiatric NP, the provider extends a helping hand to patients suffering from anxiety, depression, and other health conditions. Providers also try to pave solutions to problems, which makes them helpful human beings and provides inner satisfaction.

Have a consistent schedule: psychiatric NPs can work on a consistent schedule, such as nights or days only. However, it is possible to work during the day only, such as in clinics that do not operate at night. There is a lot of flexibility and work-life balance working as a psychiatric NP.

Can work with any age group: psychiatric NPs can work with any age group, such as children, teens, adults, and geriatrics. Providers can work with those with whom they enjoy working.

Work in a highly demanding field: in recent times, much research on mental health has been conducted. The public's perception of mental health diseases is changing, which makes the job of a psychiatric NP in demand.

Job security: employers want to hire NPs who specialize in caring for patients with mental health diseases, securing the job of a psychiatric NP.

Salary: the psychiatric NP is a high-paying job that provides financial stability. According to various sources, psychiatric NPs can make at least $100,000 per annum.

Psychiatric NPs are the second highest-paid NPs, with a salary range of $71,845 to $129,837, with a median salary of $91,298 annually.

The annual mean wage according to various states are:

  • California: $120,930
  • Alaska: $117,080
  • Hawaii: $114,220
  • Massachusetts: $112,860
  • Oregon: $111,210

Along with a lucrative career, psychiatric NPs can also get other benefits, such as:

  • Health and medical insurance
  • Life insurance
  • Holiday pay
  • Relocation packages
  • Nursing conference invitations
  • Certification and continuing education reimbursements
  • Parental or maternity leave
  • Leaves for absence
  • Paid time off
  • Discounts on various products and services


Before planning to become a psychiatric NP, keep in mind that the field is demanding and challenging. However, it is always a good idea to shadow a provider to know if it suits you.

In practice, be empathetic with the patient and non-judgmental when listening to their stories. A provider must make wise choices for the proper decision-making.

Overall, the job of a psychiatric NP has a good life balance, is well-paid, and has financial stability. It will be a good fit if you enjoy working with patients with mental disorders. Best of luck!

About the Author:

Mariya Rizwan is an experienced pharmacist who has been working as a medical writer for four years. Her passion lies in crafting articles on topics ranging from Pharmacology, General Medicine, Pathology to Pharmacognosy.

Mariya is an independent contributor to CEUfast’s Nursing Blog Program.

Please note that the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely of the independent contributor and do not necessarily represent those of CEUfast. This blog post is not medical advice. Always consult with your personal healthcare provider for any health-related questions or concerns.

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