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Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner at a Glance

As certified advanced practice nurses, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners provide a range of mental health treatment and support services to patients and their families. In addition to working with doctors to establish a diagnosis and prescribe medication, Psychiatric NPs create holistic treatment plans that prioritize a dynamic level of educational and professional support specific to each patient’s psychiatric needs.
Depending on their level of education, Psychiatric NPs can pursue additional specialties within the mental health profession, and can hold a variety of roles ranging from general psychiatric assessments and diagnoses, to working as counselors, to working in a research setting. However, no matter how you function as a Psychiatric NP, it’s important to lead with compassion for your patients who likely have little control over the way they are able to process or understand their diagnosis.


Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are highly sought after due to a growing demand for mental health services across the US.

Source: Regis College, Aug 2018

What is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are certified advanced practice professionals responsible for the care of patients diagnosed with mental disorders and behavioral problems. Depending on the state where they work, some Psychiatric NPs can practice with little to no physician supervision allowing them to establish themselves as experts in mental health.

Because of their core education in the nursing principles and practices outside this specialty, Psychiatric NPs tend to bring the holistic ethos of mind and body care, along with a high level of emotional intelligence, that enables them to tailor each patient’s care plan beyond a standard approach to diagnosis.

What’s the Demand for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners?

As of 2019, there were an estimated 12,690 Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners functioning in the US, a rather small number when you consider that psychiatrists are the second highest recruited physicians after family medicine professionals. With mental health becoming a growing topic in our society, the overall demand for emotionally competent and highly educated mental health

How Do You Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner is classified as an “advanced-practice” nurse, which means that a Master’s Degree in the Science of Nursing (MSN) from an accredited program is required, in addition to an undergraduate Bachelor’s Degree in the Science of Nursing (BSN).
As with other nursing specialties, those becoming Psychiatric NPs must first work as a registered nurse for at least one year to establish base clinical skills and a comprehensive understanding of standard nurse practices. This experience is especially important for those pursuing their certification as a Psychiatric NP because it allows you to build a holistic view of the codependency of mental and physical health.
Finally, to officially work as a Psychiatric NP, you’ll be required to earn your Board Certification in Psychiatric-Mental Health from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Being a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner is a very demanding profession. Because you’ll likely see many patients with completely different mental disorders or behavioral issues every day, it’s important that you’re naturally adaptable and emotionally intelligent. When treating and communicating with patients who might not be able to easily understand or communicate their own needs, you’ll be responsible for identifying and interpreting their psychiatric needs in a way that is entirely separate from your personal methods of emotional processing.

How Much Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Make?
$84k - $140k
As of 2020, the average annual salary for a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner tends to fall anywhere between $84k-$140k. As with any profession, factors such as years of experience, the kind of employer you work for, and the state and city you work in can have a significant impact on how you are compensated. Additionally, Psychiatric NPs who hold higher degrees, additional certifications, or function independently have the opportunity to boost their compensation beyond the reported average.
Higher Salary
As advanced practice nurses, Psychiatric NPs tend to be well compensated when compared to other nursing specialties. This has to do with the level of education required, highly specialized certifications, and their capabilities surrounding diagnosis, prescription and treatment.
Due to their advanced certifications, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners often function with little or no supervision from physicians, allowing them to establish independent relationships with their patients and sometimes open their own practices, depending on their state’s regulations.
You’ll work with other care providers both in and out of your home practice to create a course of action for each of your patients. As one of their main care providers, it’s on you to communicate and delegate tasks to your colleagues so that each of your patients is sufficiently supported when you aren’t immediately available to them.
Comprehensive mental diagnoses and maintenance require consistent communication between care providers and their patients. Because of this, Psychiatric NPs tend to spend a lot of time speaking with their patients and their families, both in person and on the phone, to understand their medical history and emotional cues so that they can form a holistic treatment plan for each patient’s needs.
Juggling a variety of patients every day means that Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners need to rely on a structured workflow to help them assess and anticipate their patients’ needs. Not only does this help Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners cover all their bases as clinical care providers, but it also allows them to devote time to building a broader support system for their patients, and set clear boundaries that let them manage their own levels of stress throughout the day.
Mental health is never a one-size-fits-all diagnosis and maintenance process. Because mental health disorders and behavioral issues manifest differently in individuals, you’ll face a variety of cases and find unique solutions every day. This is where active listening skills as a Psychiatric NP are invaluable. The better you’re able to understand your patients, however they might be presenting that day, the better you can provide for their needs.
Over the shoulder shot of a patient talking to a doctor using of a digital tablet
You’ll use a combination of therapy and medicine to treat patients, prescribing medication for mental illness and acting as a therapist to those who need counseling.

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

The specific duties and responsibilities of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner depend on the institution where they work and whether they’re functioning within a more acute psychiatric specialty. That being said, most Psychiatric NPs are responsible for the diagnostic care and wellness of their patients.


Using present symptoms and a patient’s personal and family health history, you’ll perform comprehensive evaluations, make diagnoses, and identify any patient risks. You’ll consider potential developmental issues, trauma, neurological dysfunction and other psychological disorders to make an informed treatment plan and support system for each of your patients.


As a Psychiatric NP, you’ll work closely with other doctors in and outside of your practice to create a holistic care plan for your patients, connecting them with resources and options for their unique psychiatric needs.


Some Psychiatric NPs function as a counselor for their patients, bringing their diverse knowledge of mental health diagnoses and treatments to provide informed and compassionate advice to individuals in need of additional support. A Psychiatric NP can also offer support sessions for family members or groups of people who’ve been touched by mental health disorders in any way.


Thorough documentation is essential to mental health treatments. Medications and treatment methods can have different effects on patients, and have the potential to make things worse if not properly monitored. As a Psychiatric NP, you’ll record a patient’s medical and psychiatric history, and their progress after each appointment or session, making it easier to identify issues or communicate your patient’s needs to other care providers.


Information can offer a lot of comfort to patients and families dealing with mental health or behavioral disorders. As a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, people will look to you for advice and insight on their situation, and it’s your responsibility to be honest and straightforward with your answers to give them a full understanding of what this all means for them moving forward. Additionally, you’ll have the opportunity to normalize discussions surrounding mental health in your professional and personal communities, hopefully making people more comfortable to ask for and accept help.


Psychiatric NPs are constantly having to think of new ways to communicate with or treat their patients, leading to innovative, individualized methods, as well as contributing to broader developments.

Where Can a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Work?
  • Doctors’ offices
    Psychiatric NPs tend to support psychiatrists or physicians in doctor’s offices that are usually focused on some area of mental health. Here, they get a full patient history, perform necessary testing, and assist in diagnosing and connecting patients with the resources for their psychiatric needs.
  • Hospitals
    Psychiatric NPs are constantly needed in hospitals to help monitor patients with more critical psychiatric ailments, ensuring that medication is working, assessing progress, and connecting patients with psychiatrists or social workers, should they need further help or evaluation.
  • Mental Health clinics
    Mental Health Clinics can offer both inpatient and outpatient care depending on an individual’s needs. Here, Psychiatric NPs can assist in both diagnostic or therapeutic care for patients receiving or seeking treatment.
  • Your own practice
    If you live in a state that allows you to practice independently with your level of training and certification as a Psychiatric Nurse practitioner, you’ll have the opportunity to own your own practice. This means that you’d be able to function as a lead care provider with no supervision, and diagnose and treat patients within the realm of your credentials. Should you take this step, you should make yourself informed on good business practices, as well as the financial and legal risks associated with owning your own medical practice.
The Challenges & Rewards of Being A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  • Video still of Candy Dato in front of hospital beds
  • The role of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

    As an experienced Psychiatric Nurse, clinical specialist, therapist, and nurse manager, Candy D., PhD, RN, NPP, is well versed in the many challenges and rewards associated with mental health and behavioral disorders. In helping her patients find methods to reduce or manage emotional pain, cope with trauma, and actively make positive changes in their lives, Candy has formed a deep appreciation for Psychiatric NP’s abilities to help their patients discover ways to live their lives without being debilitated by their disorder.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Path

Get a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

Earning your BSN typically takes four years. As a future Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, it could serve you to also prioritize additional psychology courses in order to get a more dynamic understanding of different disorders and treatment.

Pass the NCLEX-RN and work as a Registered Nurse.

As with most nursing specialties, Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners are required to first earn their licenses as a registered nurse, working for a minimum of a year to gain vital clinical experience.

Get a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).

Earning your MSN typically takes four years to complete at a full-time capacity, though some programs offer part-time options for students who require more flexibility in their schedule.

Get your Board Certification in Psychiatric-Mental Health from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Before being able to take the official exam, you’ll be required to complete specific course work, gain a minimum of 500 hours of supervised experience in a Psychiatric-Mental Health Program, and have clinical training in psychotherapy.

You’re ready to work as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.

Board Certification in Psychiatric-Mental Health Requirements

  • A minimum 500 supervised clinical hours within a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.
  • Complete and pass courses in advanced pathophysiology, advanced health assessment, and advanced pharmacology.
  • Hold a base knowledge in health promotion & maintenance, and diagnosis & disease management.
  • Hold clinical training in at least two types of psychotherapy.
  • Pass the cumulative exam.
Join an Organization
Become a member of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner organization to find career opportunities, learn from your colleagues, and support the profession.

American Psychiatric Nurses Association

International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses
Down to their core, nurses carry a fundamental respect for human dignity and an intuition for patient needs. That's why they're natural innovators. If you'd like to learn more about nurse-led innovation, here's where you can get started.
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