An estimated 56 million Americans are facing mental health and/or substance abuse disorders. Mental health issues include anxiety, depression, acute and chronic grief, and psychoses. Additionally, millions of Americans struggle with addiction to alcohol, illegal substances, and pharmaceuticals, such as opioids.
Major events that impact everyone also affect individual mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has caused widespread disruption and stress, driving the need for mental health resources to alarming levels. Unfortunately, qualified mental health professionals are currently in short supply, leaving vulnerable patients to look elsewhere for mental health resources.
According to Katherine Sarsfield, director of the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program at Bradley University, PMHNPs are able to fill the gap by providing evidence-based, quality mental health services in various settings. Additionally, PMHNPs help reduce the stigma surrounding mental health by increasing public awareness and knowledge about mental illness.
When examining the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner salary and job outlook, it becomes clear why it’s one of the most highly sought-after positions in the health care field. PMHNPs are well compensated for the important work they perform. However, the journey to become a PMHNP requires dedication, advanced education, and certification.
What Does a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Do?
PMHNPs are responsible for assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients with mental health and/or substance abuse issues. They work with patients across many demographics, providing mental health resources for people of any age. Additionally, PMHNPs can work in various settings, making the role one of the more accessible types of health care professionals. PMHNPs may work with patients in their homes by using telepsychiatry, or see patients in office-based settings, substance abuse centers, and health care facilities.
These mental health workers often work with other psychiatric professionals to deliver a more comprehensive treatment strategy to patients. Collaborating with other health care professionals is especially important for PMHNPs who work in reduced-practice or restricted-practice states, where they may be prohibited from prescribing medication for patients. In full-practice states, PMHNPs have the authority to initiate and manage treatments and prescribe medication.
PMHNPs are generally considered to be a holistic-based mental health resource specializing in nonpharmacologic therapies and assessments. They provide both physical and psychosocial patient assessments along with emergency psychiatric care. PMHNPs also routinely follow up with patients to evaluate the effectiveness of their treatment plan.
Requirements and Skill Set of a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
To become a PMHNP, candidates must meet specific educational and certification requirements. Additionally, PMHNPs should possess a particular skill set to be successful practitioners.
Education and Certification Requirements
The first step for an aspiring PMHNP is to become a licensed registered nurse (RN). This can be accomplished by either completing an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program. Because the nursing program prepares students to take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) — an exam that tests the skills and knowledge of an RN — the BSN program is generally preferred.
After becoming a licensed RN, aspiring PMHNPs nurses should pursue specialized roles that are specific to psychiatric nursing. This allows them to acquire the on-the-job experience required for PMHNP certification. They should also pursue advanced education that’s relevant to the PMHNP role. Bradley University currently offers the following programs:
- RN-to-MSN PMHNP: This program is intended for RNs with an ADN, nursing diploma, or non-nursing bachelor’s degree, and offers bridge courses that can put the student on the path to a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) to PMHNP.
- BSN-to-MSN PMHNP: This program is intended for those with a BSN degree. The program has no bridge courses, allowing students to immediately begin work toward their master’s degree.
- BSN-to-DNP PMHNP: This program is intended for nurses with a BSN degree. The program is for those wishing to earn a terminal degree focusing on psychiatric-mental health.
A PMHNP’s level of education can make an impact on compensation. The psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner salary for someone who holds a doctoral degree may be higher than that of someone who holds an MSN degree.
Lastly, the candidate will need to pass the PMHNP board certification exam that the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) issues to obtain the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (PMHNP-BC) credential. The competency-based exam tests the entry-level clinical knowledge and skills that a PMHNP should possess to work with patients. Of the numerous eligibility requirements, the most important includes an active RN license and a master’s or a doctoral degree, or a postgraduate certificate.
To become a fully licensed PMHNP, the candidate will also need to check state licensing requirements. While requirements vary by state, most involve filing the required forms and paying the application fees.
Desired Skills of a PMHNP
To be effective and successful in their role, PMHNPs should possess all or the majority of the following skills and competencies:
- Strong leadership: PMHNPs are authorities in the field of mental health, so they must possess the leadership qualities to get patients and other health care professionals on board with their treatment strategy.
- Interpersonal: PMHNPs rely on a well-honed set of interpersonal skills when treating patients, especially considering the sensitive nature of the conditions they treat. Patience, empathy, and active listening are hallmarks of an effective PMHNP.
- Communication: PMHNPs hold regular discussions with their patients about how they’re feeling and what they’re experiencing. This requires the PMHNP to be an expert communicator with not only patients but also other health care providers.
- Creative and critical thinking: Not every patient is the same and not every issue will be immediately evident. PMHNPs must rely on their creative problem-solving and critical thinking skills to explore and fully comprehend their patients’ issues.
Job Outlook and Salary for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
As previously mentioned, PMHNPs are well compensated for the important work they do providing mental health care. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners earned an approximate annual salary of $111,680 in 2020. However, keep in mind that factors such as education, experience, region, and the facility hiring for the position affect a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner’s salary.
The BLS projects the nurse practitioner role to grow by 52% between 2020 and 2030, much faster than the projected average growth rate of 8% for all occupations.
Help Fill the Demand for Mental Health Professionals
According to Sarsfield, there are many ways to engage with mental health providers now, and psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners are key to expanding access and making mental health care more readily available for patients in need. With surging demand for mental health care from those struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues, the PMHNP role has never been more important.
The first step toward becoming a PMHNP is to get a quality education, which can be acquired through Bradley University’s online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program. The university offers students three online options to earn a PMHNP degree and prepare to take the ANCC certification exam.
Take the first step to pursuing your professional goals today with Bradley University.
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American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
American Association of Nurse Practitioners, State Practice Environment
American Nurses Credentialing Center, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC)
American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Expanding Mental Health Care Services in America: The Pivotal Role of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses
News Medical, Mental Health Nursing
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “How Nurses Can Combat Mental Health Stigmas During COVID-19 and After”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners