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How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

A degree may open the door to a variety of opportunities and diverse career paths. The degree programs offered at CTU will not necessarily lead to the featured careers. This collection of articles is intended to help inform and guide you through the process of determining which level of degree and types of certifications align with your desired career path.

To become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) is required. It's also required to become licensed. This can be done by passing the NCLEX & PMHNP-BC exams.

Nurses interested in a career in mental health may consider becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner (PNP), also referred to as a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMNP). These advanced specialty nurses diagnose and treat patients with mental illnesses. As part nurse, part psychiatrist and part therapist, becoming a PNP can require substantial schooling, certification and a particular set of skills and characteristics.1

Skills and Characteristics

To excel in the field of psychiatric nursing, individuals should possess certain innate personality traits. These include:

  • Effective Communication – In general, a nurse should have good communication and relationship skills to provide guidance and reassurance to patients.2 Nurses should also be able to freely converse with other healthcare professionals and families to ensure that the appropriate course of action is understood.1
  • Critical-Thinking Ability – A large aspect of psychiatric nursing is assessing, diagnosing and treating individuals and families with psychiatric disorders (or the potential for such disorders) using therapeutic skills.1 Since psychiatric disorders can be complex, a nurse should have the capability to act quickly to determine the most appropriate course of action or decide to consult another healthcare professional.2
  • Interpersonal Skills – PNPs are often called upon to coordinate care and collaborate with other individuals, families, groups and communities to assess mental health needs.1 Accordingly, it can be beneficial to have a cooperative mindset in order to work with a team to determine and execute the best possible healthcare options for a patient.2

Apart from these key qualities, prospective psychiatric nurse practitioners must meet specific educational requirements.

Required Education

There are several educational stops along the path to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner. When aspiring to become a nurse, students can enroll in a diploma nursing program, a two-year associate’s in nursing degree, or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) program.2

In general, BSN courses cover subjects such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, chemistry, nutrition, psychology and other social and behavioral science. Bachelor’s degree programs also include additional education in communication, leadership and critical thinking. Supervised clinical rotations are a requirement for graduation from any diploma, associate’s or bachelor’s degree in nursing.2

Students looking to become advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs), with a focus in psychiatric nursing, can earn their master's or doctoral degrees after obtaining a BSN. Psychiatric APRNs can apply the nursing process to not only assess and diagnose patients, but to also contribute to policy development, quality improvement, practice evaluation and healthcare reform. Students earn their master’s or doctoral degrees because it may allow them to pursue work in particular leadership and education roles, such as psychiatric primary care provider, psychotherapist, consultant and nurse educator.1

Certifications and Licenses

After completing a nursing program, all states require registered nurse (RN) candidates to pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Depending on the specific state nursing board, there may be other licensure requirements.2

After becoming licensed and obtaining a master’s degree, an RN can become certified by the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC) as an advanced practice psychiatric nurse. ANCC requires those concentrating on psychiatric-mental health nursing to have an RN license, two years of practice as a full-time RN, 2,000 hours minimum of clinical practice is psychiatric-mental health nursing within three years, and 30 hours of continuing education in psychiatric nursing within three years.1 Certification by the ANCC shows potential colleagues and employers that a nurse is an expert in his or her area of specialty.3

Specific psychiatric nurse job titles can vary based on the state where a nurse is licensed and that location’s regulations for scope and standards of practice.1

Job Market for Psychiatric Nurses

According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), the pay scale for psychiatric nurse practitioners depends on a number of factors such as level of education, years of experience, size of the agency or hospital, and geographic location.1 The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 16% job outlook growth for all registered nurses through the year 2024, which is much faster than average.4 Additionally, the BLS listed the states with the highest employment level for RNs in May 2016; the top five identified were California, Texas, New York, Florida and Pennsylvania.5

What to Expect on a Day-to-Day Basis

A PNP's fundamental responsibilities include formulating healthcare plans, providing treatment and evaluating a patient's progress.1 However, the daily duties of a psychiatric nurse practitioner may vary greatly. These nurses may be employed in a variety of settings, including:

  • Family medicine
  • Internal medicine
  • Pediatrics
  • Obstetrics and gynecology
  • Prisons
  • Home health care
  • Hospitals
  • Outpatient facilities6

Becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner requires dedication and compassion, no matter the environment.2 However, in the end, it may lead to a fulfilling and meaningful career.

Earn Your BSN from CTU

Colorado Technical University offers an RN-to-BSN program that is designed to make the most of prior nursing education, certification and experience. The Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree program at Colorado Technical University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education ( Learn more about CTU’s nursing degree programs.

1. “Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/2/17).
2. "How to Become a Registered Nurse." Retrieved from: (Visited 8/2/17).
3. “ANCC Certification Center.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/2/17).
4. “Registered Nurse: Summary.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/2/17). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
5. “Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2016.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/2/17). This data represents national figures and is not based on school-specific information. Conditions in your area may vary.
6. “FAQs about Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses.” Retrieved from: (Visited 8/2/17).

For important information about the educational debt, earnings, and completion rates of students who attended this program, go to CTU cannot guarantee employment or salary. Not all programs are available to residents of all states. Financial aid is available for those who qualify.
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