female psychiatric nurse treating male patient with tall windows and trees in background

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Career Guide

As a nurse, connecting with patients and supporting them in the face of severe health challenges is a vital part of the job.

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) focus on mental health care and the mind-body connection. They conduct holistic assessments and can treat and help individuals cope with psychiatric disorders and illnesses, including substance abuse disorders. They can provide therapy, prescribe medication, educate patients and their families about their diagnoses, and manage their treatment plans.

How to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner 

It takes approximately six years to become a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Programs such as the University of Arizona's Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program include a Doctor of Nursing Practice program specialty (for BSN or Master’s prepared nurses) and a certificate option (only available to students who are already Nurse Practitioners in another specialty). If you're interested in becoming a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, here are the steps you should follow:

Step 1: Earn a nursing degree from an accredited nursing program, such as a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).

A BSN degree from the University of Arizona carries great weight in the job market because of the program's rigor. The program will also prepare you to pass the NCLEX-RN and become a successful Registered Nurse (RN).

Step 2: Pass the NCLEX-RN

The National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) for Registered Nurses (RN) is the required test nursing graduates must successfully pass to become licensed as Registered Nurses in the US.

Step 3: Gain Experience or Continue Your Education

If you are planning to enter a DNP program, which is competitive and challenging, we highly recommend gaining work-related experience. Most nurse practitioner programs require applicants to have at least one year of full-time nursing experience in a specialty-related area (e.g., inpatient psychiatric unit). Read the complete requirements of the University of Arizona DNP program here.

Step 4: Enroll in an Accredited Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program

As a student of the DNP program with the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) specialty, you will learn the modalities to diagnose and treat psychiatric disorders, such as depressive disorders, anxiety disorders, and psychotic disorders. The program is a hybrid program utilizing a mixture of online didactic coursework, on-campus intensives, and on-ground practicum and clinical placements. You will also complete a minimum of 1,000 practice immersion hours with extensive clinical time and a faculty-mentored DNP project.

Step 5: Become Certified

Graduates of the PMHNP specialty are prepared as advanced practice nurses and are eligible for the Nurse Practitioner certification. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC). This certification is available to APRNs that meet the following criteria.

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC), which is required to practice as a PMHNP. 

Mental health services are currently in high and growing demand nationally, and PMHNPs are helping to address this critical need.

Lindsay Bouchard, DNP, PMHNP-BC Associate Clinical Professor, PMHNP Specialty Coordinator

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Career Outlook

  • DNP-prepared nurses are in demand across the healthcare industry. As a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP), you provide exceptional high-quality care to your community.  
  • PMHNPs can earn a higher annual salary than RNs, which can continue to increase with years of experience.  
  • According to Payscale, the annual salary for an entry-level psychiatric NP was $105,794 in 2022.  
  • PMHNPs work in hospitals, outpatient clinics, integrated care organizations, private practice, public health agencies, and more.

Is becoming a psych nurse worth it?

Being a PMHNP is very rewarding. You help empower patients at some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. And the job outlook for PMHNPs looks bright, with a high starting salary and demand for individuals in the role. 

If you want to impact individuals' lives, this Doctor of Nursing Practice specialty might be the right fit.