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How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner


Statistics tell us that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. — 43.8 million people — will experience a mental illness in a given year. The prevalence of mental health issues (depression, PTSD, bipolar disorder, etc.) has increased the need for mental health professionals, especially psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs).


Working in assisted living facilities, mental health units, psychiatric hospitals, and other locations, PMHNPs work with patients of all ages and backgrounds to help them cope with their mental health conditions.

Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner with the Right Program

A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is qualified and responsible for doing many of the same things a psychiatrist does, including serving as a therapist, diagnosing mental illnesses, and prescribing medication.


Students looking to obtain career skills that are in demand, to enjoy flexible work hours, and to potentially earn a salary that’s among the highest in the nursing profession should consider enrolling in a PMHNP degree program.

Pathways to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Several paths — many of which can be completed online — can lead to a career as a PMHNP. Regardless of the path chosen, aspiring PMHNPs will need a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), a license to work as a registered nurse, and either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).


In addition to selecting the pathway to becoming a PMHNP that works best for them, it’s important that students select a program that focuses on the core components related to advanced health assessment.


Here are the most popular ways to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner.


  1. Master of Science in Nursing — Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (MSN PMHNP)
    Students who already possess a BSN will work toward an advanced degree with a concentration in psychiatric mental health. A combination of core courses, concentration courses, and clinical hours* are required. The degree can be completed in as little as 32 months.
  2. Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice — Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (BSN to DNP PMHNP)
    Students earn this terminal degree and become experts in psychiatric and mental health nursing. The program features a combination of nursing core courses, PMHNP concentration courses, and clinical hours, and may be completed in as little as 48 months.
  3. Post-Master’s Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certificate
    This option is for students who already have an MSN and now want to specialize in psychiatric mental health in their careers. The coursework focuses on PMHNP concentration courses and requires 21 credit hours, and the program may be completed in approximately two years or so.
  4. Doctor of Nursing Practice with NP Certification — Psychiatric Mental Health Concentration (DNP-NP PMHNP)
    Students will earn both their PMHNP certification and the DNP degree, which will place them at the leading edge of the nurse practitioner field as they help to design, test, and implement healthcare delivery methods. Coursework combines DNP foundation and core courses with PMHNP concentration courses, and constitutes around 71 credit hours. The program may be completed in approximately three years or so.


The time necessary to complete the PMHNP coursework and certification will depend on the model a student selects. Because of the flexibility that online PMHNP degree programs offer, students may complete their coursework in less than three years.

Required Nursing Courses

The specifically designed curricula for becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner will arm students with the foundational knowledge and support they will need to launch their careers in helping others with mental illnesses. Students will take certain courses specific to the models they pursue, but there are core courses that all PMHNP students are required to take, including the below examples.


Evidence-based practice in nursing: In this course, students study evidence-based nursing best practices and systematically explore and evaluate their scientific and clinical merit.


Ethics for advanced nursing practice: Because ethical principles play such a valuable role in the overall delivery of healthcare, it’s vital that students learn about how evidence-based nursing and interprofessional literature can help with ethical dilemmas that routinely arise in professional practice.


Psychopharmacology and mental health assessment: Students learn the advanced concepts of psychopathology (the study of mental disorders) and diagnosis following the guidelines of psychiatric-mental health nursing. They also analyze the ways in which psychotropic drugs assist with the holistic form of treatment for psychiatric-mental disorders.


Psychiatric-mental health diagnosis and management: Here, students apply what they’ve learned in terms of evidenced-based approaches to health promotion, diagnosis, and management of psychiatric illness.

Essential Skills to Become a Successful Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

While PMHNP programs help students build a strong foundation in medical training and practices, there are other skills that will also be beneficial for psychiatric nurse practitioners looking to be successful in their careers.


  • Communication. This complex profession requires a strong set of communication skills to help patients cope with their mental health disorders. While verbal skills are essential to providing guidance and reassurance to patients, PMHNPs also need strong nonverbal communication skills so that they can read body language to help decipher what a patient is trying to convey.
  • Adaptability. Because these nurses spend much of the workday contacting patients, patients’ family members, and colleagues, adaptability is a powerful tool to have as they communicate and collaborate with people from diverse backgrounds.
  • Stamina. Working in any area of the nursing profession requires physical and mental stamina. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, in particular, are more likely to have contact with patients who can become violent because of their mental and emotional issues.

Other Qualifications for Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Beyond coursework, aspiring PMHNPs need to become licensed and complete their clinical placement before beginning a nursing career.


The board of nursing in the state where a nurse plans to practice grants licensure in most cases. Licensure and certification demonstrate a nurse’s advanced education and training.

Real-world experience

A student’s clinical placement provides a unique opportunity to gain real-world experience and is an integral part of a future PMHNP’s development. Through a clinical placement, students work directly with professional colleagues as they put their theoretical skills into practice.

Launch Your Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Career with Maryville Online

Even if you’re in another profession, have family obligations, or feel that you’re not the right age to go to school, you should still consider enrolling in a PMHNP program. The job market for psychiatric nurse practitioners is booming because of the continued expected increase in the elderly population susceptible to mental health issues, including dementia.


Named by as being among the “Best Nursing Career Specialties,” psychiatric nurse practitioners are in demand. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates a 31 percent increase in the number of job opportunities for PMHNPs through 2024, with a median annual salary of $94,460.


Selecting a school is among the most important decisions students can make. To add real value to a degree, students should select a school accredited by an official agency to ensure quality.


The online psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs at Maryville University are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, and Maryville University’s flexible and convenient online learning model means that students can streamline their education and complete their coursework on their time.

*Note. Clinical hour requirements for state licensure may vary by state. Students are encouraged to visit the Board of Nursing website for the state in which they intend to practice to verify specific requirements. Students may also reach out to our team of enrollment advisors for guidance.


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