What Is It Like to Be a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

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This country is suffering an urgent mental health crisis, with 1 in 5 adults experiencing an issue in 2020, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Young people are not immune from this either; the American Psychological Association reports that 1 in 5 young women and 1 in 10 young men experience major depression before age 25.

Addressing an issue of this scale requires more qualified care providers, including psychiatric nurse practitioners. One way to be able to effectively treat the mental health needs of individuals is to advance from a Bachelor of Science in Nursing to Doctor of Nursing Practice (BSN to DNP).

What It’s Like to Be a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

The role of a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is unique: It combines the ability to treat both the mental health and the physical needs of patients. Often the two are related, so a care provider who can treat a spectrum of patient needs is ideal. The value of versatility is only one factor to consider when exploring what it is like to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

A Day in the Life of a PMHNP

The work of PMHNPs involves three main facets: assessing, diagnosing, and treating the mental health needs of their patients. This can be approximately 15 patients per day. Psychiatric nurse practitioners have the ability to provide therapy as well as prescriptions to address any relevant issues.

In addition, psychiatric nurse practitioners may treat patients who have ongoing mental health issues. Their typical day can include any of these tasks as well as interacting with family members of their patients and other colleagues in their organizations.

Why Is This Job in Demand?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners often provide hands-on care to their patients long term. This means that due to the scale of the need for services outlined prior, a critical need exists for several qualified staff in communities all over the country. The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) outlined the scope of the need, while it is also reported that only 4.7% of nurse practitioners are certified in the psychiatric mental health discipline.

Considerations for Choosing This Specialty

A major benefit to choosing this specialty is helping to address the massive need for mental health professionals all over this country. It is a dynamic, acutely interpersonal specialty that works with patients long term versus seeing many different patients for shorter periods of time. Also, the job of a psychiatric nurse practitioner is to treat sensitive issues, so it requires someone who feels comfortable dealing with these issues daily.

A psychiatric nurse practitioner holding a tablet computer counsels a patient.

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

After becoming a registered nurse, aspiring PMHNPs typically earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree before advancing to a graduate degree program. Such programs prepare students to pass a national certification exam and obtain state licensure. Licensing requirements and scope of practice regulations vary by state, so it’s important to determine specific rules in the state of practice.

One option to prepare for an advanced care role is a BSN to DNP program. Numerous opportunities are afforded to those with a terminal degree in their field beyond being care providers. For example, those who chose to pursue a DNP degree learn about clinical research and scholarly writing. This can allow psychiatric nurse practitioners to advocate for positive change as nurse leaders based on their experience caring for patients.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Career Opportunities

What it is like to be a psychiatric nurse practitioner is unique depending on the population supported. Patients can include children, adolescents, or senior citizens, and care can be delivered in a private practice or in a public hospital setting. The comprehensive nature of this work covering the mental and physical needs of all sorts of patients gives PMHNPs dynamic options when choosing where and how to work.

The average annual base salary for psychiatric nurse practitioners was about $113,500 as of July 2022, according to Payscale. Salaries for this position can depend on many factors, including geography, type of organization, and education or work experience. Earning a DNP degree, for example, is likely to change what a psychiatric nurse practitioner earns.

Create Positive Change as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners provide unique patient care, supporting both their mental and their physical health. The need for this support is an urgent one as well, with communities all over this country struggling with various mental health issues. For those ready to step up to meet this demand, explore Hawai‘i Pacific University’s online BSN to DNP program to discover how it can assist in achieving your professional goals.

Recommended Readings:

How Long Are BSN to DNP Programs?

DNP vs. PhD in Nursing: What Are the Differences?

Clinical Decision-Making in Nursing Practice


American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Are You Considering a Career as Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, NP Fact Sheet

American Association of Nurse Practitioners, Research Reports and Resources

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Become a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse: A Rewarding Career in High Demand

American Psychological Association, “US Youth Are in a Mental Health Crisis — We Must Invest in Their Care”

National Alliance on Mental Illness, Mental Health by the Numbers

Payscale, Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

The New York Times,“‘It’s Life or Death’: The Mental Health Crisis Among U.S. Teens”