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What Is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner? A Look at a Key Care Specialty


Nursing: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Nearly 19% of the U.S. adult population, or about 45 million individuals, have a mental health condition, according to Mental Health America. More than half of these individuals are not receiving treatment, while others are unable to access needed services due to limited insurance coverage, a lack of financial resources, or a shortage of available treatment options.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) play a vital role in filling the gap in mental health care. These practitioners are expanding available options for patients seeking improved access to psychotherapy, medication administration, and other behavioral health services. Nurses looking to advance their careers to the nurse practitioner level and make a difference in psychiatric care should consider pursuing an advanced degree in mental health nursing through a program such as the online Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Practitioner with a PMHNP track.

Examining the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Role

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) assess, diagnose, and treat a range of mental health issues. PMHNPs work in various settings, including acute care hospitals, behavioral health hospitals, and inpatient and outpatient mental health care facilities. They also are employed in community clinics, independent practices, and government institutions such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities.

PMHNPs develop and administer treatment plans for patients with mental, behavioral, emotional, and substance abuse disorders. Common conditions treated by PMHNPs include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • ADHD
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Borderline personality disorder
  • Dementia
  • Eating disorders
  • Alcoholism
  • Drug abuse or addiction

Daily Responsibilities              

Advanced mental health nurses help patients cope with challenges related to their conditions in a number of ways. Core responsibilities include:

  • Patient intake and assessment—Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) screen new patients and assess their level of need through observation and interviews. 
  • Condition diagnosis—PMHNPs diagnose patients with specific mental and behavioral conditions and establish a treatment plan.
  • Crisis stabilization or intervention—Some patients seeking mental health services may have experienced a traumatic event, suicidal ideation, or other mental health crises. These individuals need immediate intervention.
  • Case management—Practitioners monitor patient progress to ensure they follow treatment plans and gain access to needed services.
  • Psychotherapy treatment—Mental health nurse practitioners provide counseling services, including cognitive-behavioral therapy.
  • Medication management—Once a diagnosis is reached, PMHNPs prescribe medications to patients to help manage condition symptoms. PMHNPs may issue prescriptions independently or under the supervision of a physician, depending on state laws.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners also have duties that extend beyond mental health services such as:

  • Primary care—Advanced mental health nurses often provide preventive care and other medical services to mental health patients to help improve overall wellness.
  • Quality improvement—Nurse practitioners contribute to quality enhancement initiatives through patient outcome reporting, practice evaluation, policy development, cost-control programs, and other means.
  • Support network communications—PMHNPs educate family and community members about mental health issues. They also coordinate care with a patient’s other health care providers.

Laws governing nurse practitioners vary by state: In some jurisdictions, PMHNPs can operate autonomously, providing all of the services of a psychiatrist without oversight. Other states require NPs to practice under a physician’s supervision. In either case, PMHNPs work collaboratively with doctors to manage patients’ mental health treatment protocols and to develop and implement practice policies.

Necessary Skills for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

PMHNPs must have multiple core competencies to provide high-quality mental health care services. Top professional goals include improving patient outcomes and helping more patients through increased efficiencies. The skills PMHNPs need include:

  • Communication
  • Interpersonal relations
  • Critical thinking
  • Organization
  • Management
  • Practice administration
  • Budgeting
  • Analysis
  • Research

Nurses can gain the knowledge needed to acquire and refine these skills by pursuing an advanced nursing degree such as Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program with a Nurse Practitioner concentration. This degree program’s Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner track can train students to become trusted authorities in psychiatric nursing.

Salary of the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

The demand for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners is growing as NPs take on broader roles in the expanding behavioral health field. The job growth rate for psychiatric nurse practitioners is estimated at 15% between 2017 and 2030, higher than average occupational growth rates, according to the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration.

The median annual salary of psychiatric nurse practitioners is about $106,000, according to data from PayScale as of March 2020. Salaries can range from about $80,000 for an entry-level position to about $153,000 for a late-career psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. Pay for nurse practitioners varies by state, largely due to living expense factors. NP salaries are highest in California, Alaska, and Massachusetts—three states with a high cost of living—and lowest in Alabama and Tennessee, according to Forbes. Educational levels may also influence pay; nurse practitioners must have at least a master’s degree. They must also pass a certification exam and be licensed by the state they practice in.

Pursue a Career in a Nurse Practitioner Role

Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Practitioner program and its PMHNP track can prepare students to pursue a career path that can make a strong positive impact on the U.S. health care landscape. The track exposes nurses to advanced courses in nursing leadership, patient safety, research theory, pharmacology, and therapy techniques as well as intensive clinical experiences. The PMHNP track also prepares students to pass the PMHNP board certification exam from the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Learn more about how Norwich University’s online Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Practitioner program can help nurses achieve high-demand medical careers and improve patient outcomes.

Recommended Readings
Nurse Educator vs. Nurse Practitioner: Comparing Two Key Health Care Careers
The Future of Nursing
What to Expect from the MSN Curriculum at Norwich University

Sources:
The State of Mental Health in America, Mental Health America
All Conditions, Mental Health America
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses, American Psychiatric Nurses Association
Utilization and Economic Contribution of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners in Public Behavioral Health Services, American Journal of Preventive Medicine
Role of Psychiatric Nursing, Houston Chronicle
What Skills Are Pertinent to Psychiatric Nursing? Houston Chronicle
Behavioral Health Workforce Projections, 2017-2030, Health Resources and Services Administration Bureau of Health Workforce
Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary, PayScale
Here’s How Much Money Nurse Practitioners Make In Every State, Forbes
Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics