Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Psychiatric Nursing Careers

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Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP): Psychiatric Nursing Careers

As our understanding of mental health continues to expand and evolve, the need for qualified nursing professionals to provide sufficient mental health care becomes more evident. This is consistent with the need for nurses in general: The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects a 15 percent increase in jobs for registered nurses between 2016 and 2026. Those who obtain a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) degree may better position themselves to take advantage of this growth, as completion of the advanced program can fortify the skills and competencies necessary for success in a host of high-level psychiatric nursing careers.

The Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Profession

Psychiatric mental health nurses, or PMHNs, are a specialized category in the nursing field. They’re commonly tasked with assessing the mental health needs of patients and developing care plans for them. These plans are developed on a case-by-case basis based on diagnostic processes and are also then evaluated to determine their effectiveness. While these assessment-driven care plans can be developed to assist individuals, they can also serve as the basis to provide additional support for families, groups, and communities.

These duties can serve as foundational elements for specialized mental health care. Some areas of specialized care are designed around the age of the patient, such as children, adolescents, and the elderly. Other areas focus on a specific issue pertaining to mental health, such as substance abuse disorders or general consultation.

The Role of the Advanced Practice Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse

Students who earn a DNP can potentially pursue a career as an advanced practice registered nurse, or APRN. Those in this role can use their skills to assess, diagnose, and treat individuals and families with various psychiatric issues, a process that can include identifying early risk factors that may cause disorders. They can practice as either clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners. They may work alongside other physicians in a clinical setting, or they can work in their own independent practice.

APRNs can deliver health care in a variety of different ways. For instance, they may be tasked with identifying a host of mental health conditions in patients, such as psychosis, depression, and bipolar disorder. They may also track patient behavioral patterns like sleeping, eating, and exercising as they assess mental, emotional, and physical fitness. In some cases, they may also be able to prescribe and administer medication to patients.

APRNs can work to shape the health care industry in a way that goes beyond the patient relationship. Their acumen may enable them to contribute to policy development, the improvement of health care quality, the execution of practice, and even reforms of health care. Additionally, APRNs can obtain other advanced degrees, such as a Ph.D. or an Ed.D. (Doctor of Education), which may prepare them to become administrators, researchers, or professors.

Essential Skills for a Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatric nurses must possess a solid foundation of specific skills and competencies to deliver quality patient care. These skills can be further strengthened by earning a DNP.

One of the most fundamental skills a psychiatric nurse must have is empathy. Because mental health issues affect people of all ages and backgrounds, it’s vital that psychiatric nurses have the capacity to relate to patients in a way that reaches toward the individual or group. They must also possess solid communication and listening skills. Mental health strategies often contain delicate information that could be compromised through poor communication. Therefore, it’s important that psychiatric nurses receive and convey patient needs clearly and without room for ambiguity.

Additionally, it’s important that psychiatric nurses have finely tuned critical thinking and problem solving skills. Like all forms of nursing, psychiatric nurses may have to deal with sudden changes in a patient’s health and well-being. When this occurs, it’s important that they’re able to efficiently devise solutions that minimize potential patient harm.

What Does a Typical PMHNP Curriculum Look Like?

DNP students interested in a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) concentration will typically enroll in a program whose curriculum contains common advanced nursing classes as well as courses specifically geared toward psychiatric mental health. This combination is designed to provide DNP students with a comprehensive understanding of how their work as nurses—specifically, as psychiatric nurses—can have a positive impact in health care.

Some of the common courses may cover topics such as nursing leadership, disease prevention, and clinical pharmacology. Courses associated with the PMHNP concentration may include psychopharmacology, which is the study of using medications as treatment for mental disorders. Another course could dive into the theory and practice of modern psychotherapies. Most curriculums also feature clinical concentration courses to provide hands-on learning experiences.

The Value of a DNP for PMHN Careers

Earning a DNP prepares psychiatric nurses to become leaders in a complex, ever-evolving area of the health care industry. Potential employers are looking for candidates with a DNP degree, as it can provide validation of a PMHN’s knowledge, skills, and accomplishments.

More importantly, a DNP will pave the path for aspiring students to make a positive impact in the world of health care, particularly in the field of mental health. While great strides have been made in this field, there is still more work to be done. Those who obtain a DNP can contribute to the continued advancements in mental health care.

Learn More

Regis College prepares nurse practitioners to take the next step in their careers with the online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice program. RNs with a bachelor’s degree who enroll in the program experience the same rigorous academic classes as traditional students but with the flexibility of online courses.

Recommended Readings:

7 Mental Health Evidence-Based Practices in Nursing

Healthcare’s Unsung Heroes: The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse

The Benefits of Technology for Advanced Psychiatric Mental Health NPs


American Psychiatric Nurses Association, About the American Psychiatric Nurses Association: An Introduction

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Advanced Practice Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Resources

American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses

The Internet Journal of Advanced Nursing Practice, “What Makes a Quality Therapeutic Relationship in Psychiatric/Mental Health Nursing: A Review of the Research Literature”

Regis College, Online BSN to Doctor of Nursing Practice