Nurse Practitioner Careers: Duties, Job Growth, the Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary

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Female psychiatric nurse practitioner discusses with her patient.

There were 46.6 million people in the U.S. with a form of mental illness in 2017, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Even more staggering is that approximately 4% of adults in the U.S. (11.2 million people) experience a mental illness at least once a year that is so severe it impacts their daily life. To put those figures into perspective, approximately one out of five American adults has some form of mental illness, and one out of twenty-five has one so severe that it hinders their quality of life at least once a year.

With such a pronounced need for mental health awareness, diagnosis, and care, health care professionals who specialize in mental health needs—such as psychiatric nurse practitioners—are in particularly high demand. According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), a psychiatric nurse is one that specializes in dealing with the occurrence of mental illness within a group or family or the potential for mental illness among an at-risk group.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nurse practitioners are expected to be in high demand, with an estimated 36% increase in job growth through 2026. This is much higher than the 8% average of all other professions. Due to this demand—which equates to 56,100 new jobs across the U.S.—many nursing professionals may pursue an advanced degree program, such as a Master of Science in Nursing. The objective is to acquire more knowledge, skills, and experience to provide a better quality of care and open up new career opportunities.

Job Duties

Psychiatric nurses may work as either specialists, whose clients are scheduled to visit them at specific times, or within an institution, that allows them to oversee patients who have had a severe mental health crisis. It is the responsibility of the psychiatric nurse to keep track of medication and patient interactions. Other duties may include:

Tracking the daily functions of a patient, including whether they are eating properly, sleeping, getting dressed, and generally able to take care of themselves independently

  • Diagnosing any number of mental health illnesses based on the symptoms and behaviors the patient presents
  • Aiding patients in maintaining their mental and physical health through nutrition and exercise
  • Determining whether a patient is fit mentally, socially, and emotionally
  • Guiding patients to cultivate more positive and healthier behaviors and thought processes
  • Assisting patients in dealing with difficult relationship situations and interpersonal interactions
  • Helping patients come to terms with, and ultimately overcome, drugs and substance abuse
  • Developing outreach programs that can help a community understand and help those within the community who suffer from mental illness

By definition, psychiatric nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Within the APRN field, they specialize in mental health treatment, known as Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing (PMHN).

Psychiatric nurse practitioners help assess, diagnose, and recommend courses of treatment for mental health disorders. On a daily basis, they may review patient history, carry out evaluations, work with psychiatrists, and interact with patients and their families. Some of the most common mental health issues patients may face include: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder, depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other anxiety disorders.

Necessary Skills

Treating mental health disorders is a complex and difficult task. Professionals must have a few crucial skills that can help them navigate the intricacies of the mental health care field. These skills cannot only help patients receive the best possible care, they have the potential to raise psychiatric nurse practitioner salary.

Analytical Capability

Psychiatric nurse practitioners must combine their extensive medical knowledge with patient history and current medical data to properly analyze a patient’s mental health status. Their analytical capacity allows psychiatric nurse practitioners to get a big picture view, and therefore develop more tailored and efficient plans of therapy and care.

Flexible Problem-Solving

A psychiatric nurse practitioner helps patients throughout their mental health treatment process. As such, problem-solving skills are especially valuable. Identifying risk factors and finding ways to broach sensitive topics often require an on-the-spot problem-solving ability. Psychiatric nurse practitioners must also have a flexible enough mindset to pivot and re-plan as a situation demands, such as with an influx of new case information or potential new treatment options. When problems arise in the patient’s treatment plan, it is often the responsibility of the psychiatric nurse practitioner to find alternative solutions to keep moving forward.

Utmost Professionalism

Mental health issues are often stigmatized by our society. Many patients seeking mental help may not be forthcoming out of anxiety, fear, shame, or another factor. When patients open up, psychiatric nurse practitioners must act with the utmost professionalism at all times. This unwavering, compassionate, and professional attitude is also an excellent way to build patient-nurse trust.

Position Requirements

A psychiatric nurse practitioner is an APRN and high-level medical specialist. Further specialization in mental health naturally increases the amount of requirements that are necessary to fill the position.

Education

Before becoming an APRN, a nursing professional must first become a registered nurse (RN), which requires a nursing degree from either a two-year associate program, three-year hospital-based diploma program, or four-year university bachelor’s degree program. Graduates may then go on to specialize in mental health by choosing an advanced program of study, such as a master’s degree. For example, an online Master of Science in Nursing program allows students to expand their skills, credentials, and abilities to impact their area of specialty.

Certification

Once a professional has the required education, they need certification to become a psychiatric mental health advanced practice nurse (PMH APN). A professional in the PMH APN path has one of two accreditation options: Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialist (PMHCNS) or Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP). Individual nursing boards regulate the accreditation exams. For example, the American Nurses Credentialing Center offers a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Board Certification (PMHNP-BC).

Salary Expectations and Growth Potential

The average annual psychiatric nurse practitioner salary ranges between $102,245, according to compensation website PayScale, and $107,030, according to the BLS. However, various factors may impact psychiatric nurse practitioner salary levels, including experience and location.

There will always be a demand for psychiatric nurses. The field is expected to continue growing and demand for the profession is projected to rise as the U.S. population increases. In fact, the BLS estimates that the psychiatric nurse field is expected to grow by 15% through 2026. APRNs will be in high demand, particularly in medically underserved areas such as inner cities and rural areas.

Help Treat Mental Health

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are on the frontlines of the mental health treatment community, connecting patients to the care they need. They are highly trained professionals who play an integral role in articulating and implementing new mental care models and treatment solutions in the U.S. health care system.

According to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, psychiatric-mental health nurses are “poised and ready to help expand access to mental health care across the United States.”

If this field interests you, contact Regis College today and discover how the online Master of Science in Nursing program can help RNs become psychiatric nurse practitioners.

Recommended Reading
The High Importance and Demand of Psychiatric Nurses
What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?
Career Outlook: The Mental Health Nurse

Sources
American Nurses Credentialing Center, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC)
American Psychiatric Nurses Association, “Expanding Mental Health Care Services in America: The Pivotal Role of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses”
National Institute of Mental Health, Mental Illness
Regis College, Online Master of Science in Nursing
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses