Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary, Career Outlook & More

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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 1 out of 5 American adults has some form of mental illness, and 1 out of 25 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.

Pursuing an advanced education, such as an online post-master’s certificate in psychiatric mental health, can help nurses gain the knowledge, skills, and experience to pursue new career opportunities and earn a psychiatric nurse practitioner salary.

Job Duties

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).

It is the responsibility of the psychiatric nurse to keep track of medication and patient interactions. Their duties may include the following:

  • 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

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 can not only help patients receive the best possible care, they have the potential to earn a 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 as well as focus on small details. They can  therefore develop both tailored and efficient long-term 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 replan 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 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 and earn a psychiatric nurse practitioner salary.

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, a Master of Science in Nursing degree 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).

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary

According to April 2020 data from compensation website PayScale, psychiatric nurse practitioners earn a median annual salary of $106,787. Psychiatric nurse practitioners can work as specialists and primary care providers, whose clients visit them in their offices at specific times. They can also work in a variety of medical facilities or mental health institutions that allow them to oversee patients who have had severe mental health crises.

As in all careers, various factors may impact psychiatric nurse practitioner salary levels, including experience and location. According to PayScale, psychiatric nurse practitioners earn the highest salaries in Los Angeles, New York City, and Boston. Nurse practitioners with this specialty can earn the highest national salary after gaining 10 to 19 years of job experience.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Career Outlook

There will always be a demand for psychiatric nurse practitioners. The demand for the profession is projected to rise as the U.S. population increases. In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects employment of nurse practitioners to grow by 26% through 2028. This is much higher than the 5% average of all other professions.

APRNs will be in high demand, particularly in medically underserved areas, such as inner cities and rural areas. The BLS predicts that there will be 16,900 new job openings across the U.S. every year until 2028.

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 you are interested in treating mental health and earning a psychiatric nurse practitioner salary, explore how Regis College’s online post-master’s certificates, including the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialization can help you advance your career.

Recommended Readings

Career Outlook: The Mental Health Nurse

The High Importance and Demand of Psychiatric Nurses

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

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

PayScale, Average Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) Salary

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Nurse Anesthetists, Nurse Midwives, and Nurse Practitioners 

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Registered Nurses