What is a Psychiatric Nurse?
A Psychiatric Mental Health Registered Nurse (PMHN) is a nurse who specializes in the care of individuals with mental health or psychiatric issues. A Psychiatric Nurse most commonly provides evidence based nursing care to deliver advanced mental health care to people in a variety of environments and units. More than many other nursing specialization, the psychiatric nurse is responsible for talking and listening to individuals. The psychiatric Nurse works closely with psychologists and psychiatrists – healthcare providers and physicians who specialize in the care of individuals who need mental health intervention.
Quick Facts about Psychiatric Nurses:
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not track the specific psychiatric Nurse role, so the data below is based on the closely related Registered Nurse role:
- 2015 Median Pay ( for a Psychiatric Nurse, according to PayScale.com)
- 2015 Median Pay ( for a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, according to PayScale.com)
- Number of Jobs in 2014
- Job Prospects from 2014-2024
- Much faster than average
- Projected Employment in 2024
- Areas of Growth
- All areas of healthcare
Figure 1: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016
What does a Psychiatric Nurse do?
The PMHN role is designed to provide advanced nursing care and interventions that improve patient outcomes for psychiatric patients in many different environments. Depending on state-specific scope of practice, a Psychiatric Nurse will do some or all of the following:
- Take mental health histories from individuals and families;
- Review physical exams to ensure that physical problems do not exist that might explain mental health issues or that might interfere with psychiatric interventions;
- Analyze and monitor results of tests;
- Evaluate mental health problems and formulate nursing diagnoses based on the history, exam and testing;
- Create plans of care for patients and families based on the patient problems and nursing diagnoses;
- Administer and monitor medication and treatments based on the plan of care;
- Evaluate the patient’s/ client’s response to prescribed medications and treatments;
- Teach and collaborate with patients and families about the findings and plan of care;
- Collaborate with and educate other members of the healthcare team.
Where do Psychiatric Nurses work?
Psychiatric nurses can work in a wide variety of environments including acute care hospitals, physician offices, public health facilities, mental health facilities and outpatient clinics. Your interests are the primary consideration that will help to determine where you might work as a PMHN. If you are interested in acute mental problems and illnesses, you may elect to work in an acute care hospital or a mental health hospital. If you are more interested in outpatient mental health, you might look at working in a psychiatrist’s or psychologist’s office. It is important that you understand that Psychiatric Nurse practice is governed by each state’s Board of Nursing and the hiring facility so it is critical to understand the rules and regulations in your state and the policies of your workplace.
The US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not keep statistics specific to employment of Psychiatric Nurses. Although Psychiatric Nurses are a small subset of all Registered Nurses, in May 2015, the BLS showed the following as employment of Registered Nurses by state:
Figure 2: Accessed online from Bureau of Labor Statistics July 2016
What qualities should a Psychiatric Nurse have to be successful?
The Psychiatric Nurse is in a unique position in nursing in that you will be working with individuals and families with mental health issues. This fact leads to the need for a unique skill set including:
- Good basic nursing skills;
- Exceptional communication skills. Much of the work of the psychiatric nurse involves talking and listening to individuals in crisis so it is important to be able to do both skills;
- Understanding of the stress that a patient and family will experience with mental illness and the ability to deal with that stress in a calm but authoritative manner;
- Problem solving skills;
How much can I expect to earn as a Psychiatric Nurse?
The Psychiatric Nurse with an ADN or BSN degree can expect to earn a good living. Salaries will vary depending on specialization, location, experience, education and other factors. As of January 2016, the median annual wage was $56,649 with a range from $41,000 to $76,000.
Figure 3: Accessed online at www.payscale.com July 2016
Of course, wages vary widely by state, cost of living, education and need. A psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (NP) with a Master’s or Doctoral degree can expect a median salary of $91,298.
Figure 4: Accessed online at www.payscale.com July 2016
Experience of the Psychiatric Nurse seems to have a smaller impact on salary than does education:
Figure 5: Accessed online at www.payscale.com July 2016
What are the job prospects for a Psychiatric Nurse?
The need for Psychiatric Nurses will continue to grow through 2024. Job prospects for Psychiatric Nurses are excellent over the next 10 years as Millenials marry and the population again begins to increase.
How can I become a Psychiatric Nurse?
A Psychiatric Nurse must be a Registered Nurse with at least an Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree in nursing. Most hiring facilities assume that the Psychiatric Nurse will have at least one to two years of medical- surgical experience in order to perfect the basic nursing skills. Once you have some experience as a Registered Nurse, you will be ready to apply for a position in the mental health field.
A psychiatric Registered Nurse can elect to obtain additional formal certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing board examination measures the mental health nurse’s competency to practice as a board certified nurse and use the RN-BC designation behind your signature. As a mental health psychiatric nurse, you can also elect to work toward the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC) designation. To qualify for this role, you must first have a Master’s or Doctoral degree in nursing.