How to Become a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
What is a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
What does a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner do?
Where does a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner work?
Should I become a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC) Certification
State Nursing Licensure Information
A PMHNP, or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) trained to assist the mental health needs of individuals, families, groups or communities.
The time it takes to become a PMHNP may vary depending on your previous education. If you have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree, you may apply for MSN PMHNP programs. However, if you are a career changer or a registered nurse without a BSN, your time to become a PMHNP may be longer. It’s important to also factor in time to complete national certification and state licensure requirements.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners may—and often do—provide psychiatric evaluations and psychotherapy in addition to managing medical diagnoses and treatments. PMH nursing can overlap with methodologies used in the psychiatry and counseling fields, and PMHNPs may provide professional advice and support like a psychiatrist, counselor or other mental health professional might as part of an effective, comprehensive scope of practice.
While psychiatrists and PMHNPs are both key members of the mental health field, their responsibilities, roles and qualifications differ vastly. The key differences between PMHNPs and psychiatrists center around differing degree requirements and prescriptive authorities.
Becoming a practicing psychiatrist requires obtaining a full medical degree, gaining a state certification, and completing an internship and/or residency. PMHNPs generally earn a BSN, as well as an MSN or DNP degree, and are licensed, advanced practice registered nurses, but they are not medical doctors (MDs). Since clinical psychiatrists are MDs, they can prescribe medications to treat mental illnesses—and for a long time, they were the only professionals allowed to do so.
Nurse practitioners are given various levels of prescriptive authority across the United States. For the most part, the degree to which a nurse practitioner is able to prescribe medication is dependent on the state in which they’re certified to practice, and the schedule of the drug that they’re seeking to prescribe. The American Medical Association has state-by-state information about nurse practitioner prescriptive authority.
The short answer is yes, although you’ll still need a nursing degree. A background in psychology could be a valuable asset for the practice and is typically part of the required coursework for BSN, MSN degree, or DNP students. But bear in mind such a background doesn’t translate directly to psychiatric nursing. Whether you have a bachelor’s, master’s, or other higher education degree in psychology, you’ll still need to study the basics of nursing to become a PMHNP. Other necessary steps for becoming a PMHNP include gaining RN licensure, gaining field experience, and obtaining PMHNP certification.
A PMHNP also differs from an FNP—or a family nurse practitioner. FNPs are also RNs, but instead of specializing in psychiatric-mental health work, they work as a nurse practitioner in family medicine. This means they completed an MSN or DNP as an RN, but took additional coursework to specialize in family medicine. FNP programs may cover topics such as family planning, child development, and geriatric care. As such, FNPs tend to develop relationships with entire family units, providing comprehensive care and counseling across the entire lifespan, but are not specifically trained or qualified to provide psychiatric-mental health services, like PMHPs.