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How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse; Everything You Need to Know

Pursuing a career path in nursing is a noble profession. Being a psychiatric nurse is the perfect path if you are interested in mental health and want to make a difference in people’s lives. This profession may be quite difficult. However, we have a comprehensive guide to help you. 

From here on, we have a compilation about how to become a psychiatric nurse. This is from understanding your role, requirements, and how you can land a job.

This guide aims to equip you with the knowledge and insights to become a psychiatric nurse. Through this, you can hone your skills and decisions when caring for people with mental health challenges.

To make the most out of this article, take all the time you need to read the entire thing. Gain more understanding by taking a few notes and highlighting a few points. Reflecting on this information will help shape your successful career.

What is Psychiatric Nursing?

Psychiatry is a field that specializes in providing support to those experiencing mental health issues. Nurses in this field work in hospitals, clinics, and community mental health centers. 

Psychiatric nursing duties and responsibilities involve assessing a patient’s mental health conditions. They also make treatment plans for their patients to follow. They offer ways to ensure emotional support by administering medications, scheduling therapy sessions, and collaborating with other healthcare professionals.

As of June 24, 2023, the average annual salary of a psychiatric nurse is $127,911. However, it can vary based on a nurse’s experience, location, and qualifications. Additional compensation for overtime reaches an average of $10,750.

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse?

Psychiatric nursing plays a vital role when it comes to mental health. As we carry on, you will be able to comprehend how important this role is and gain more insight into how to nurture your professional growth.

Understanding the Role of a Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatric nursing directly addresses mental health care concerns. It focuses on emotional holistic care and facilitating a well-being recovery. Aside from that, this field’s advocacy is to deliver comprehensive patient care.

Nurses in this field provide emotional care through assessments, individual and group therapies, and, most importantly, educating patients and their families about mental health. 

To excel in this field, you need to develop a few essential skills to succeed In the healthcare industry, such as:

  • Empathy
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Resilience
  • Open-mindedness

Also, increasing your knowledge about psychopharmacology, crisis intervention, and therapeutic communication can help you excel in the field.

Educational Requirements and Pathways

To become a psychiatric nurse, one must first obtain a nursing degree. 

High school graduates can pursue two degrees: 

1. Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) 

The ADN degree focuses more on nursing practices and takes about 2 to 3 years to complete. This degree emphasizes foundational knowledge and skills in nursing care. Choosing this can help you primarily fill entry-level positions. 

2. Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree

If you want a more comprehensive education, the BSN degree offers you a 4-year course. This degree provides psychology, nursing theory, and even research. Nurses have more opportunities for career advancement with this degree.

All in all, both of these degrees can help you establish the foundation of your nursing career. 

If you have decided to take your degree to the next level, pursuing a Master’s degree in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing (PMHNP) is an excellent choice. Earning this degree allows you to provide more advanced patient care.

As far as you get these degrees, remember that continuing education is crucial in the ever-evolving field of psychiatric nursing. 

We encourage you to keep pursuing certifications and specialized training. You can try learning about child and adolescent mental health, geriatric mental health, or even substance abuse to further your education.

Gaining Clinical Experience

To gain clinical experience, clinical rotations and externships provide real-life experience in different healthcare settings. These nursing education programs expose nursing students to psychiatric nursing. Plus, it helps you develop clinical skills.

Furthermore, internships and residency programs can add to your specialized psychiatric nursing experience. You can benefit from the mentorship provided and have the proper supervision and exposure to different clinical situations. 

Attending conferences and workshops, and other professional networking opportunities can also be a beneficial experience for you. Valuable additions like volunteering with mental health organizations are suitable for your resume and an outstanding contribution to the community.

Certification and Licensure

After a few years of completing your nursing degrees, there are a few certificates and licenses you must pass to become officially registered psychiatric nurses.

1. National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN)

To become a licensed RN, you must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN). This exam ensures you have what it takes to safely and effectively practice as a registered nurse. 

2. Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (PMH-BC)

Another on the list is the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (PMH-BC). This certification is nationally recognized in the US. It shows your proficiency in psychiatric nursing. This proves that you are professionally credible for the job. 

Aside from acquiring your RN licensure, some states may require additional certification or licensure specific to psychiatric nursing. You must research and meet the state’s requirements where you intend to practice.

Always remember to renew your licenses and certifications regularly. Maintaining these requirements involves staying up-to-date with the latest developments in psychiatric nursing.

Employment Opportunities and Career Advancement

If you’re wondering where psychiatric nurses can find employment after becoming registered nurses, here are a few settings:

  1. General hospitals
  2. Psychiatric hospitals
  3. Outpatient mental health clinics
  4. Correctional facilities
  5. Community health centers

Within the psychiatric nursing field, several job roles and specializations are available that contribute to the overall goal of providing mental health care. For example: 

1. Staff Nurse

A staff nurse works closely with patients with mental health conditions. They monitor a patient’s emotional and mental well-being. Through assessing them, these nurses start implementing treatment plans.

2. Charge Nurse

A charge nurse oversees the nursing staff and the daily operations of a psychiatric unit or department. Choosing this role handles administrative duties, manages the patient flow, and facilitates communication between the nursing team and other healthcare professionals.

3. Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP):

A psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner is more into the advanced practices of mental health care.  They are given the authority to diagnose mental health disorders and manage the overall treatment of patients. They can work independently or collaboratively with other healthcare professionals. These advanced practice roles require additional education, certification, and licensure.

4. Psychiatric Nurse Educator

Psychiatric nurse educators teach and mentor nursing students or other healthcare professionals in the psychiatric field. They develop an educational curriculum and design educational programs in a classroom setting.

5. Psychiatric Nurse Researcher

Psychiatric nurse researchers focus and contribute more through scientific research and inquiry. They investigate treatment interventions, patient outcomes, nursing interventions, and healthcare policies.

Being a psychiatric nurse does not only stop in these job roles but can advance to leadership and management positions. In a few months or years, you can be promoted to a nurse manager, director of nursing, or even chief nursing officer someday, as long as your workplace sees fit.

Nurturing Professional Growth and Development

By investing in your professional growth, you can contribute to the continuous improvement of mental health care.  

To positively impact the lives of your patients, attending a few education conferences and workshops can offer valuable learning opportunities. Joining other professional organizations can also enhance your knowledge and skills as a psychiatric nurse. 

For instance, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) is an organization that provides opportunities for networking, continuing education, and staying updated on industry trends. 

To contribute further to the overall advancement of the psychiatric nursing profession, you can engage in research and publication. 

As a psychiatric nurse, you can participate in research studies, publish articles, and present your findings at conferences. You can also pursue advanced degrees, such as a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) or a Ph.D. in nursing. As a result, you can improve patient outcomes for the years to come.

Landing a Job

Nowadays, job opportunities in psychiatric nursing can be found through online job portals, healthcare websites, professional organizations, and networking. After deciding where you want to pursue your profession, you should remember a few things.

Firstly, you should submit a well-crafted resume and cover letter. It is best to highlight your relevant experience, education, and skills. Additional requirements such as certifications or background checks may vary depending on your job role and employer.

Remember that some employers may require candidates to take additional exams like medication administration tests or a psychiatric nursing skills assessment. 

Aside from tests and assessments, thoroughly prepare for your interview. Start by researching the organization. Your career goals must be aligned with the facility’s vision.

Secondly, gather common interview questions and then respond to them a few times in a natural way that showcases your passion for psychiatric nursing. Doing so will ensure good interview performance.

However, there will be times when the places you applied for look for those with more experience and learn from these rejections. Continue to improve your skills and qualifications, and try again.

If you need extra help, Total Nursing Network (TNN) can connect you with employment opportunities. TNN is a professional nursing staffing agency that offers a range of benefits, including flexible schedules, competitive pay, and professional support.

TNN provides a supportive and reliable platform, especially for those hunting for a job. They offer many opportunities, professional development resources, and personalized assistance throughout.

Bottom Line

Becoming a psychiatric nurse requires dedication, education, and a passion for mental health care. By understanding the role, meeting the requirements, gaining experience, and continuously nurturing professional growth, you can embark on a fulfilling and rewarding career on how to become a psychiatric nurse. 

Total Nursing Network (TNN) is a valuable resource for those seeking job opportunities in psychiatric nursing. TNN offers a platform that connects you with job opportunities where you can find an employer that can be your perfect match.

TNN understands the unique needs of psychiatric nurses and strives to ensure a smooth transition and a rewarding professional experience. 

Make a difference in mental health care and pursue growth opportunities through psychiatric nursing.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is the salary range for psychiatric nurses?

The salary range for psychiatric nurses can vary depending on your degree, experience, the place, and the employing organization. You can earn a competitive salary of $127,911 per year.

2. How can I specialize in child and adolescent psychiatric nursing?

You can pursue additional education and training in this specific area. You can enter a psychiatric nursing program that offers coursework and clinical experiences focused on this specialization. Obtaining certification as a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) with this specific specialization is another option to gain expertise in this field.

3. Are there any scholarships available for psychiatric nursing students?

Yes, there are scholarships available. Many nursing schools, organizations, and foundations offer scholarships specifically for nursing students pursuing psychiatric or mental health nursing. 

4. Can I work as a psychiatric nurse with an ADN degree?

Yes, it is possible. Many healthcare facilities hire individuals with an ADN degree. However, some may prefer or require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. 

5. What are the challenges of working in psychiatric nursing?

Some common challenges include managing aggressive or challenging patient behaviors. Another would be dealing with the stigma associated with mental illness. You may also encounter patients experiencing crises or acute episodes. Maintaining personal emotional well-being while providing empathetic care may also be challenging. 

6. How can I prepare for a psychiatric nursing job interview?

To prepare for a psychiatric nursing job interview, it is essential to research the organization, familiarize yourself with its mission and values, and understand the specific role you are applying for. Rehearsing common interview questions and giving responses highlighting your relevant skills, experience, and passion is a plus. 

7. Are there opportunities for travel nursing in psychiatric settings?

Yes, you can become a travel nurse.  You can often have assignments available in hospitals, mental health clinics, or residential treatment centers. These assignments are usually short-term. 

8. What is the demand for psychiatric nurses in different regions?

The demand will vary. Due to the increasing recognition and importance of mental health care, there is a need for psychiatric nurses. The demand may be higher in certain regions or areas with limited access to mental health services. We advise you to research the specific job market and consult the facility or agency to get accurate information about the demand for psychiatric nurses.

9. Can psychiatric nurses prescribe medication?

Specifically, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) have the authority to prescribe medication, but it still depends on state laws and regulations. 

10. Are there any alternative career paths related to psychiatric nursing?

Yes, there are alternative career paths related to psychiatric nursing. Some examples include psychiatric nurse educators, psychiatric nurse researchers, mental health counselors, psychiatric nurse case managers, psychiatric nurse consultants, and psychiatric nurse administrators.