More than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s no surprise that many Americans report a higher-than-averagefrequency of mental health issues. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s recent Household Pulse Survey, nearly 50 percent of citizens report anxiety symptoms, while 39 percent experience feelings of depression. An astonishing one in five Americans say they suffer from a mental illness.
As mental illness symptoms become more pronounced, mental health care services must step in to support suffering individuals and ensure they get adequate treatment. Psychiatrists, psychologists, counselors, and therapists all play their part in helping this population, but nurses can also play key roles in providing treatment—specifically those who work as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs). In an era of growing demand and strained resources, psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners are filling the gap in the workforce.
Those considering careers as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners might naturally wonder how much they might earn in the role. In this section, we look at some of the responsibilities and roles of PMHNPs, as well as common places of employment, to give individuals mulling over this path the information they need to make informed and confident decisions.
PMHNPs are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) with specialized knowledge and training in psychiatric and mental health care services. In addition to completing an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), these professionals must also pursue a master’s degree in nursing (MSN) and/or a doctor of nursing (DNP) to earn the qualifications needed to seek–and maintain–PMHNP certification.
PMHNPs perform similar tasks as psychiatrists, but how autonomously they operate depends on individual state licensure requirements. Standard responsibilities include assessing new patients, developing treatment plans, and prescribing therapies and medications to lessen the effects of mental illness.
While PMHNPs typically do not provide talk therapy or counseling services, they regularly refer patients to professionals specialized in these types of therapies. PMHNPs may also collaborate with other healthcare professionals, including those focused on behavioral health, primary care, eating disorders, and substance use disorders.
Earning the credentials needed to practice as a full-time psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner allows these professionals to work in multiple clinical and nonclinical settings. Working in inpatient settings that include psychiatric hospitals, substance abuse disorder treatment centers, abd eating disorder recovery facilities allows PMHNPs to assess and treat patients under close supervision and adjust therapies as needed.
Outpatient centers provide the opportunity to work in hospitals or community mental health organizations and see patients at regularly scheduled times. These settings work best for individuals seeking more traditional working hours. Those who live in full practice states and want to maximize their incomes may pursue private practice opportunities.
Nonclinical opportunities for providing mental health services include positions in school districts, correctional facilities, and nursing schools. Worth noting: many colleges and universities look for candidates with DNPs rather than MSNs.
The average salary for PMHNPs varies based on factors such as years of experience, part-time or full-time status, location, and type of employer. Indeed reports that psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners currently earn a national average base salary of $140,302 per year, or $9,934 per month. Payscale reports a base salary range between $92,000 and $145,000 per year, with bonuses ranging from $839 to $15,000 per year. PMHNPs typically earn higher salaries as they gain more experience and take on senior-level positions.
Location also has a significant impact on PMHNP pay. According to Zippia, New Jersey offers the highest average annual salary for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (app. $138,000), followed by Alaska ($130,000) and California ($129,000). Low-paying states include Alabama ($82,000), Florida ($84,000), and South Carolina ($85,000).
Before committing to any location, students should review the state practice environment for NPs–especially if they aspire to operate their own practice. While states with full practice autonomy allow for unsupervised practice, those with reduced or restricted practice may require PMHNPs to work under the supervision of a licensed physician.
The road to becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner includes several stops along the way to diagnosing your first patient. The first step involves becoming a registered nurse, either by completing an ADN or BSN. This provides the qualifications and training needed for graduates to pass the NCLEX-RN examination and seek licensure in their state.
RNs who decide to continue their educational journey can work towards either an MSN or DNP. Several colleges and universities now offer these programs, including Yale’s School of Nursing. The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty, offered within the Master of Science in Nursing, provides a two-year program aligned with competencies set forth by the National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing’s Essentials of Master’s Education in Nursing.
Most programs include both academic and clinical components. Students cover topics such as mental health assessment across the lifespan, individual psychotherapy, advanced pharmacology, and clinical outcome management in psychiatric-mental health nursing.
Any program you consider seriously should hold accreditation through the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. It should also include at least 500 hours of supervised clinical experience, as this is required for certification.
After graduating, students must take and pass the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC) examination provided by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The exam, which takes 3.5 hours to complete and consists of 150 scored questions, costs $395 for non-members, and varied prices based on professional organization membership. After passing the exam, credentials remain valid for five years and can be renewed by meeting all requirements.
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