Psychiatric mental health nursing is a specialty within nursing, according to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA), and it represents two primary sets of nursing professionals. Psychiatric nurses (also known as psychiatric mental health nurses) and psychiatric mental health advanced practice registered nurses (PMH-APRNs) provide a wide range of care to patients who are seeking mental health care from a psychologist, psychiatrist or a primary care professional.

The following sections explore the role and responsibilities of a psychiatric nurse, as well as information on education, salary and employment growth.

What Is a Psychiatric Nurse?

The APNA defines a psychiatric nurse as a registered nurse who works with individuals, families, groups and communities to assess mental health needs. The nurse is responsible for developing a diagnosis and plan of care, implementing the nursing process and evaluating it for effectiveness.

Specific duties can be added to the APNAs list. A psychiatric nurse will commonly be tasked with the following responsibilities:

  Completing physical and mental health assessments
  Track patients’ medical history and apply findings to mental health evaluations
  Administer and maintain control of drugs and medications
  Observe and report behavioral changes
  Coordinate efforts with relevant psychiatric services and programs
  Work with patients’ families to help improve the patients’ abilities

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How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatric nurses are required to be registered nurses. Some registered nurses have a diploma or associate degree, but many health care employers require that nurses have a bachelor’s degree. This is especially true for hospitals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

There are opportunities for advancement within the psychiatric nursing specialty, which require further education.

The PMH-APRN role is an advanced nursing role requiring extensive education in development, physical and mental health assessment, the diagnosis of mental health conditions, integration and implementation of care, psychopharmacology, psychotherapy, practice evaluation, consultation, and liaison, according to the APNA. To utilize these skills in practice it is necessary to obtain the appropriate educational degree. Advanced masters and doctoral degrees allow a PMH nurse to work in particular roles, such as that of psychiatric primary care provider, psychotherapist, consultant, and university educator.

Psychiatric Nurse Salary

The median salary for psychiatric nurses is $59,598, based on real-time data from PayScale at time of publication.

The BLS does not track salary information for nursing specialties. The median annual wage for all registered nurses is $68,450. The highest 10 percent earn more than $102,990 and the lowest 10 percent earn less than $47,120.

Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 16 percent by 2026, which is much faster than the average for all occupations. Growth will occur due to an overall rise in demand for health care services.

Education remains critical for nurses’ job prospects. “Overall, job opportunities for registered nurses are expected to be good,” according to the BLS. “However, the supply of new nurses entering the labor market has increased in recent years. This increase has resulted in competition for jobs in some areas of the country. Generally, registered nurses with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing (BSN) will have better job prospects than those without one.”


Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse

Earning an online RN to BSN from Notre Dame of Maryland University can help you pursue employment opportunities in psychiatric nursing or another specialty. Take the opportunity to reflect on your current practice, identify how caring can be preserved as the foundation of nursing and work to transform health care through caring practice. Gain the skills and knowledge needed to enhance your career opportunities in nursing while fulfilling the educational requirements of many health care employers. Most students complete their degree in 15 to 18 months.