The role of a psychiatric nurse can be both demanding and fulfilling as you support patients in overcoming mental health challenges. Learning how to best help people will require a wide range of skills and knowledge, including emotional intelligence, verbal and written communication skills, medical expertise, and evidence-based reasoning. Earning your degree can be an excellent way to refine those skills and could open the door to finding work in a range of environments, such as government agencies, hospitals, private practice offices, aged-care facilities, rehabilitation centers, and correctional facilities.
Demand for specialty nurse practitioners is growing rapidly, as evidenced by the fact that more people are looking into how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that employment of NPs will increase by 45% between 2019 and 2029 as open discussion of mental health continues to grow in both personal and professional settings. This guide provides information about the skills, requirements, salary, and job outlook for psychiatric nurse practitioners.
Why pursue a career in psychiatric nursing?
As of 2019, the National Institute of Mental Health reported nearly 1 in 5 U.S. adults live with some form of mental illness. This represents approximately 20.6% of the country’s total population, or 51.5 million adults. Of that number, 23 million, or 44.8%, received help with their condition sometime during that year. As more people become comfortable discussing and addressing mental health issues, the need for trained professionals is likely to increase.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners work with patients of all ages and in every stage of life. A career in this field may be a good fit for you if you enjoy supporting people through difficult situations like anxiety, mood disorders, addictions, and helping them lead more productive lives. In addition, those who become psychiatric nurse practitioners have the potential to earn salaries and benefits that are much higher than the national average.
Below are additional advantages you may experience as a psychiatric nurse practitioner.
The job growth predicted by the BLS is largely due to an increased emphasis on preventive care, like counseling and precautionary medication, as well as a higher demand for health care services by an aging population. As the baby boomer generation continues to retire from the workforce and enter the next stage of life, the need for professionals trained in Alzheimer’s and dementia care will continue to increase.
Additionally, psychiatric nurse practitioners can work in many different environments, with opportunities that range from hospital settings to aged-care homes. These varied opportunities may make it easier to design a career trajectory that is well-suited to your personality and preferred working style.
Psychiatric nursing requires several skills, such as facilitating family connections and finding people the resources they need. This allows you to solve life-altering challenges for patients and make a difference in your community. You could have the opportunity to directly impact lives while also building meaningful professional relationships filled with respect and trust.
A career in psychiatric nursing can also be financially rewarding. The BLS reported the median salary for specialty nurse practitioners was $117,670 as of May 2020, with some earning upwards of $180,000 depending on their years of experience, skill level, and location.
Generally speaking, most psychiatric nurses work full time in a clinic, hospital, or other health care facility. Their shifts may be scheduled during nights, weekends, and holidays to provide constant patient care.
Variation within the field
For those who become psychiatric nurse practitioners, a typical day will vary depending on the environment. For example, professionals who work at aged-care facilities may spend time caring for Alzheimer’s and dementia patients, while nurse practitioners in rehabilitation centers may work with individuals to modify behaviors and cope with substance abuse issues. A practitioner usually only cares for (and specializes in) one patient population at a time, whether that’s geriatric seniors, young parents, families impacted by drug addiction, or some other group.
Your work may also vary based on your location. For example, while in most states you're able to prescribe medications as well as conduct mental and physical evaluations, in some areas this option is limited strictly to psychiatrists or similar professionals.
If you want to see that your work is changing lives, witnessing progress in your patients can be very fulfilling. You’ll have the potential to see the positive life changes your patients are making, and know that the treatment plans you put in place could have influenced that.
Industry trends in psychiatric nursing
Here’s a quick look at trends in this industry according to Burning Glass Technologies.
Increasingly, health care employers are looking for workers who have a wide range of skills. In addition to soft skills like communication, organization, planning, and collaboration, employers want to see that job candidates possess the ability to use emerging technologies and tools.
As a nurse practitioner, you should be comfortable with planning and organizing software, such as the Microsoft Office suite. You should also understand that your hospital or clinic may need you to learn their own software. Nurse practitioners who support research projects may also need experience with data science tools such as Python and R, programming languages that are used to model statistical information. However, most nurse practitioners working in care settings will only need a basic understanding of office technology.
Demand for psychiatric nurse practitioners
Psychiatric nursing was one of the most sought-after nursing specialties in 2019, with approximately 13,000 positions available. As mental health service utilization grows, health care employers will need trained professionals capable of working with complex patient cases. Gaining certifications in psychiatric nursing can help you stand out from the competition and qualify for in-demand roles.
Areas of opportunity
When thinking of becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner, job outlook and opportunities are important considerations. In addition to hospital settings, there are a number of other environments where psychiatric nurses can find employment.
● Local, state, and federal government organizations
● Psychiatric clinics
● Aged-care homes
● Rehabilitation centers
● Correctional facilities
Each of these environments can offer unique experiences. For instance, nurse practitioners working in a psychiatric clinic may specialize in treating a specific type of condition, such as eating disorders or substance abuse. Alternatively, nurse practitioners in rehabilitation centers may provide support for a range of mental health conditions. Over the length of your career, you may choose to develop your expertise along a single clinical path or transition to various subspecialties as you progress, such as specializing in depression or another mental health condition.
Where are the psychiatric nurse practitioner jobs?
It can be said that wherever there is a patient population, there is a need for psychiatric nurse practitioners. Areas with larger populations tend to have more demand for specialty nurses.
As of now, the larger cities in New York, California, Texas, and Florida have the highest employment rates for nurse practitioners. According to the compensation website PayScale, some of the most popular U.S. employers for those who want to become psychiatric nurse practitioners are The Veterans Administration (VA), the Behavioral Health Group, and Community Health Systems.
Travel nursing opportunities
‘Locum tenens nurses,’ also known as travel nurses, provide staffing for hospitals and other medical environments on a contract basis. Temporary positions can help you progress your career by expanding your professional network. You can also enjoy the opportunity to travel while collecting valuable work experience.
Before you can qualify to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner, you must first earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), obtain a registered nurse (RN) license, and accrue work experience as an RN, usually in a hospital or clinical setting.
Earn a Master of Science in Nursing degree
Depending on the state you plan to work in, you may need to obtain additional licensing or certification. Obtaining an MSN can streamline this process. Only with these qualifications can you find work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, which means there are not any true entry-level psychiatric nursing positions.
Advanced job options
Once you have experience working as a nurse practitioner, you can begin to consider advanced career opportunities. Advanced positions include leadership roles at hospitals, governmental policy advisers, roles as health or medical consultants, or work in research. To qualify for advanced psychiatric nursing positions, you’ll need to possess expert knowledge of topics such as:
● Health policies
● Epidemiology and behavioral health
● Neuroanatomy and neurophysiology
An example of an advanced position is the chief nursing officer (CNO) role found at most hospitals. According to PayScale, the median annual wage for CNOs was $134,372 as of July 2021.
Top skills and digital tools for psychiatric nurse practitioners
If you become a psychiatric nurse practitioner, you will be involved with various stages of patient care. You may also be required to submit reports, track data, and participate in research assignments. All of these tasks require a combination of soft skills and technical abilities. Becoming familiar with the latest trends in technology can be extremely beneficial as you pursue the next stage of your career.
The most sought-after skills in psychiatric nursing
According to research from Burning Glass Technologies, these skills appear most frequently in job descriptions for psychiatric nurse practitioners, with percentages included for their projected growth:
● Employee training - 156%
● Clinical care nursing - 146%
● Basic patient care - 95%
● Catheterization laboratory - 73%
● Medication management - 55%
● Telemetry - 50%
● Patient monitoring - 46%
● Spreadsheets - 46%
● Urgent care - 46%
● Handling of crisis situations - 45%
● Communication skills - 42%
● Teamwork and collaboration - 38%
Many nursing positions require a hybrid role, combining technology and health care competencies. These positions often require specialized skills including:
● Data science - 38%
● Structured query language (SQL) - 38%
● Data analysis - 37%
● SAS analytics software - 37%
● R statistical programming language 29%
● Python programming language - 23%
Soft skills in psychiatric nursing
Soft skills influence how well you’re able to collaborate with patients and other caregivers. The following skills include the percentages based on their demand, according to Burning Glass Technologies.
● Communication skills - 42%
● Collaboration - 38%
● Planning - 26%
● Problem solving - 24%
● Written communication - 15%
Top emerging skills
Skills that are just appearing in the marketplace are known as emerging skills. The demand for knowledge in the following categories is expected to grow quickly over the next five years, according to Burning Glass Technologies.
● Data documentation - 190%
● Medical history review - 126%
● Neurological disorders - 109%
● Maternal-fetal medicine - 100%
● Smoking cessation - 81%
● Patient issue resolution - 46%
● Biotherapy - 44%
Psychiatric nursing fellowship programs
Postgraduate fellowship programs can give you customized training as you become a nurse practitioner to fill the gaps between the academic world and your first year of practice. Some fellowships to consider include:
Gaining certifications and memberships in nursing groups can help improve your skill set, enhance your professional network, and qualify you for competitive positions. Some nursing associations to consider include:
These organizations recognize that mental health is important to the patient’s overall well-being. By focusing on helping and advocating for people who have mental health concerns, members of these associations promote programs and policies that benefit individuals and communities.
Become a psychiatric nurse practitioner
Psychiatric nursing can be a fulfilling career with varied job opportunities. As the U.S. health care system continues to prioritize preventive care, more psychiatric nurse practitioners will be needed to provide support for patients who have mental health challenges.
Explore our nursing area of study page to learn more details about how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner and the different programs that may be available to you.