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 is the best way to refine those skills and will 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.
Plus, demand for specialty nurse practitioners is growing rapidly. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that job growth in the sector will increase by 45% between 2019 and 2029.
Why pursue a career in psychiatric nursing?
In 2017, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that nearly 50 million U.S. adults live with some form of mental illness, with 42% receiving treatment. As more people become comfortable discussing 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 or mood disorders, addictions, and helping them lead more productive lives. In addition, specialty nurse practitioners have the potential to earn salaries and benefits that are much higher than the national average. Further advantages you could experience as a psychiatric nurse practitioner include:
The high growth of this field predicted by the BLS is due to an increased emphasis on preventive care, like counseling and precautionary medication, as well as a higher demand for health care services for an aging population. As the baby boomer generation continues to retire from the workforce and enter the next stage of life, there will be an increased need for professionals trained in Alzheimer’s and dementia care.
Additionally, psychiatric nurse practitioners can work in many different environments – finding opportunities ranging from hospital settings to aged-care homes. You’ll have the ability to design a career trajectory that is well suited to your personality and preferred working style.
Psychiatric nursing blends a number of skills that allow you to solve challenges and make a difference in your community. You’ll have the opportunity to directly impact the lives of your patients while also building meaningful professional relationships filled with respect and trust.
A career in psychiatric nursing can be financially rewarding. Starting salaries are around $102,000. The BLS reported that the median salary for specialty nurse practitioners was $115,800.
Variation within the field
A typical day in the life of a psychiatric nurse practitioner 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 work with individuals to modify behaviors and cope with substance abuse issues.
Variation in your work will also stem from where in the country you choose to work. For example, in most states, you’d able to prescribe medications as well as conduct mental and physical evaluations.
If you want to see that your work is changing lives, witnessing progress in your patients can be highly satisfying. You’ll be able to see the positive changes in their lives and know that the treatment plans you put in place were a big part of that. Plus, this can be a path that gives you a competitive advantage when applying to positions at prestigious health care institutions.
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 with 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 using planning and organizing software such as the Microsoft Office suite. Nurse practitioners who support research projects may also need experience with data science technologies such as Python and R, programming languages used to model statistical information. However, most nurse practitioners working in care settings will only need a basic understanding of office technology.
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
Nurse practitioners who work in hospital settings will have a lot of variety in the tasks they perform. Each day will look different and schedules may vary. However, in addition to hospital settings, there are a number of other environments where psychiatric nurses can find employment, including:
Local, state, and federal government organizations
Each of these environments can offer unique experiences. For instance, nurse practitioners working in a psychiatric clinic may specialize in a specific 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 a career, you may choose to develop your expertise along a single clinical path or transition to various subspecialties as you progress.
Where are the psychiatric nurse practitioner jobs?
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. For example, New York, California, Texas, and Florida have the highest employment rates for nurse practitioners. These areas also tend to provide higher compensation, with the average annual nurse practitioner salary reaching $138,660 in California.
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 provide a way to progress your career by expanding your professional network while also figuring out whether you’d like to make a certain location a more permanent move for yourself. Alternatively, you can just enjoy traveling and working in different areas of the country. The range of experience you gain can be valuable.
Before you can qualify to become a psychiatric nurse, you must first:
Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Obtain a registered nurse (RN) license
Gain work experience as an RN
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. Only with these qualifications can you find work as a psychiatric nurse practitioner, which means there are not any true entry-level positions available.
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, consultants, and research roles. To qualify for advanced psychiatric nursing positions, you’ll need to possess expert knowledge of topics such as:
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 data from Salary.com, the median annual wage for CNOs is $233,900, rising to $306,707 at the high end of the spectrum.
Top skills and digital tools for psychiatric nurse practitioners
As 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:
Projected Posting Growth (2018-2023)
Clinical care nursing
Basic patient care
Handling of crisis situations
Teamwork and collaboration
Source: Burning Glass Technologies
Many nursing positions require a hybridization with technology roles. These positions require specialized skills.
Projected Posting Growth (2018–2023)
Structured query language (SQL)
SAS analytics software
R statistical programming language
Python programming language
Source: Burning Glass Technologies
Soft skills in psychiatric nursing
Soft skills influence how well you’re able to collaborate with patients and other caregivers.
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.
Projected Growth (2018-2023)
Medical history review
Patient issue resolution
Psychiatric nursing fellowship programs
Postgraduate fellowship programs provide you with customized training to fill in the gaps between the academic world and your first year of practice. Some fellowships to consider include:
Gaining certifications and memberships from nursing groups can help to improve your skill set, enhance your professional network, and help you qualify 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.
Support mental health. Make an impact.
Psychiatric nursing is a promising career path with amazing growth opportunities. As the U.S. health care system places greater emphasis on preventive care, nurse practitioners will be needed to provide support for patients who have mental health challenges. From rural communities to metropolitan areas, psychiatric nurse practitioners will always find employment opportunities.