Nurse caring for elderly woman

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Duties, Responsibilities, Schooling, Requirements, Certifications, Job Outlook, and Salary

Nurse caring for elderly woman

Nursing is an honorable profession, as well as a gratifying career choice for many people.

Upon earning their license, registered nurses (RNs) can choose to focus on a specific healthcare concentration or career track. Every specialty carries its own set of unique job responsibilities, work environments, and benefits. Becoming specialized offers job security, increased earning potential, and multiple options for career advancement.

For many RNs, the path to specialization begins with earning their Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree. Through increased knowledge, expertise, and influence, nursing specialization can enrich your career both professionally and financially. In fact, many of the highest-paid nursing jobs require an MSN degree.

For this reason, we created a new series of career guides to highlight the top nursing professions that require an MSN degree.

(Click here to see our list of the top nursing jobs for MSN graduates).

This career guide will focus on the role of the Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner.

Continue reading to learn how to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner, as well as the duties, requirements, and benefits of this esteemed profession.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Definition

What Is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who assist psychiatrists and other physicians in the treatment of patients dealing with mental health issues and disorders. Psychiatric nurse practitioners work closely with their patients to help them manage their mental illnesses and continue to live productive lives.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Job Description

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

Nurse with male patient

The primary role of a psychiatric nurse is to assist psychiatrists and physicians in creating treatment plants for the mental health care their patients require. These treatment plans must be created based on the unique needs of each patient as mental health care is very individualized.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners begin by interviewing and assessing their patients to learn about their condition. After developing a treatment plan, psychiatric nurse practitioners provide supportive counseling, prescribe and administer medications, and educate patients and their families throughout their treatment.

Depending on the severity of their condition, psychiatric nurse practitioners may also help patients perform daily tasks such as grooming or getting dressed.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Day-to-Day Responsibilities

Some of the day-to-day responsibilities of psychiatric nurse practitioners include:

  • Assessing patients to determine their mental health needs
  • Developing individualized treatment plans
  • Counseling patients throughout their treatment
  • Prescribing and administering medication
  • Educating patients and their families regarding mental illness
  • Assisting patients with self-care activities

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Jobs

Where Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Work?

Psychiatric nurses can work in a variety of healthcare settings that focus on mental health and psychiatric care. These may include but are not limited to general hospitals, community mental health clinics, psychiatric specialty hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, and private practices. Correctional facilities and school systems are also known to hire psychiatric nurse practitioners.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Schooling & Certification

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

What Degree Do You Need to be a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Like all advanced nursing specialties, the educational requirements of a psychiatric nurse practitioner go beyond the RN licensing credentials.

In addition to passing the NCLEX-RN certification exam, psychiatric nurse practitioners must earn a Master of Science in Nursing Degree (MSN) from an accredited program.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners must also gain at least two years of RN experience before applying for certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Here are the steps required to become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner:

1. Earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) Degree

Option 1: The first step to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner is earning your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. If you have no prior nursing education or experience, a BSN program can take about three to four years to complete.

Option 2: If you already have a diploma or associates degree in nursing (ADN), you can enroll in an RN-to-MSN program. Programs such as these could take an average of three years of full-time study.

Option 3: If you already have a non-nursing bachelor’s degree, you can skip past the BSN and earn the master’s degree by completing what’s known as a Masters Entry Program in Nursing (or MEPN). These programs provide an accelerated nursing curriculum to non-nursing college graduates.

2. Pass the NCLEX-RN Certification Exam

Upon graduating from your BSN or MEPN program, the next step to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner is earning your nursing license. The National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) is a nationally mandated license that all nurses must receive before they can become registered nurses (RNs).

3. Earn your Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Degree

After you’ve earned your BSN and passed the NCLEX, the next step to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner is to earn your MSN from an accredited program. Most MSN programs take about 18 to 24 months to complete. Students enrolled in an MSN program can expect to take courses like physiology, pharmacology, neurophysiology, and nursing science.

Regardless of which specialization you decide to pursue, earning your MSN will set you up for higher earning potential and a greater job outlook throughout your career.

4. Gain experience working as an RN

The American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) requires you to fulfill several requirements before sitting for the final psychiatric nursing certification exam. The ANCC requires a minimum of two years of practice as a full-time RN and a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice. On top of these requirements, you’ll also need to complete 20 hours of continuing education throughout your time working as a registered nurse.

5. Pass the American Nurses Credentialing Center Exam (ANCC)

Once you’ve earned your MSN and completed your eligibility requirements, you’ll be one step away from officially becoming a psychiatric nurse. The certification exam offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) consists of 175 multiple-choice questions. You’ll have three and a half hours to complete the exam, and upon successfully passing the exam, you’ll be awarded your credential. Your certification through the ANCC is valid for five years at a time.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary

How Much Do Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Make?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners rank amongst the highest paying nursing specialties. According to, the average annual salary* earned by a psychiatric nurse practitioner is $105,568.

The lowest 10 percent of psychiatric nurse practitioners earned less than $83,000, and the highest 10 percent can earn more than $139,000.

What Is the Job Outlook for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners?

Unfortunately, the Bureau of Labor Statistics does not report any specific data on the job outlook of psychiatric nurse practitioners. However, it does indicate that the overall employment of nurse practitioners is projected to grow 26 percent by 2028. This is significantly higher than the average growth of all occupations (5%).

APRNs will be increasingly utilized in team-based models of care. They will also be needed to care for the large, aging baby-boom population.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Career

Are you ready to start your career as a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner?

Nurse consoling patient

Over the last decade, mental health issues and disorders have become a focal point of society. These illnesses are critical and must be acknowledged as such. Psychiatric nurse practitioners work directly with people struggling with mental health issues to ensure they are treated properly and safely. While this nursing specialty can be emotionally draining, the work you’ll do will benefit the lives of countless individuals. Beyond your direct patients, you will also bring comfort to their friends and relatives.  Psychiatric nursing can be a profoundly gratifying career choice for those who are passionate about helping others improve their lives.

If you’re ready to take the next step towards becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner, you can start by earning your MSN degree at Eagle Gate College.

Click here to learn more about our MSN program, as well as our MEPN program.