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Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners, also called Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs), are advanced practice nurses who can serve as primary care providers for the mental health community. They care for people of all ages with a variety of mental illnesses and behavioral issues. 

Some PMHNPs work together with psychiatrists; others can work independently depending on their location in the country. PMHNPs deliver care by diagnosing, providing therapy, prescribing medications, and promoting health in other areas of their patients' lives.

Education Requirements

NPs must complete a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree and successfully pass the state's NCLEX-RN exam. Nurses with ADN degrees will need to obtain their BSN first or attend either a BSN to MSN or BSN to DNP program.  Nurses should have at least a year of experience before pursuing a PMHNP career. 

Psychiatric nurse practitioners must complete an MSN or doctoral degree.  There has been a push to require NPs to have DNPs, so starting on that path is worth considering. 

Each state has different rules about licensing and certification of NPs. You can check your state here and here.

How to advance/career pathway

If you have been practicing as a family NP and want to become a PMHNP, there are post-master’s nursing programs that are either online or in person.

To become certified, you must take the exam for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC) from the ANCC. You must also complete 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours related to the psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner role, three graduate courses that include health promotion and pharmacology, and have clinical training in at least two psychotherapeutic treatment modalities.

Those interested in pediatric mental health can pursue additional training as a Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist (PMHS).  You must be an advanced practice nurse certified in your specialty area and have 2,000 clinical hours in pediatric developmental, behavioral, and mental health.


  • Intake of new patients or follow up visits on existing patients
  • Prescribe medications and treatments,
  • Monitor patient progress and make changes as needed
  • Provide education and counseling to patients/families


  • ADHD
  • Anxiety
  • Substance abuse
  • Mood disorders
  • Suicide prevention

How to become a

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

  1. Complete an ADN or BSN program in nursing
  2. Pass the NCLEX-RN exam and apply for your RN license
  3. Have one to two years of experience working as an RN
  4. Apply and complete either an MSN or doctoral program to become a PMHNP
  5. Apply for your Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification after meeting prerequisites

Specialty Groups and Communities

American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)

  • Mission: “The American Association of Nurse Practitioners® (AANP) empowers all nurse practitioners (NPs) to advance quality health care through practice, education, advocacy, research and leadership.”
  • Cost: $55-125, annually.
  • Perks: Free CE courses, savings on AANP Fall Conference registration, discount on American Academy of Nurse Practitioners Certification Board application, free monthly subscriptions to JAANP and JNP, Member Advantages Program savings on travel, products and professional services, and more.

Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation (NPHF)

  • Mission: “The mission of the Nurse Practitioner Healthcare Foundation is to improve health status and quality of care through nurse practitioner innovations in clinical practice, education, research, health policy, service, and philanthropy.”
  • Cost: Donation and volunteering opportunities.
  • Perks: Free CE credits and access to additional resources.

The Pros

  • Less physically demanding and more regular hours
  • Variety of mental health needs in different settings
  • Satisfaction of seeing people improve 
  • Increased responsibility but still can defer to the psychiatrist

The Cons

  • Challenging to manage some patients
  • Lack of appreciation
  • Some patients may be dangerous
  • Must obtain and maintain more nursing education
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Personality Traits

  • Focused, attentive, patient
  • Calm and caring
  • Excellent communicator
  • Strong patient advocate
  • Enjoys assisting mental health patients discuss psychosocial problems
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Average Salary

Psychiatric nurse practitioners typically make between $85k - $140k, with a median salary of $107,079. For the most up-to-date salary information, check out Salary Explorer.

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American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) 

  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC)

Pediatric Nurses Certification Board (PNCB)

  • Pediatric Primary Care Mental Health Specialist
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Work Setting

Hospitals, mental health clinics, schools, in-patient psychiatric facilities, correctional facilities, and home healthcare

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Interested in learning more about what it’s like to be a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner? We spoke to one to find out. Read What Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners Do?