Generally, medical facilities and home care organizations fill their psychiatric mental health nursing needs with psychiatric registered nurses (RNs) or psychiatric nurse practitioners (NPs). Psychiatric RNs generally need a bachelor's degree in nursing from an accredited college. In contrast, NPs, who diagnose patients and prescribe medications, are required to have a master's degree or higher. In addition to education, experience in psychiatric nursing is vital. Some schools also offer programming online.
Many health facilities in need of psychiatric nurses may consider employing RNs or licensed practical nurses (LPNs) with a nursing associate degree or diploma and experience. However, most employers prefer to hire psychiatric nurses who have at least a 4-year nursing degree.
Bachelor of Science in Nursing
At the undergraduate degree level, nursing students typically take one course in psychiatric nursing. They also gain general skills in nursing all age groups and study foundational sciences, such as anatomy, physiology, biology and chemistry. They also gain hands-on experience by participating in clinical rotations. Some common course topics might include:
- Nursing ethics and professionalism
- Influencing quality improvement
- Promoting healthy communities
- Professional nursing role
- Informatics for patient-centered care
- Health policy and finance
Master of Science in Nursing
Graduate mental health nursing students participate in clinical experiences, during which time they gain experience supervising, consulting and evaluating patients. These programs typically last around 2 years and provide students with advanced knowledge of drug therapy and psychiatric treatment methods for critical and chronic mental diseases. Some course topics might include:
- Health assessment
- Outcomes evaluation
- Case management
- Program management
- Clinical care management
Psychiatric nursing graduate certificates are generally intended for nurses with a master's degree. Graduate certificate students usually participate in two clinical practica and study such topics as behavior modification, psychopharmacology and health promotion. Some common course topics include:
- Leadership concepts and theories for nurse administrators
- Health care economics and policy for nurse administrators
- Human resource and work force issues or nurse administrators
- Synthesis and application of the nurse administrator role
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
According to the BLS, psychiatric technicians make a mean annual wage of $36,280 as of May 2015. The BLS also reports that the job growth for these technicians is expected to grow 5% from 2014-2024, which is slower than average compared to all other occupations.
Employers require psychiatric nurses to hold RN or NP state licenses. To prescribe medications, psychiatric nurse practitioners are required to have clearance with their state as well as the federal Drug Enforcement Agency. Voluntary board certifications in psychiatric nursing, offered through organizations such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (www.nursecredentialing.org), may be preferred. To qualify, applicants must be RNs, meet minimum educational requirements in psychiatric nursing and pass an exam; registered nurse candidates must also meet minimum specialty experience requirements.
In order to maintain certifications and licensure, psychiatric nurses must meet continuing education requirements. Consequently, a number of nursing organizations offer seminars and conferences, which satisfy these requirements and last 2-5 days. Topics include mental health drugs and trends in psychiatric treatment methods. For specialized education, mental health nurses can look to graduate certificate programs, which are often available in community, child, adult or geriatric mental health. Alternatively, nurses interested in research or education may choose to pursue a doctoral degree in the field.
Students interesting in psychiatric nursing can pursue training at the undergraduate and graduate level, with programs offering both relevant instruction and clinical experience. You must also obtain RN or NP licensure to work in this field.