Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Schools: How to Choose

Dec 07, 2019

Aspiring or practicing nurses who want to care for psychiatric patients have diverse educational options through psychiatric nurse practitioner specialties in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program. These programs combine classroom learning and hands-on training through observing and working with patients.

Those interested in psychiatric nursing must complete graduate-level coursework. There are many colleges and universities in the United States that can prepare students for this job.

Top 10 Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Schools

Based on the 2019 rankings of U.S. News and World Report, these are the ten best psychiatric nursing programs in the United States:

College/University Location Institution Type Tuition (In-state, 2018-2019)*
University of Pennsylvania Philadelphia, PA 4-year, private not-for-profit $42,698
Rush University Chicago, IL 4-year, private not-for-profit $995 per credit
Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN 4-year, private not-for-profit $1,556 per credit
University of California - San Francisco San Francisco, CA 4-year, public $12,570
University of Washington Seattle, WA 4-year, public $17,040
Yale University Orange, CT 4-year, private not-for-profit $41,820
New York University New York, NY 4-year, private not-for-profit $44,874
University of Virginia Charlottesville, VA 4-year, public N/A
Johns Hopkins University Baltimore, MD 4-year, private not-for-profit $1,639 per credit
University of Pittsburgh Pittsburgh, PA 4-year, public $912 per credit

Source: *U.S. News and World Report

School Selection Criteria

Here are some considerations for prospective students who want to become psychiatric nurse practitioners:

  • Students should make sure that they qualify for admissions based on their previous education.
  • Both master's degrees and graduate certificate programs are available; prospective students should look at the pre-requisites and outcomes for both programs to decide which better meets their needs.
  • A student interested in specialties within mental health, such as child psychiatry or adult psychiatry, may want to check to see if their school offers courses or a concentration in that area.
  • Students may want to consider the accreditation of psychiatric nurse practitioner programs through the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission, Inc. (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) prior to entering a program since completion of a NLNAC or CCNE accredited program is required by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) for psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioner certification (

RN-to-MSN with Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Specialization

These programs, designed for RNs who have not yet earned a bachelor's degree, allow students to transition from an undergraduate to a graduate degree program efficiently. Students take advanced nursing courses and learn how to treat mental health issues in patients of all ages. In-depth psychiatry courses usually begin after core requirements are fulfilled. In addition to didactic courses, lab courses and practicums may be required.

MSN with Adult Psychiatric Health Specialization

Nursing students in these programs study subjects related to adult care. Practicums focus on adult mental health issues. The programs may focus on the needs of aging and vulnerable populations, as well as adult addictions.

MSN with Child and Family Psychiatric Health Specialization

Students who want to work in psychiatric health with children, adolescents and families can receive specialized training in this MSN program. Degree programs may require a thesis, scholarly project or exam. Clinical practicums may also be required.

Post-Master's Certificate in Psychiatric Nursing

Students who have a Master of Science in Nursing might consider a post-master's certificate program, which doesn't lead to a degree but can prepare them for national certification examinations. Specific course tracks can be designed to fit a student's nursing background. For instance, although students may take mental health-related courses in pathophysiology or pharmacology, they may not need to take classes in research methods. Post-master's programs typically include a practicum or preceptorship.

For students who want to become psychiatric nurses, advanced graduate programs are available that can provide relevant training.

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