Psychiatric Unit Nurse: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Sep 16, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a psychiatric unit nurse. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about job duties, salary and outlook to find out if this is the career for you.

Psychiatric unit nurses are required to have an associate's or a bachelor's degree in nursing and a state nursing license. They care for individuals with psychiatric illnesses who need to be in inpatient or day hospital settings.

Essential Information

Psychiatric unit nurses care for patients with illness or disease that has led them to temporary or long-term hospitalization. They are responsible for direct care of a set of patients, facilitating their recovery through social interaction and traditional therapies. Psychiatric unit nurses are required to complete state nursing licensure requirements, and due to the complexity of this specialization, many employers prefer that these nurses hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). Additional voluntary certifications are also available to enhance these professionals' training and job prospects.

Required Education Associate's or bachelor's degree
Additional Requirements State nursing license; voluntary specialty certification may be required by some employers
Projected Job Growth* (2018-2028) 12% for registered nurses
Median Salary* (2018) $71,730 annually for registered nurses

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)

Psychiatric Unit Nurse Job Description

Psychiatric unit nurses are registered nurses (RNs) or advanced practice nurses (APNs) who specialize in the institutional care of patients with mental disorders. They work in psychiatric care units at large hospitals and medical centers, usually with patients who are staying in the unit for short term-evaluation or intensive treatment before being returned to their homes for long-term care. They share the same occupational focus and duties as other RNs or APNs, but their work with patients with various mental and behavioral conditions requires them to place focus on patient interaction, as their companionship with their patients is in many ways their primary mode of practice.

Psychiatric Unit Nurse Duties

Psychiatric unit nurses are usually assigned a caseload of patients and provide direct care to their patients, which includes facilitating social and emotional needs, supervising medication schedules and evaluating patient progress. These nurses may also collaborate with a variety of interdisciplinary professionals to determine and provide the best possible care for their patients. Educating the patients' family about them the conditions and how to create a supportive environment for the patients to return to for long-term care and recovery are also common duties.

As many patients are hospitalized because they are a danger to themselves and others, nurses are responsible for maintaining a safe environment through the use of monitoring devices and restraining techniques where deemed necessary. Psychiatric unit nurses provide social support for patients by creating and encouraging patients to take advantage of opportunities such as support groups, social activities and other therapeutic measures, as well as participating with patients where appropriate.

Psychiatric Unit Nurse Requirements

The BLS notes that psychiatric unit nurses are subject to similar requirements as other RNs or APNs. They must complete a nursing program, such as the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Nursing, Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), through an accredited college, university or hospital. All of these will allow students to begin a career as a registered nurse, but due to the nature of the specialization, most psychiatric units require RNs to possess a BSN.

Many schools offer accelerated BSN programs for graduates of ADN and diploma programs. Graduates of nursing programs are then required to complete the National Council Licensure Examination, a national qualifying exam, to receive the required licensure as a registered nurse.

In addition to basic educational and licensing requirements, there are several voluntary certifications that psychiatric units may prefer or require from candidates. A Basic Life Support (BLS) certification in basic lifesaving and stabilization techniques is often a requirement for hire as a psychiatric unit nurse.

Courses are offered in many hospitals or online through the American Heart Association. Employers may also prefer certification in psychosocial health nursing. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers a registered nurse-board certified (RN-BC) credential in this psychiatric and mental health nursing.

Job Outlook and Salary Statistics

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities are expected to be excellent for registered nurses in general, with a projected increase much faster than average through 2028. In May 2018, the BLS reported that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $106,530 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $50,800 or less per year.

Although an associate's degree in nursing may be sufficient to enter this field, employers typically prefer nurses with a bachelor's degree. RNs are also required to hold state licensure, and additional training may be required. Psychiatric unit nurses care for patients with emotional illnesses who require hospitalization. The job prospects for those in this field are projected to be quite good for the next decade.

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