Difference Between Psychiatrist & Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses work in the same medical field and may be involved with patients with similar issues. Continue reading to learn more about how their work compares and what some of the differences between these professions are.

Comparing Psychiatrists to Psychiatric Nurses

Psychiatrists and psychiatric nurses both work with patients who have similar issues and they may provide medical care in similar environments. Psychiatrists are required to have a higher level of training and can expect a higher income. The key difference is that, although some psychiatric nurses diagnose mental health disorders, psychiatrists are qualified to do more extensive patient assessments and prescribe medication.

Job Title Educational Requirements Median Salary (2017)* Job Outlook (2014-2024)**
Psychiatrists Doctoral Degree $195,564 15%
Psychiatric Nurses Associate's, Bachelor's or Master's Degree $59,667 16% (for all registered nurses)

Sources: *PayScale, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Psychiatrists vs. Psychiatric Nurses

The general duties of a psychiatrist and psychiatric nurse are comparable. They work with patients and may diagnose the patient's condition and prepare a plan for treating the patient. As part of their duties they will ensure that their patient's files are updated and they may also work with a patient's family to help them understand their loved one's diagnosis. Psychiatrists may also prescribe medications. Psychiatrists need more extensive medical knowledge than psychiatric nurses, and collaborating with other medical professionals is something they may do when determining a diagnosis and treatment plan.


Psychiatrists must have a medical degree in psychiatry and a license. As part of their training, they may be required to complete a residency or internship as well. Since they work with patients who have mental health issues, they need to be patient and have good listening skills. Psychiatrists may work in mental health centers or hospitals, and their hours can vary depending on where they work.

Job responsibilities of a psychiatrist include:

  • Reviewing patient files
  • Ordering medical tests
  • Assessing and diagnosing patients
  • Preparing a treatment plan
  • Prescribing medication
  • Consulting other medical professionals about treatments

Psychiatric Nurses

In order to become a psychiatric nurse it's necessary to complete at least two years of postsecondary studies in nursing and earn an associate's degree, although a bachelor's or master's is sometimes required. Psychiatric nurses must be registered and have a nursing license, and on-the-job training is also usually required. Psychiatric nurses provide medical care to patients who have mental health issues. They often work in hospitals or facilities that treat people with mental health problems. It's common for them to alternate shifts and work any time of the day or night, including weekends and holidays. Physical fitness and good observation skills are important, since they may have to work with patients who are violent.

Job responsibilities of a psychiatric nurse include:

  • Diagnosing patients
  • Treating patients
  • Updating patient records
  • Educating family members
  • Monitoring patients
  • Implementing therapeutic treatments

Related Careers

Being a behavioral psychologist may be another career option for those considering becoming psychiatrists, because behavioral psychologists are also involved in diagnosing and treating patients with mental health issues. Aspiring psychiatric nurses may also be interested in becoming mental health counselors and using counseling to help treat people with mental health problems.

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