Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner: Salary & Job Information

About this article
What are the pros and cons of becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner? Read on to see real job descriptions, salary info and career prospects to see if becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner is the right choice for you.
View available schools

Pros and Cons of Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are registered nurses who have completed graduate-level education. They function similarly to doctors and are often able to write prescriptions for patients. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner is right for you:

Pros of Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
Above average salary (the majority earn between $70,000 and $119,000 per year, excluding bonuses)*
Nursing is a high growth field (16% projected employment increase from 2014-2024)**
Can work in a variety of settings (prisons, hospitals, outpatient centers, etc.)***
Authorized to write prescriptions in most states***

Cons of Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
At least six years of postsecondary school required***
Licensing requirements***
Potential exposure to biological hazards**
Possible evening, weekend or on-call hours**

Sources: *PayScale.com, **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, ***American Psychiatric Nurses Association

Job Information

Psychiatric nurse practitioners assess, diagnose and treat a variety of mental health problems and disorders. You would practice a holistic approach, meaning you'd combine your medical nursing knowledge with your psychosocial training. As a psychiatric nurse practitioner, you could work in a hospital, clinic, mental health facility or even, in some states, have your own practice. In this profession, you could also contribute your expertise to research in the field and community education efforts.

Salary and Career Prospects

PayScale.com reported in January 2016 that psychiatric nurse practitioners in the 10th-90th percentile salary range earned about $71,000-$29,000 annually, including bonuses. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected a 16% increase in employment for all registered nurses from 2014-2024, which was faster than average. This growth is expected to be mostly due to an aging population that will require more healthcare, both in hospitals and other types of facilities. In 2014, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing reported a nursing shortage in the United States, so the job prospects for nurses of all types should be good.

Education, Training and Licensure Requirements

Although you can become a registered nurse after completing a diploma or associate's degree program, you'll need to complete a bachelor's degree program before entering a graduate program. Some programs require that your bachelor's degree be in nursing, while others accept degrees in any subject. However, you will have to complete some type of registered nursing program and pass the National Council Licensure Examination to become licensed. After gaining some registered nursing experience, you can look for graduate nursing programs with psychiatric concentrations.

Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) and Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) programs typically take two years to complete, though you may need an MSN before entering some DNP programs. At this level, your coursework is specific to your concentration in psychiatric nursing. Some programs distinguish between adult psychiatry and child or adolescent psychiatry. The National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission and the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education both accredit nursing degree programs at all levels.

Certification

After completing your graduate degree program, you may need to seek certification as a psychiatric nurse practitioner (NP) in the state in which you want to work. Rules and regulations vary by state, so be sure to check with your state's board of nursing for specific details. Usually, you need to document your education and experience within your NP specialty and pass a certification exam.

What Employers Are Looking for

Many job postings for psychiatric nurse practitioners mention that you need to have the proper licensure and certification. Some employers also want you to have specific experience with the group of people you'd be working with, whether it's children, addicts or prisoners. Read these summaries of job postings open in April 2012 to get an idea of what employers are looking for:

  • A non-profit social services agency in Tennessee was looking for a psychiatric nurse practitioner to assess and treat patients in conjunction with a medical team. The requirements listed were a Tennessee nurse practitioner license, a master's degree in psychiatric nursing, a DEA number and at least one year of experience.
  • A correctional mental health contractor in Pennsylvania was searching for a psychiatric nurse practitioner to provide psychiatric care to prison inmates. The posting mentioned that the applicant should have a certification, 1-2 years of mental health experience, a Pennsylvania NP license from the DEA and ability to pass a security clearance.
  • A children's social services group and foster home in New York was looking to hire a psychiatric nurse practitioner to provide psychiatric care to pediatric patients. The job required consulting with psychologists and host parents to develop treatment plans. The ideal candidate should have a New York nursing license, five years of experience with children, a valid New York driver's license and enthusiasm about helping people grow.

How to Stand out in the Field

Though some states may require you to be certified in order to be licensed, others don't require certification. Even if it's not required, it can still be a good idea to seek a professional designation because it demonstrates your knowledge and skill levels. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers the Adult Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and the Family Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner designations. In order to be eligible to take one of these certification exams, you must have an active RN license, an advanced degree in psychiatric nursing and supervised clinical experience. You also need clinical training in at least two types of psychotherapeutic treatments, and you need to have completed courses in pharmacology, pathophysiology, health assessment, disease prevention and differential diagnosis. Your certification will be active for five years, at which point you must renew it by completing clinical hours and continuing education.

Other Careers to Consider

If you're more interested in the medical model of patient care than in the nursing model, you may also want to look into a career as a physician assistant. Physician assistants (PAs) work with doctors performing physical exams, making diagnoses and creating treatment plans. To enter a PA program, you must typically have clinical experience in a related profession, such as nursing or emergency medical technology. After completing a program specifically for PAs and gaining licensure, you can begin working in many different areas of healthcare. The BLS reported in May 2011 that physician assistants, who have a projected employment increase of 30% from 2010-2020, made a median annual wage of about $89,000.

If you don't want to work in primary care but are interested in improving health and wellness, consider a career as a health educator. Through programs and initiatives that you develop, you could improve healthcare facilities and the health of the people in them. Most health educators attend bachelor's degree programs in health education or health promotion. The BLS reported in May 2011 that health educators made a median annual wage of about $48,000 and that employment was projected to increase by 37% in the decade from 2010-2020, which was much faster than average.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. Purdue University Global

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Master of Science - DNP Path (Doctor of Nursing Practice)
    Master's
      • Accelerated BSN to MSN
      • MS in Nursing - Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner
      • MS in Nursing
      • Master of Science - DNP Family Nurse Practitioner
      • Master of Healthcare Admin
      • MS in Educational Psychology
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
      • Bachelor: Health Science
      • Bachelor: Healthcare Admin
      • Bachelor: Health and Wellness
    Certificate
      • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate
      • Family Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate
      • Nurse Educator Graduate Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    2. The University of Texas at Arlington

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Administration
      • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Educaiton
    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Regent University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
      • Master of Business Administration - Healthcare Management
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)
      • Bachelor of Science in Healthcare Management
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Grand Canyon University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
      • Ph.D. in General Psychology - Performance Psychology
      • EdD in Organizational Leadership - Health Care Administration
      • Doctor of Nursing Practice with an Emphasis in Educational Leadership
    Master's
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Grief and Bereavement
      • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Prevention
      • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (Bridge)
      • M.S. in Nursing: Nursing Education
      • MBA and MS in Nursing: Nursing Leadership in Health Care Systems (dual degree)
      • MBA: Health Systems Management
    Bachelor's
      • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)
      • BS in Health Care Administration
      • BS in Health Sciences: Professional Development & Advanced Patient Care
      • Bachelor of Science in Behavioral Health Science
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Project Management
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
    Certificate
      • Diploma: Medical Assisting
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Education Specialist - Nursing Education
    Master's
      • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Queens University of Charlotte

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Undecided
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Administrator
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Educator
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader
      • Master of Science in Nursing: Clinical Nurse Leader Certificate
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Utica College

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • RN to BSN
  • Online Programs Available
    10. The George Washington University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MSHS Medical Laboratory Sciences
      • MSHS in Immunohematology and Biotechnology
      • MSHS in Molecular Diagnostic Sciences
      • MSHS in Translational Microbiology

Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Master of Science - DNP Executive Leader
  • Accelerated BSN to MSN
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Adult Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Certificate

Which subject are you interested in?

The University of Texas at Arlington

  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Administration
  • Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) in Nursing Educaiton
  • RN to BSN

What is your highest level of education completed?

Regent University

  • Doctor of Strategic Leadership - Healthcare Leadership
  • Master of Arts in Organizational Leadership - Healthcare Management
  • Bachelor of Science in Nursing (RN to BSN)

What is your highest level of education completed?

Grand Canyon University

  • Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • M.S. in Mental Health and Wellness with Emphasis in Grief and Bereavement
  • BS in Nursing (Registered Nurse - R.N. to BSN)

What is your highest level of education?

Herzing University

  • MSN - Family Nurse Practitioner
  • Associate of Science - Medical Assisting Services
  • Diploma: Medical Assisting

What is your highest level of education?

Northcentral University

  • Education Specialist - Nursing Education
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Health Care Administration

What is your highest level of education?

Queens University of Charlotte

  • Master of Science in Nursing: Undecided
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Administrator
  • Master of Science in Nursing: Nurse Educator

What is your highest level of education completed?

Saint Mary's University of Minnesota

  • RN to Bachelors of Science in Nursing

What is your highest level of education completed?