4 Reasons to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

a PMHNP consulting with a patient in a sunny hospital
a PMHNP consulting with a patient in a sunny hospital

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are on the front lines of identifying and treating mental health issues in the United States. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) reported that 21% of American adults experienced mental health challenges in 2020. Undiagnosed and untreated mental health illnesses lead to serious mental health issues in 5.6% of American adults.

All nurses help their patients heal from pain and manage chronic conditions, but advanced psychiatric nurse education bestows nurses with the tools to also provide effective mental health interventions. This nursing career path is highly in demand, but it may not be right for everyone; it is helpful to understand what psychiatric nurse practitioners do before exploring why this career path is right for you.

 

The Daily Work of Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners

Practicing nurses looking into careers as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) may wonder about day-to-day responsibilities. This subset of advanced practice registered nurses works with patients on individualized approaches to mental health. The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) lists the following activities overseen by psychiatric nurse practitioners:

  • Facilitating individual and group psychotherapy sessions
  • Practicing case management and crisis intervention
  • Completing intake screening and comprehensive assessments
  • Coordinating care with physicians and specialists
  • Providing input on policies and programs related to patient care

In the Minority Nurse article, psychiatric nurse practitioner Dr. Jonathan V. Llamas, DNP, RN-BC, PMHNP-BC, PHN, describes why he ultimately made the decision to transition from RN to PMHNP: “After graduation, I worked briefly in the ER and ICU settings, which taught me invaluable lessons such as time management and prioritization, but it never fully gave me the satisfaction I was yearning for. It was at this moment that I decided to pursue a career in psychiatry in hopes of better understanding not only mental illness but also the psychological, emotional, and spiritual ailments that patients experience on a daily basis.”

Psychiatric nurse practitioners draw on their clinical experiences and graduate education to best serve their patients. Dr. Kathleen McCoy, DNSc, APRN, PMHNP-BC, PMHCNS-BC, FNP-BC, FAANP says that a PMHNP “considers all that a patient is as well as [their potential]… PMHNPs use biological interventions, psychotherapies, traditional approaches and more, as all nurse practitioners do, by partnering with people, penetrating conditions and making a difference in lives… There are few psychiatrists and fewer pediatric, geriatric and addiction psychiatrists; these trends indicate the U.S. needs PMHNPs.”

If all of this sounds appealing to you so far, continue on to our breakdown of four reasons this career path may be right for you.

 

1. Serving Diverse Patients in a Variety of Settings

PMHNPs provide advanced care in a wide range of settings where mental health needs are treated. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) annual survey of members in 2020 found the most common PMHNP settings were:

  • Behavioral health clinics
  • Psychiatric mental health facilities
  • Private NP practices

PMHNPs have significant impacts on patients facing long-standing disparities in mental health care. Psychiatric nurse education expands beyond clinical experiences to the policy and social trends affecting communities. For example, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) found the following service usage rates by race and ethnicity:

  • White (70.5%)
  • Black (57.9%)
  • Hispanic (52.8%)

NAMI determined that 11% of adults with mental illness were not covered by insurance. Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) concluded that 39% of adults with moderate to severe mental health symptoms do not receive treatment. Psychiatric nurse practitioners work with their patients to overcome reluctance, inability to pay, and other challenges on the path to better health.

 

2. Filling Demand for Mental Health Practitioners

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the mental health needs of millions of Americans. Psychologists and psychiatrists experienced significant surges in workloads that have been difficult to maintain. The American Psychological Association (APA) surveyed telehealth psychologists one year into the pandemic and found:

  • 68% of respondents reported longer waitlists in 2021 than in 2020
  • 65% of respondents reported no capacity for new patients
  • 62% of respondents saw increased patient referrals

These trends made finding mental health services more difficult for patients. The APA survey also found that 41% of psychologists felt that they were unable to meet patient demands. Forty-six percent of respondents reported burnout due to increased workloads and 56% sought peer support for job-related stress.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are poised to relieve the capacity limitations facing patients. The PMHNP certification area only represents 4.7% of all nurse practitioners in the United States in 2022. Newly graduated practitioners are needed to provide compassionate and cost-effective care for mental health disorders.

A PMHNP conducting a session with a patient

 

3. Expanding Access to Psychiatric Services

Supply-and-demand issues in the mental health professions create ripple effects from practitioners to health systems. The National Council for Mental Wellbeing found that 52% of behavioral health organizations faced an increasing demand for their services. This report also determined that 65% of organizations had to turn away or reschedule patients due to limited staffing.

Psychiatric nurse practitioners can ease these stresses after completing their graduate programs. In most states, PMHNPs are licensed to provide the same diagnostic and treatment services as psychologists and psychiatrists. You can keep much-needed organizations from turning away patients with your practitioner experience and education.

You can also open a private practice to help underserved communities. AANP notes that the District of Columbia and 26 states provide full-practice authority for nurse practitioners. New practices - especially those aimed at low-income and rural areas - create a richer community of mental health providers.

 

4. Combining a Fulfilling Career with Strong Earning Potential

Limited service capacity and talent pools make psychiatric nurse practitioner positions attractive to experienced nurses. PMHNP graduates find numerous opportunities to immediately impact communities with their compassionate approach to care. High demand for specialized nursing skills also translates into higher potential earnings for practitioners.

AANP’s 2020 survey calculated an average compensation package of $137,000 per year for PMHNPs. This figure compares favorably to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) averages for nurse practitioners ($120,680) and registered nurses ($77,600). Psychiatric nurse practitioners can improve their financial security while providing invaluable mental health care to patients of all ages.

 

Setting Your PMHNP Career Path at Marymount University

A PMHNP degree builds on the platform of skills learned in BSN and MSN programs. Marymount University’s PMHNP programs prepare graduates for fulfilling careers as advanced practitioners.

 

Expert Guidance for Future Nursing Leaders

Graduate MSN-PMHNP nursing students at Marymount University work with service-oriented nursing professors, and our placement advisors work with nursing students to place them in clinical rotations within driving distance of their own home. These interactions embody Catholic values of compassion, service, and curiosity at the core of the university community since its founding.

Marymount University’s commitment to fulfilling academic experiences has earned national recognition. U.S. News & World Report placed the university in the top third of all ranked programs. The publication also ranked Marymount University among regional leaders in the following areas:

  • No. 17 in Best Colleges for Veterans
  • No. 38 in Regional Universities South 
  • No. 57 in Best Value Schools

If you’re interested in becoming a PMHNP at Marymount, contact one of our student advisors to discuss which pathway is right for you.