What Degree is Required to be a Psychiatric Nurse?

If you are considering a career as a mental health practitioner you may wonder what degree is required to be a psychiatric nurse. These professionals fill an important place in the treatment of mental illness and are in short supply. To answer the question of the degrees required, we must first look at who these special nurses are.

What is a Psychiatric Nurse?

A psychiatric, or mental health, nurse is a nurse who specializes in working with psychiatric disorders. Psychiatric nurses work with people who are experiencing anxiety disorders such as phobias; mood disorders like bi-polar disorder; addictions and substance abuse; Alzheimer’s and related dementias; and other mental health issues. Depending upon their education and experience, they may provide supportive counseling and other direct services to clients and client families. In some states they are required to work under the supervision of a psychiatrist. While mental health or psychiatric nursing is a specialty within nursing, it is also possible to specialize as a psychiatric-mental health nurse (PMHN). Among other specialties, nurses can work with children and adolescents, in gerontology, in forensics and in substance abuse.

What Does a PMHN Do?

Psychiatric nursing in its broadest sense includes even Certified Nurses’ Aides. Here, however, we will only discuss LPNs and RNs as well as Nurse Practitioners. Licensed Practical Nurses are sometimes involved in implementation of treatment plans, but they do not assess patients or develop the plans. The reason for including them in this discussion is that they can, after work experience and after meeting other requirements, sit for the nursing exam to become an RN, which is the basic level for a PMHN. Psychiatric nurses assess mental health problems of individuals and develop treatment plans. They are responsible for utilizing the plans and for evaluating their progress or success. They also look at populations that are at risk for mental health issues to prevent problems. They work in general hospitals, psychiatric hospitals, substance abuse treatment centers, home health care agencies, community mental health centers and correctional institutions. Advanced Practice nurses may own private practices and consult with corporations. PMHN-APRNs, which are advanced practice RNs, can also prescribe medications.

What Education is Required?

There are nursing degrees at every level of post-secondary education. Typically, an RN has a two-year degree. Many who want to pursue this career finish the four-year bachelor’s degree (BSN) and go on to earn their master’s or even doctoral degrees. Nurse practitioners spend two to five years in study beyond their undergraduate degrees and some another two to five years to get a doctoral degree. Job opportunities increase with more education, and many states require applicants for licensure to have graduate degrees. Only advanced practice RNs can prescribe medication and become licensed as counselors. Still, the education pays off; mental health nurses can expect to earn an average salary of $27.76 per hour. Wages are highly dependent upon geographic areas of practice. Nurses report that job satisfaction is high as well.

Taking all the factors into account to answer the question posed, the duties and responsibilities of these professionals dictate the degrees required to be a psychiatric nurse.