How Do You Become a Psychiatric Nurse?

Psychiatric nursing is one of several nursing specialties that you can pursue after becoming a licensed nurse. Like all nursing specialties, you will first need to complete an accredited nursing program before you become a psychiatric nurse, according to Discover Nursing.

Choosing a Nursing Program

There are several factors to consider when choosing a school of nursing to apply to. Both associate’s and bachelor’s level nursing programs will enable you to earn your Registered Nurse (RN) license after completion of your degree. A valid RN is the only requirement needed to become a psychiatric nurse, but both associate’s and bachelor’s level programs have their own distinct pro’s and con’s. If you are in a hurry to start your nursing career, you may want to consider an associate’s program. This path may be ideal for non-traditional students, graduates of other degree programs, or individuals making a career change who cannot spend a significant amount of time returning to school. The downside to this path is that it prevents you from pursuing further nursing education until you earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing. If you have the time and ability to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN), and one day plan to pursue an advanced practice degree in nursing, or would like to be considered for a supervisory role, then a BSN may be the best choice for you to pursue. While you may be able to further your degree with a BSN, it will mean a larger up front time commitment.

Preparing for Nursing School

No two nursing programs are alike, but they all share enough commonalities that you may be able to pre-plan your entry-level coursework. Many nursing programs require that applicants take courses in biology, chemistry, English, math, anatomy and physiology. If you have the desire to work in psychiatric nursing, you may also want to consider taking additional psychology courses in subjects such as developmental psychology, abnormal psychology, and a class on how to use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as part of your pre-nursing education. If your school allows it, you may even be able to declare a psychology minor.

During Nursing School

During nursing school you will be exposed to many of the areas that you will be expected to work in as a Registered Nurse; including but not limited to Psychiatric Nursing, Postpartum Nursing, and working in Intensive Care and Recovery units. In most situations you will be required to work all rotations that your nursing program assigns to you. You may be given the opportunity to express interest in one area or another after going through your basic training. If given the opportunity, it would be wise to request additional time on a psychiatric nurse rotation, particularly so that you can learn the basics of assessing, diagnosing, and assisting patients with mental illnesses.

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Nursing as a whole is expected to grow at a rate much faster than other careers in the U.S. in the coming years, across all specialties, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As long as mental illnesses are present and prevalent in our society, there will always be a need for those who want to become a psychiatric nurse.