Psychiatric Nurse

I. What They Do

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association, describes work in this speciality as providing care, therapy and education for patients who have psychiatric and mental health disorders, and behavioral problems. This work takes place in a wide range of settings, and, can include clinical practice, education, work with families and groups, and research and community service.

To become a psychiatric nurse, also known as Mental Health Nurses and Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses (PMHNs), you must complete additional training beyond what is required to be licensed as a Registered Nurse (RN) and may choose to pursue board certification status (RN-BC). The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers the RN-BC credential in multiple specialties, including psychiatric-mental health nursing.

Daily Responsibilities

  • Consult with physicians, psychiatrists, psychologists and other medical and mental health professionals as part of a treatment team
  • Maintain medical records and documentation
  • Assess patient condition, monitor progress and administer treatment plans and medication
  • Connect patients and their families with available resources and services

Ideal Candidates

  • Interested in working specifically with mentally illness and behavioral disorders
  • Compassionate, detail-oriented professionals with good judgement skills
  • Skilled in crisis intervention techniques and communication
  • Work well in a collaborative environment

Specialization Areas

  • Child and Adolescent
  • Geriatric
  • Substance Abuse
  • Eating Disorders
  • Consultation/Liaison
  • Forensic

Work Environment

  • Hospitals
  • Mental Health Facilities
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Medical Offices
  • Home Health Organizations
  • Community Organizations
  • Schools

II.Career Outlook

Registered Nurses can expect faster than average growth of employment opportunities, as indicated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. RNs with at least a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN) and related work experience in their specialty area are likely to find more job prospects than those with an associate degree.

Job Growth

In 2013, there were 2,661,890 registered nurses in the U.S. working in a wide range of medical environments and facilities, some with specialties such as mental healthcare.

Projected job growth for RNs in general is between 2012 and 2022 is 19%, which is faster than the 11% average for all positions.

Projected Job Growth for RNs, 2012-2022

Job Growth Percent Change for Registered Nurses vs Other U.S. Occupations

Metro Areas with the Highest Number of RNs Employed
Metro Area Number of RNs Employed
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. Accessed February 2015.
New York-White Plains-Wayne, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division 94,230
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Glendale, CA Metropolitan Division 69,610
Chicago-Joliet-Naperville, IL Metropolitan Division 69,050
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 44,450
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA 42,690
Industries Employing the Highest Number RNs
Industry Number of RNs
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics. Accessed February 2015.
General and Surgical Hospitals 1,553,080
Physician Offices 178,810
Home Health Care Services 166,910
Skilled Nursing Facilities 142,490
Outpatient Care Centers 102,410

Psychiatric Nurse Salary

According to 2013 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, annual salaries for RNs can vary somewhat based on industry (e.g. government, hospitals, residential facilities). RNs with advanced training and certification, such as the RN-BC credential, may also receive higher compensation. Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), such as Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (NPs), can expect to earn higher salaries than RNs.

According to PayScale, Psychiatric Nurses (PMHNs) can earn between $44,297 and $79,775 annually; entry-level nurses in this field typically make $25 per hour.

Average Annual RN Salaries Since 2007
Year Average Annual Salary
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment Statistics, Annual Occupation Profiles. Accessed February 2015.
2007 $62,480
2008 $65,130
2009 $66,530
2010 $67,720
2011 $69,110
2012 $67,930
2013 $68,910

States with the Highest Average Salaries for RNs in 2013

III. How to Become One

Registered Nurses can earn their license after completing either an associate or bachelor’s program, although employers hiring for psychiatric nursing positions may prefer applicants with a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing, as well as related previous work experience.

Education Requirements

Registered Nurses are eligible for RN-BC certification in psychiatric-mental health nursing. Each state’s board of nursing determines the requirements for RN licensure, which usually include an associate or bachelor’s degree in nursing from an accredited institution. Those interested in a nursing program leading to licensure eligibility should look for programs with accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and/or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN). Nurses must also pass the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses ( NCLEX).

Certification and Licensing Requirements

Certification is not required to work in psychiatric treatment settings, however many nurses in these environments choose to obtain RN-BC training and credentials offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Requirements to take RN-BC exam:

  • Current RN License
  • Two years of experience, or the equivalent, working as a full-time RN
  • A minimum 2,000 hours of clinical practice in psychiatric-mental health nursing in the past three years
  • 30 hours of continuing education in psychiatric-mental health nursing in the past 3 years

RN-BC Recertification Requirements

The RN-BC credential is valid for five years with a valid RN license. The ANCC certification renewal process includes two options:

  • Option A: Professional development activities plus 1000 practice hours in the psychiatric-mental health specialty area.
  • Option B: Professional development activities plus pass the certification exam.

Professional development activities for either option can be a combination of:

  • continuing education hours
  • academic credit
  • presentations
  • publication or research
  • preceptor hours
  • professional service