Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) – Education, Licensure & Salary
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There is an increasing shortage of mental health care providers, particularly providers who can prescribe medications and make medical diagnoses. In fact, over 156 million Americans live in an area designated by the Department of Health and Human Services as being short of mental health providers (KFF 2022). Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are essential in addressing this healthcare system gap.
PMHNPs are advanced practice registered nurses specially trained to care for patients with mental health conditions. They can prescribe medication, conduct therapy, provide other forms of treatment, and play an important role in educating patients and their families about mental health conditions. PMHNPs often collaborate with other healthcare providers to coordinate care for their patients. As the demand for mental healthcare services continues to grow, PMHNPs will play an increasingly vital role in meeting the needs of patients with mental illness.
Anywhere patients may receive mental health care services is where PMHNPs work, including outpatient clinics, hospitals, community mental health centers, private practices, or research settings. In addition to providing direct patient care, PMHNPs may also conduct psychiatric evaluations, prescribe medication, and provide psychoeducation and psychotherapy.
To work as a PMHNP, registered nurses must complete a master’s of science in nursing, a doctor of nursing practice, or a post-master’s certificate in psychiatric nursing. By completing an advanced degree, registered nurses will gain the skills and knowledge necessary to care for patients with mental illness. Upon graduating, aspiring PMHNPs will need to earn national certification and obtain a license from their state’s nursing board to practice.
The following guide details certification and licensure requirements, potential earnings, and typical job duties for PMHNPs.
How to Become a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)
The first step to becoming a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner is to complete an associate of nursing (ASN) or a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) program. These programs take between two to four years to complete and prepare students for the national licensing exam, called the National Council Licensure Examination- Registered Nurse (NCLEX-RN).
After completing a general nursing program and passing the NCLEX-RN, individuals interested in becoming PMHNPs must then complete a master’s or doctoral degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing. These programs usually take two to three years to complete and include clinical practicum hours. During clinical practicum hours, students work under the supervision of licensed psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners to gain hands-on experience.
Upon completion of an accredited master’s or doctoral degree program, graduates are eligible to take the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC) certification exam offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which is necessary for a license to practice. More information on licensing and certification can be found below.
What Does a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Do?
PMHNPs can work anywhere patients receive mental health care treatment. They work in various settings, including hospitals, clinics, community mental health centers, and private practices. Often, they are their patients’ primary mental health care providers. Day-to-day duties can include:
- Evaluating patients for mental health disorders
- Diagnosing mental health disorders
- Recommending and prescribing medication and other treatments for mental health disorders
- Monitoring patient progress and adjusting treatment as needed
- Educating patients and families about mental health disorders
- Providing psychotherapy care
- Collaborating with other healthcare professionals to provide comprehensive care for patients
How Much Do Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNP) Make?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics does not differentiate salaries for nurse practitioner specializations. According to the BLS (May 2021), nurse practitioners earn $118,040 per year on average. However, Salary.com (2023), a compensation aggregate website, does offer salary information by specialization and the percentiles for wages for PMHNP are:
- 10th percentile: $90,196
- 25th percentile: $101,130
- 50th percentile (median): $113,140
- 75th percentile: $124,100
- 90th percentile: $134,079
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Licensure and Certification Requirements
To provide care to patients, PMHNPs must be licensed as advanced practice registered nurses or nurse practitioners in the state where they will be working. The requirements will vary from state to state. However, most states expect applicants to have the following qualifications:
- A current, active, and unencumbered nursing license in that state
- Completed a master’s of science in nursing, a post-master’s certificate, or a doctor of nursing practice degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing
- Hold a national certification in psychiatric-mental health nursing
- Pass a background check and drug screening
PMHNP Certifications and Eligibility
The primary credential for PMHNPs is the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) Certification (PMHNP-BC) certification offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The eligibility requirements for this certification are:
- A current and active nursing license
- A master’s, post-graduate certificate, or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) from a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), or the National League for Nursing (NLN) Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA)
- The education program must include a minimum of 500 faculty-supervised clinical hours
- Graduate courses in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health, and advanced pharmacology
- Clinical training in at least two psychotherapeutic treatment modalities
PMHNP Certification Renewal
The ANCC requires that PMNHPs renew their certification every five years.
To do so, certification holders must submit a completed application, pay the renewal fee, have a current RN license, provide proof of 75 hours of continuing education (of which 25 must be in pharmacology), and complete one of the eight ANCC certification professional development categories.
Kimmy Gustafson is a freelance writer with extensive experience writing about nursing careers and education. She has worked in public health, at health-focused nonprofits, and as a Spanish interpreter for doctor’s offices and hospitals. She has a passion for learning, which drives her to stay up to date on the latest trends in healthcare. When not writing or researching, she can be found pursuing her passions of nutrition and an active outdoors lifestyle.