Masters Degree in Psychiatric Nursing


A master’s degree in psychiatric nursing prepares nurses to handle some of the most challenging patients out there- the mentally ill. Nurses that go into psychiatric nursing can handle patients of all ages, and focus on dispensing psychiatric medication, coping with difficult behavior, and learning to interface with their patients.

Though many nurses, from licensed practical nurses all the way to advanced practice registered nurses (APRN), can work with psychiatric patients, a masters degree in psychiatric nursing allows APRNs to:

–        Assess and diagnose patients.

–        Create a mental care plan for their patients.

–        Prescribe medication (in most states, though regulations may vary).

–        Act as individual, family, and group counselors in a variety of settings.

–        Practice independently, or as part of a mental healthcare team.

In essence, these APRNs can perform most of the functions that a psychiatrist can, depending on the state in which he or she is licensed.

Obtaining a Masters Degree in Psychiatric Nursing

Psychiatric nurses with masters degrees are advanced practice registered nurses, which means that they must first start out as registered nurses. This can be by getting an associates degree in nursing and passing the National Council Licensure Exam for Registered Nurses before going back to school for a bachelors degree, and then the masters in psychiatric nursing. It can also be accomplished by getting a bachelor’s degree, passing the NCLEX-RN, and then going back to school for their masters degree.

After obtaining their masters degree in psychiatric nursing, some APRNs choose to go back to school again for a doctoral degree. By the year 2015, this will become a requirement to become a psychiatric nurse, so students who are not yet close to obtaining their masters should anticipate having to continue on to their doctorates afterward.

Once psychiatric nurses have completed their educational requirements, they can be board certified and given the right credentials to prescribe psychiatric medication to patients.

Psychiatric Nurses versus Psychiatrists

Psychiatric nurses are comparable to psychiatrists, but the emphasis with nursing is usually on non-medication approaches to healing. Psychiatric nurses may use more physiotherapy, psychosocial interventions, spiritual interventions, or other non-drug means to help psychiatric patients control their behavior and learn coping mechanisms for their condition. If necessary, APRNs can prescribe psychoactive medication as part of their patients’ care plans.

Psychiatric nurses may work in hospitals to help patients experiencing nervous breakdowns, or other crises. They may also work with patients individually, in private settings, as community mental health nurses. Some choose to go into forensic psychiatric nursing in prisons or medium-to-high-security hospitals, and work with mentally ill people who have committed some sort of crime.

Psychiatric Nurses and the Board of Nursing

As APRNs, all psychiatric nurses are governed by the Board of Nursing for the state in which they practice. The Board of Nursing covers things like entry requirements, continuing educational standards, licensure, scopes of practice, and more. It is the first place that any new nursing student or existing nurse should go for information on anything nursing-related. Students that want to find an approved nursing program should contact the Board for a list of them. Many colleges offer nursing programs (even advanced degrees) that aren’t approved, and are thus useless for nurses that want to be able to practice after graduation.

The Board of Nursing is also a disciplinary organization. It can suspend or revoke licenses of nurses that work outside of their scopes of practice, and also handles patients complaints. Though psychiatric nurses have a pretty broad scope of practice, it’s still important for them to avoid doing anything that falls out of the scope defined by the Board of Nursing.

Psychiatric nursing is a challenging degree program that may not always be easy to get into, but obtaining a  masters degree in psychiatric nursing is always worthwhile. With good psychiatric nurses, people can get the long-term mental care that they need to remain functioning members of society, elderly people suffering from dementia can pass their golden years peacefully, and prisons coping with mentally ill criminals can help lower their rates of recidivism.

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