Behavioral Nurse Practitioner


A behavioral health nurse practitioner has an advanced nursing degree specializing in mental health and psychiatric conditions.  Often individuals with behavioral issues also have health issues, and the behavioral nurse practitioner may also see patients with physical as well as behavioral issues.  There are a variety of settings wherein a Behavioral nurse practitioner may find employment including hospital behavioral units, outpatient mental health clinics, inpatient mental health facilities and community outreach services.

Behavioral Nurse Practitioner Job Description and Scope of Practice

The setting in which the behavioral nurse practitioner is employed may determine the job duties. However, as a nurse practitioner the behavioral health nurse practitioner is permitted to review treatment plans, advise patients on medications and help counsel families and patients on medication compliance, participate in research and study programs as well as provide feedback on program efficiency and quality of care. The behavioral nurse practitioner may be called upon to perform routine examinations and must be able to recognize the differences between mental health problems and behavioral issues that may have a physical cause. In some states the behavioral nurse practitioner may also prescribe certain psychotropic medications and must be conversant with those currently in use.

How to Become a Behavioral Nurse Practitioner

The primary requirement to becoming a successful behavioral nurse practitioner is an interest in the mental health and well being of patients. The behavioral nurse practitioner is highly trained and learns to correlate the relationship between mental health and physical well being. Individuals interested in a career as a behavioral nurse practitioner should have an interest in pharmacology, biology, mental health, psychology, as well as family counseling. The coursework required for a certification as a Behavioral Nurse Practitioner is rigorous and time consuming. The results however, for the right nursing candidate becoming a behavioral nurse practitioner, can be well worth the time commitment.

Behavioral Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements, Certification and Schooling Programs

A nurse practitioner is an advanced nursing degree. Obtaining this degree allows the practitioner to prescribe medications, give routine medical examinations, and select a specialty such as becoming a behavioral nurse practitioner and in many cases progress to administrative and supervisory positions. What follows are the requirements to become a certified Behavioral Nurse Practitioner:

  • Acceptance into a 4 year Registered Nursing Program and successful completion of the program. This requires a high school diploma or GED and passing the college entrance examination. An application to the nursing program must also be made by student.
  • Pass the state board examination Registered Nurses. The applicant into a behavioral nursing program should hold a valid RN license.
  • 2000 hours of nursing experience. Most behavioral nurse practitioner students choose to work in a psychiatric setting before applying to the Master’s program.
  • Acceptance into a Behavioral Nurse Practitioner Master degree program. In order to become certified as a BNP (behavioral nurse practitioner) the applicant must be enrolled in a rigorous 2 to 3 year program for Nurse Practitioners.  Most Master degree programs for a Nurse Practitioner will require lecture and classroom experience as well as clinical experience in a mental health setting as part of the educational process. These programs range from 55 – 60 semester credit hours.
  • Pass the certification examination for the Behavioral Nurse Practitioner. Becoming certified can help the graduate nurse expand their career potential. Nurses in the mental-health field look to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) for guidance, timely information and to stay abreast of changes within the mental-health field. Certification is available at all levels, including Nurse Practitioner (NP), through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Nurse practitioners who choose to become certified through the ANCC hold the Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (NP-BC) distinction. To earn certification, applicants must successfully complete a computer-based exam at one of many Computer-Based Testing Centers (CBT) strategically located across the country. The exam takes approximately three hours to take. To work in the behavioral-health field, nurses do not have to certify. However, hospitals and clinics regard certified applicants as experts and professionals.

Behavioral Nurse Practitioner Salary and Career Outlook

There is projected to be a shortage of qualified nurse practitioners until 2018 or possibly beyond. Currently nursing jobs are predicted to see a growth of between 21 – 35% over the next 8 years. The shortage of qualified nurses is even greater in advanced practice specialties such as for Nurse Practitioners.

Currently the certified Behavioral Nurse Practitioner earns over $80,000 per year with that figure projected to grow. The Behavioral nurse practitioner has a greater earning potential than a general RN and is frequentlyemployed in administrative capacities.

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