How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse in the USA

Becoming a psychiatric nurse can be one of the best decisions you’ve ever made; not only will you earn well but you’ll also get the chance to work under doctors whose expertise you could learn from. Psychiatric nurses work for medical institutions in the United States including hospitals, mental health facilities, outpatient clinics, or private practices. The goal of a psychiatric nurse is to administer medication, help patients with anything that they might need, and take care of other technical tasks within the medical institution. Becoming a psychiatric nurse is an amazing decision but getting there might be a rather lengthy journey. Let’s explore what it takes to become a psychiatric nurse, what education you should pursue, and how you get licensed in the U.S.

Pursuing the right education

The first thing you want to consider is pursuing the right education for your goals. If you do not know the requirements from the start, there is a high chance you’ll need to take extra steps in your journey, which means extra time and extra money. Here are the most important education milestones that need to be completed in order to become a psychiatric nurse. 

nurses attending seminar about psychology
  • You must follow hospital training and get a diploma as a basic education level requirement. This will take anywhere between two and three years, depending on the state and hospital policies. 
  • Next, you want to focus your attention on getting an Associate Degree in psychiatric nursing. This can be done by pursuing a Bachelor’s degree first and then, choosing to continue in Nursing. This will take you about three years total. Most hospitals and medical institutions will accept only an Associate degree as your training as long as you have a Bachelor’s in a scientific field and additional certification. 
  • Going back to your undergrad education and the requirements attached to it – your Bachelor of Science should be in Nursing (most recommended) but most hospitals will accept your training in other fields such as Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, or Pre-Med. Getting into a good program in undergrad is therefore a necessary condition for any successful student. Make sure that you have a good intention letter and check out free essay samples for Psychology students as often as you can. Looking at other writers’ work can bring about serious benefits to your understanding of what is required
  • Your graduate degree should be, of course, in a scientific field as well. You could pursue a Master of Science in Mental Health or Psychiatric Health since these would be two of the most accepted ones. This will take you an additional two years but also additional money. The higher your education is the higher your salary. So, even if you could get hired as a psychiatric nurse simply by owning an Associate degree and some training, you should not stop there. Investing your time in further education such as a Master’s or a Doctorate program could definitely impact your salary. 
  • Speaking of which, the Ph.D. should be in Nursing Practice. You can choose a specialization such as Mental Health or Psychiatry, just like I mentioned before. Your Ph.D. will include an additional year of study in a university setting. You will be pursuing different projects and publish documentation. Pursuing a Doctorate degree will get you the highest nursing salary once you enter the medical field.

Prerequisites that must be met

To register for a nursing degree right after high-school – yes, this is also an option! – you should be pursuing the right courses during your high-school years. Make sure you enroll in Math, Bio, and Chemistry classes from the very first start. You should also have a Science program on your list. Your high-school GPA should not be lower than 2.0 for a good nursing degree program. For a Master’s degree, your college GPA should not be lower than 3.0. You may find universities that do not require the GRE, but most of them will so ensure that you are prepared for that as well. Make sure that the program you are enrolling in is accredited by the United States Department of Education. Check their website for more details. 

How to get certified as a Psychiatric Nurse

The last point we will touch on today is how to get certified, since this is one of the most important parts of the process. You must pass the NCLEX-RN examination in order to work on U.S. territory. Other countries might have other regulations so if you are thinking of practicing internationally, check each country’s requirements. Here’s what you must know in order to pass the exam successfully:

  • How to keep patients safe within their environment.
  • How to take care of your psychological integrity. Proven ability to cope and change environments.
  • How to prevent injury or illness.
  • How to review physical symptoms accurately to determine a patient’s physiological integrity. 


Whether you are looking to pursue higher education or not, make sure that you are aware of the basic requirement of becoming a psychiatric nurse and follow the rules! Good luck!

Author Bio

Joshua Robinson is a psychologist and essay writer for a company in the UK. He has been working with patients his whole life and has hands-on experience working with psychiatric nurses. In his free time, Joshua likes to rock climb and hike.