Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

A Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP), may also be known as a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner and is an advanced practice nurse who holds a Master of Science in Nursing degree (MSN). Additionally, having extensive clinical training in psychiatric nursing is what sets them apart from other nursing professionals.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners provide a range of mental health services to patients of all ages.  Their work includes assessment, diagnosis, prevention and management of psychiatric disorders and symptoms.

Admission Requirements for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

While specific admission criteria may vary among specific programs, typical entrance requirements include the possession of a bachelor in nursing degree (BSN) from an undergraduate program that has received accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the National League for Nursing Accrediting Commission.

Most schools will require that you graduated the BSN program with a minimum cumulative GPA of 3.0.  Applicants must also possess a valid and unrestricted state RN license. Some program may also require that applicants submit scores from the Graduate Record examination (GRE) or Miller Analogies test (MAT), especially if your overall GPA is less than 3.0, along with official undergraduate college transcripts, letters of recommendation and essay regarding your career goals.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Curriculum

Those students who attend on a full time basis can expect to complete the degree in eighteen to twenty four months. There are also accelerated programs that will enable you to complete the program at a faster pace by taking a heavier course load each semester and participating in summer study. Employed nurses may also attend on a part time basis fitting classes into their work and family responsibilities. This will extend the time necessary to complete the degree to three years or more.

Most psychiatric nurse practitioner programs will include a core course component which every student, regardless of specialty, will take. These courses include research and statistics, healthcare ethics, nurse informatics (electronic recording of patient data), health policy planning, health economics, public health nursing, as well as leadership for nurses.

At the completion of core coursework, students will take courses within their specialty track. A sample Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program curriculum is provided below.

Core and Specialty Coursework:

Course Name 

Advanced Pharmacology


Advanced Clinical Assessment Across the Lifespan


Pathophysiology Across the Lifespan


Behavioral Development Across the Life Span: A Risk/Vulnerability Perspective


Advanced Health Assessment in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing I


Advanced Health Assessment in Psychiatric-Mental Health in Nursing II: Clinical Practicum




Foundations of Research


Health and Social Policy: The Context for Practice and Research


Family Theory in Context


Theory and Practice of Individual Psychotherapy I


Management and Advanced Practice Nursing


Seminar on Family Therapy and Technique


Theory and Practice of Individual Psychotherapy II


Evaluation and Application of Research


Practice of Family Therapy


Theory of Group Psychotherapy


Clinical Practice and Supervision with Groups


Incorporating Genetics into Advanced Nursing Practice


Advanced Practice in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing I


Psychopharmacology in Psychiatric and Mental Health


Advanced Practice in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing II  

Accreditation of Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

As you research master’s programs be sure to confirm that the school has received accreditation from the National League of Nursing Accreditation Commission (NLNAC) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Both agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education as official accreditation bodies for nursing education in the United States.  Accreditation is important as it signifies that you will receive a quality education as determined by program offerings, faculty experience and background, clinical opportunities, as well as student resources.

Tuition and Financial Aid

Tuition costs will vary among type of school. Students who attend an in-state school will pay less than those who attend an out-of-state school or private university. For example, in-state tuition is about $12,000 with out-of-state tuition about $15,000. Tuition at private colleges and universities will cost approximately $60,000. Online schools, having reduced overhead costs, also tend to offer lower tuition costs than many private institutions. Related expenses include textbooks, supplies (e.g. uniforms), lab fees, commuting expenses, as well as Internet usage (especially for those attending an online program).

There are various types of financial aid available in the form of scholarships, grants, and student loans.  The first step is to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to determine your eligibility for each type of aid.  Working nurses may also be eligible for  tuition assistance from their employer. Graduate nursing students may be eligible for additional assistance through a variety of federally-based programs. Below is a sampling of assistance offered through the Bureau of Health Professions:*

Requirements for Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs 

Online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs are for advanced practice registered nurses. Psychiatric mental health nursing is a specialty that APRNs can enter by pursuing a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing. In order to be eligible for these programs, nurses must have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, and have passed their NCLEX-RN to become a registered nurse. APRNs who already have a master’s degree may be able to enter a certificate program that will give them the same background as a full master’s degree in psychiatric nursing, without requiring some classes that are redundant from one nursing master’s program to the next.

After graduating from this program, some psychiatric nurses may wish to further specialize into areas like forensic psychology, or child psychology. There are plenty of continuing education and certification programs available for psychiatric nurse practitioners looking for a way to further advance their education.

Finding an Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Program

Online education programs often come under some scrutiny, since their popularity has led to a lot of online “schools” that essentially churn out diplomas to anyone willing to pay for them. As a result, nurses can’t assume that every online psychiatric nurse practitioner program is worth pursuing. Even if a program claims to be Board of Nursing-approved in the student’s home state, they may not always be telling the whole truth. Unfortunately, graduates of these programs aren’t allowed to sit for their state’s licensure examinations, and can have a hard time finding work in their specialization.

The good thing is, this problem can be easily avoided if nurses go to their state Board of Nursing for help. The Board is responsible for maintaining lists of approved nursing programs, and can give students a list of which programs the state recognizes as being worthwhile. If students choose an online psychiatric nurse practitioner program from the Board of Nursing’s list of approved programs, they shouldn’t have any trouble going on to pass any required nursing licensing examinations, and finding a job in a mental health facility.

Reasons to Get a Degree in Psychiatric Nursing

Psychiatric nursing offers nurses an innovative way to approach mental healthcare. Nurses have an approach to medicine that sets them apart from doctors and psychiatrists- much more of an emphasis is placed on things like preventative measures, and many nurse practitioners end up becoming holistic healthcare providers. So, if you are fascinated by psychiatry, but prefer nursing’s approach to medicine, then getting a degree in psychiatric nursing may be an excellent career move for you.

The nursing industry is also suffering from a lack of nurses with advanced degrees. Many schools don’t have enough educators to teach advanced nursing programs, and a lot of states have chosen to emphasize graduating RNs and LPNs over advanced practice registered nurses. Therefore, as an APRN, you’ll have a lot of job opportunities available to you. With an advanced degree in psychiatric nursing, you can have your own office, work for a hospital, work for a mental health clinic, function as a counselor for prisons or detention centers, or become an educator.

Online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs give nurses a means to further their education in a convenient, inexpensive way. Considering how badly most states’ medical facilities need nurses with advanced degrees, these online programs may be the wave of the future when it comes to turning out qualified advanced practice registered nurses.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Job Description & Scope of Practice
A psychiatric nurse practitioner is a nursing position that often practices in conjunction with a psychiatrist.  The PNP is an advanced nurse who has specific training in the area of psychiatry.  The PNP position combines nursing with mental health care and requires a high level of education and compassion.  Nurses with a high degree of training and experience are necessary in many areas of psychiatrics.

A PNP is sometimes known as a psychiatric mental health nurse.  The nurse practitioner specializes in treating patients with psychiatric disorders.  This nursing position may work with a doctor, or the NP may have his or her own practice.  The nurse is able to deal with many types of potential patient problems including depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia.  This is a challenging career with many potential roles, but also a rewarding one.  The PNP attends to patients, educates patients about mental health issues, works with families of patients to assist them in learning how to care for their family member, administers and monitors medication, and assists with the diagnosis of mental illness.

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Nurses working in the area of psychiatry require advanced degrees. The path to take may be a very personal one.  For instance, some may start out as nurses and decide to increase their education to become a nurse practitioner, while others may start out as a therapist and decide to go into the nursing side.  The path usually begins with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from an accredited school.  Upon graduation, you will need to begin gathering work experience.  It is advisable to get at least three years of working experience in the psychiatric area before entering an advanced program.  The nurse practitioner position requires that you obtain a Master’s Degree in Nursing with a specialty in psychiatric nursing.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements, Certification, and Schooling Programs

The PNP must start by attaining an undergraduate degree in nursing (Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing, BSN) from an accredited school.  After graduation, you will need to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to become certified and achieve the status of registered nurse (RN).  Additionally, nurses who are interested or who specialize in psychiatric-mental health may want to help advance their networking, leadership potential and continuing education training opportunities by joining the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA).  To become a member of APNA, you will have to apply online.

Nurse practitioners who wish to become certified may do so by obtaining the Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification (PMHNP-BC) through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Successful applicants must have a master’s or post-graduate degree from a mental health practitioner program that is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) plus clinical training in two psychotherapeutic treatment modalities. Those who meet the qualifications and pass the exam receive the Registered Nurse-Board Certified (RN-BC) credential.

Applicants must have two years experience working as a registered nurse, 2,000 hours clinical practice and 30 continuing education hours in psychiatric and mental health to be eligible. The certification exam consists of 175 multiple-choice questions. The ANCC, a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA), offers study materials and resources for applicants waiting to take the examination. Although certification is voluntary, most employers seek to hire certified individuals. Therefore, certification is not required, but it is highly preferred.

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Salary and Career Outlook

Psychiatrics, as with other medical areas, is expected to continue to grow over the next two decades.  The demand for specialized nursing support in this field will increase because of a growing need for advanced psychiatric care.  Much of this care will be handled by nurse practitioners rather than by doctors.  As the baby boomers reach old age, there will be an even greater need for nurses to care for this large group of people who will be living longer than ever.

The salary for this position varies based on experience and education.  In general the PNP can expect to receive an annual salary of between $52.000 and $64,000. 

Top Accredited Programs for Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Training in the USA

University of California-San Francisco

Yale University

University of Pennsylvania

Rush University

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

University of Pittsburgh

University of Maryland-Baltimore

University of Virginia

University of Washington

Vanderbilt University