A Complete Guide on How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse

how to become a psychiatric nurse

Psychiatric nursing is one of the most in-demand nursing specialties. With so many people getting affected by mental illnesses, the demand for health professionals who can dedicate their time to help patients get better and advocate for them is continuously increasing.

For you to become a psychiatric nurse, you need to be mentally, emotionally, and physically prepared. After all, you’ll be dealing with conditions that extend beyond physical signs and symptoms.

Before we get to the step-by-step guide on how to become a psychiatric nurse, let’s get an overview of the nursing specialty first.

What Psychiatric Nurses Do

psychiatric nurse
Via wisegeek

As a part of a team, psychiatric nurses conduct assessments and interviews. They evaluate the not just the signs and symptoms a patient is experiencing but also his daily living habits, the support he is getting from family and friends, the pattern of his illness, and other factors that can trigger or affect his condition.

After doing a thorough investigation, psychiatric nurses develop a plan of care for the patient. Your work may include:

  • Providing education on the patient’s signs and symptoms
  • Administering and teaching patient regarding the medications and therapy
  • Assisting the patient in developing new skills to cope with daily activities and stress
  • Providing supportive counseling
  • Assisting patients in performing activities of daily living, such as grooming
  • Helping families understand their patient’s mental illness
  • Tracking a patient’s progress and communicating it to the rest of the healthcare team

In some cases, psychiatric nurses also help organize events for their patients and families in order to help them acquire or develop better social skills that can help them recover faster.

To give you an idea of what it’s like to work as a psychiatric nurse, here’s a video you can watch:

Where Can You Work

When it comes to working opportunities, you actually have a lot of options. You can work in general hospitals, community mental health clinics, and substance abuse centers. You can also apply in outpatient treatment facilities, correctional institutions, and even school systems.

A lot of psychiatric nurses work during regular business hours. However, if you are working in an inpatient facility, you may need to work longer hours to ensure continuous care.

Take note that your working conditions may expose you to bloodborne pathogens, workplace violence, and chemicals since your patients have this tendency to become unstable and violent. If you aren’t alert all the time, you may end up getting injured.

However, not all psychiatric nurses are exposed to such risky conditions. If you aren’t comfortable working in those areas, you can work in research or education.

A Step-by-Step Guide to Being a Psychiatric Nurse

To become a psychiatric nurse, you need to be a registered nurse first. You can choose to start your career with a 4-year Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree or a 2-year Associate’s degree. You can also begin your career with a 2- to 3-year diploma which you can get through a hospital-based training program.

After that, your next goal is to get licensed. You need to take and pass the NCLEX-RN before you can enter the nursing profession.

See Also: Top 5 Best NCLEX-RN Review Books – A Complete Buyer’s Guide

At the graduate level, you’ll need additional education which is usually a 2-year Master of Science in Nursing degree. For you to be eligible for certification as a specialist, you’ll need to complete a period of supervised clinical practice.

Certification is available from ANCC or American Nurses Credentialing Center. Its requirements include:

  • An active and current RN license
  • Minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in psychiatric-mental health nursing in the last 3 years
  • Have practiced 2 years full-time as a registered nurse
  • Have completed 30 years of continuing education in psychiatric-mental health nursing in the last 3 years

You can get your certification by exam and it’s generally valid for about 5 years.

If you are considering to become a pediatric primary care mental health specialist or PMHS, you may get your certification from the Pediatric Nursing Certification Board.

See Also: 20 Psychiatric Nursing Mnemonics and Tricks


psychiatric nurse salary
Via nursection

Psychiatric nurses earn an average of $77,102 per year. The rate can get higher or lower, depending on your experience, additional certifications, and location. Psychiatric nurses working in New York earn about $38.81 per hour while nurses in the same specialty who are working in North Carolina earn $28.05 per hour.

Check out our infographic!

how to become a psychiatric nurse infographic

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