How to Pursue a Career as a Psychiatric Nurse

How to Pursue a Career as a Psychiatric Nurse
Career as a Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatric nurses form a critical part of the healthcare system of the U.S. For years, they’ve been positively impacting the lives of thousands of mental health patients. While the role can be physically and mentally exhausting, it’s pretty rewarding. 

Studies report that psychiatric mental health nurses make around $130,000 per year, which is 131% more than the average annual salary in the U.S. 

Despite the pay of psychiatric nurses being above average, there is a shortage of mental health nurses in the country. Several researchers have cited that the lack of interest in working in psychiatric wards is what has led to nurse shortages. 

The American Psychiatric Nurses Association reported that there had been a 58% increase in psychiatric registered nurse jobs. Nonetheless, a surge in public awareness of mental illness and substance use has led to an increasing demand for psychiatric nurses. 

Launching a career as a psychiatric nurse is the best decision you can make in these pressing times. After all, what could be more joyful than making a difference in people’s lives? Nothing. 

That said, here’s how you can pursue a career as a psychiatric nurse: 

Earn the Right Degree

To launch your career as a mental health nurse, you need to obtain the right degree in nursing. You will have to earn either an Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BDN). 

After a BSN, earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), as it will open new career doors. With this advanced degree, your chances of earning a handsome salary will be higher than with an ADN or a BSN. 

The University of Indianapolis suggests that you can pursue nurse leader roles with an MSN degree. As the degree will expand your healthcare knowledge and leadership skills, you can apply for the role of a nurse manager, director/assistant director, or chief nursing officer. 

Like other degrees, you can earn a nursing degree online, be it an associate, bachelor, or master. Many universities offer online nursing degree programs with the same support resource as traditional programs. The biggest advantage of completing nursing education online is that you get to learn at your own pace. Of course, lower costs are a bonus. 

Acquire Licensure

Before you commence practice, you’ll need a registered nurse (RN) licensure, for which you’ll have to take the NCLEX test. You’ll have to apply for a license with the state board of nursing where you wish to practice. 

Your performance on the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) will determine whether you can work as a mental health nurse. NCLEX tests your knowledge of patient care, ethical issues, and nursing practices. You’ll have to answer around 60 to 145 questions within five hours. 

Obtain Mental Health Specialty Certification

Once you obtain the RN license, you will have to obtain psychiatric-mental health certification. You’ll have to earn the certificate through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). However, you will have to meet the following criteria to obtain it:

  1. You must have completed 30 hours of continuing education in psychiatric-mental health nursing in the past three years. 
  2. You must possess two years of full-time working experience as an RN. 
  3. You must have worked for at least 2,000 hours in mental health-psychiatric nursing in the last three years. 

A nurse with this certificate earns the Registered Nurse Board-Certified designation (RN-BC), which will be valid for five years. The ANCC also offers similar certifications, such as Child/Adolescent Psychiatric Mental Health CNS, Adult Psychiatric-Mental Health CNS, and Psychiatric Mental Health. 

You must note that the eligibility criteria differ from certificate to certificate. Instead of taking the guess route, you must contact the state board of nursing in your area to determine the eligibility criteria and exact requirements. Also Read – What Is Health Information Technology? A Career Guide

Gain Experience

Gaining hands-on experience by working in a clinical setting is important to lay the foundation of your career as a psychiatric nurse. 

Search for hospitals or clinics that are actively hiring psychiatric nurses. If possible, try working directly with patients who suffer from mental illnesses. Taking up internship roles at a mental health facility is the best way to gain experience. That’s because you can learn a lot by observing experienced psychiatrists and nurses in a clinical setting, which will add feathers to your cap. 

A Final Word

Working as a mental health nurse is a rewarding career, provided you earn the right degree. However, it comes with its own challenges, which is why only obtaining a nursing degree isn’t enough.

You’ll have to develop certain skill sets, such as problem-solving and interpersonal communication skills, to deal with the day-to-day problems that you may encounter in the clinical or hospital setting. Rest assured, you’ll make a handsome sum every month, and the joy you’ll experience by helping others will be incomparable.