Blending mental healthcare with nursing, psychiatric nurses specialize in caring for patients with mental illnesses and mental disorders. Psychiatric nurses engage in advanced training in areas such as psychiatry, psychotherapy, mental health, behavior changes and administering psychiatric medication to patients. Pursuing a career as a psychiatric nurse requires advanced education and intensive training (1) but may be very rewarding, especially for those looking to mix their interest with helping others with a focus on mental health and psychiatry. Successful psychiatric nurses take their studies very seriously and are passionate about helping patients with mental health issues. Before enrolling in a graduate program to earn a psychiatric nursing degree, it’s critical to understand what the nurses in this concentration do, what the general education and licensing requirements are and what the outlook is for the future of the profession.
Psychiatric nurses play a critical role in today’s modern mental healthcare infrastructure. The profession mixes nursing with an intensive focus on mental healthcare and mental illness with the goal of helping patients with issues such as depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and the like. Psychiatric nurses work closely with patients suffering from mental illnesses or mental distress and asses them very carefully to determine the correct therapy or medication to treat them. They subsequently intervene to help the patient via a number of pathways, some of which include psychotherapy, the administration of psychiatric medication, family therapy and the like. Important skills to have to pursue a career as a psychiatric nurse include empathy, respect, an innate understanding of mental illnesses, a strong grasp of psychology and the aim to genuinely help others suffering from mental distress. Psychiatric nurses often pursue employment in mental hospital, mental healthcare clinics and nursing homes.
The pathway to pursuing a career as a psychiatric nurse involves years of advanced training and education in the fields of nursing and psychology. A Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing or Master’s of Science in Nursing may sometimes be required of those interested in enrolling in a psychiatric nursing program. Coursework is intensive and focuses on areas such as psychopathology, psychotherapy, mental illnesses, clinical pharmacology and childhood development. Candidates might also be required to pass the National Council Licensure Exam to officially become a registered nurse or obtain specialty certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center to finally become a fully licensed psychiatric nurse.
In the United States, there are three levels of psychiatric nursing that each focus on particular areas of the field: licensed vocational nurses who dispense medication and gather data on patients, registered psychiatric nurses who asses patients and provide therapy and advanced practice registered nurses who provide a full range of mental health services to patients in places such as mental healthcare clinics, hospitals, community mental health centers and the like.
Median annual wages for psychiatric nurses as of 2013 were $31.84 per hour or $66,220 annually. Projected job growth is anticipated to be stronger than average between 2012 and 2022 as well1.