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Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Online Degree

Louise Fletcher may have immortalized Nurse Ratched as a symbol of unflinching bureaucracy in Milos Forman’s 1975 Oscar winner, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; however, the profession of psychiatric nursing itself has a lot to offer than what’s led to believe.

Psychiatric nurses, being an integral part of the US healthcare industry, have an important task at hand. These professionals assess the mental health of individuals, families and sometimes entire communities.
Here are a couple of facts that may give you a glimpse of how important these professionals are to US healthcare:

  • One in four adults in the US experience mental health disorder in a given year.
  • 90% of people who commit suicide have a mental health disorder.
  • According to a 2013 report by Department of Veteran Affairs, 22 veterans take their own lives every day. Some sources suggest the figure may be higher.

Source: The Huffington Post
O*NET OnLine reports that the demand for these professionals will jump to around 15% - 21% over the next few years. With the healthcare industry expanding, psychiatric nurses will play a central role in curbing mental health disorders in the US.  

What do psychiatric nurses do?

Apart from the obvious question, what these professionals do in a typical day, many would want to know if these professionals are the same as mental health nurses. Mental health nurses is another name for psychiatric nurses and the main purpose for introducing this new term was to help the general public look at this profession in a new positive light.
Psychiatric nurses are responsible for diagnosis, plan of care and the implementation of the nursing process when treating mental disorders such as schizophrenia or psychosis. These professionals also evaluate the effectiveness of their care plans when helping patients who’ve been through traumatic events. They make use of therapeutic methods, which includes administration of medicine and use of psychotherapy, to heal psychiatric disorders in patients, families and sometimes even communities.

What skills do you need to become a PMHN (Psychiatric – Mental Health Nurse)?

As these professionals deal with mental disorder patients, it is imperative for them to be considerate and professionals at all times. Here are a few skills PMHNs must have to be successful:

  • Excellent communication and listening skills
  • A sympathetic, understanding and non judgmental approach
  • An expert understanding of non verbal communication and body language
  • Objective and practical approach in emotional situations
  • Be persuasive and encourage patients to follow through on the decided treatment plans
  • Show assertiveness when dealing with difficult/stubborn patients

PMHNs typically work in hospitals, crises centers and clinics. Some may also visit patients at their homes to provide counseling and treatment. 

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How do you become a PMHN?

As PMHN is a specialization in the field of nursing, becoming a registered nurse (RN) is a requirement. To become an RN, students must:


  • Get a high school diploma or GED. Taking math and biology in high school can help in nursing programs.
  • Enroll in a two or four year accredited nursing program.
  •  After completion, pass the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses) exam to become a registered nurse.
  • To specialize in psychiatric nursing, students must check programs accredited by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) or National League for Nursing (NLN).
  • To be certified as a psychiatric mental health nurse, students must sit for the credentialing exam. This is administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Some states may not require students to be certified.

Some experience in psychiatric settings could help get an idea about the environment and nature of the job.

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Master of Science – Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing

The Master of Science in Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing is a program through which students can specialize in the field. This program typically takes around two years or sometimes more to complete. Students are required to complete around 57 – 59 credits.  With the help of this program, students will be able to:


  • Apply research, theory and experience into advanced psychiatric and mental health nursing practice.
  • Demonstrate Advanced Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing skills (APMHN).
  •  Collaborate with an interdisciplinary team in treating patients.
  • Apply ethical and practical reasoning when dealing with patients.
  • Contribute towards a better and effective psychiatric and mental policy and nursing practice.
  • Follow the American Nurses Association’s standards.

Some nursing schools may also offer this program in a distance learning format.

Key advantages of an online psychiatric nurse degree

Distance learning has become a big part of education for students in the US. Apart from some of the obvious benefits such as convenience and affordability – in some cases – many nursing students are now opting for online education.
Here are a couple of key benefits that can help students interested in enrolling in an online psychiatric nurse practitioner program:

Greater Focus – With traditional education, some students may find it hard to be vocal in class. Distance learning could help shy students get over this barrier and achieve greater focus.

Interactive - Depending upon the tools being employed, students can become more interactive. This could be through e mails, one on one session via video conferences, chats and online forums.

 Bigger Community – Online learning allows students to be a part of a bigger community than its traditional counterparts. With a bigger community, students have a better chance to learn and interact more.

 Professional Empowerment – With no fixed schedule to follow, online learning empowers students both professionally and on a personal level. Students can continue their jobs and study at their own pace.

Credit Transfers - More and more employers are now accepting of online education. However there is a catch! Employers closely look at the accreditation and reputation of the online school the applicant has graduated from. Prospective students, in this case, are advised to make sure their college is fully accredited and enjoys a good reputation before they enroll.
Before enrolling in psychiatric nurse practitioner online programs, students are also advised to check with the US Department of Education for accreditation.

Frequently Asked Question(s)

Q:Will there be any advantage of enrolling in an online psychiatric nurse practitioner degree?

A:By enrolling in an online degree program, you can study from the comfort of your home without having to travel anywhere. All you need is a computer and an internet connection to study online. Online programs can be cost effective as travel and textbook costs are greatly minimized. On the other hand, you can study according to your own schedule.

Q:How will I gain hands on experience in psychiatric nurse practitioner online programs?

A:Most colleges are offering hybrid psychiatric nurse practitioner programs. This means students can cover the theoretical portion of the curriculum online and take on-campus classes for training. Gaining hands on experience is crucial to become a nurse practitioner. The coursework can be covered via videos, online lectures, and classroom conferencing.

Q:What will I learn in online psychiatric nurse practitioner certificate programs?

A:A psychiatric nurse program will help you learn about different mental illnesses and their treatment. Throughout the program, you will learn how to provide healthcare to individuals suffering from a mental condition. The program will include different theoretical and practical courses. For the practical element of the program, you may have to take a few classes on-campus.

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