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How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse

By Lace Brunsden


Did you know that mental health disorders affect one in every eight people worldwide? As the demand for mental health support surges, the role of psychiatric nurses becomes increasingly vital. In this article, we’ll navigate the rewarding journey of becoming a psychiatric nurse, exploring the essential steps and unique qualities that define this transformative career.

Career Summary

Psychiatric Nurse Salary

Psychiatric Nurse Salary

Although the average psychiatric nurse salary can vary a lot depending on where they work and the specific demands of the position, Glassdoor summarizes it as follows:

  • Entry: US$ 69,000
  • Median: US$ 84,000
  • Executive: US$ 104,000

Compared to the average salary in the United States, which was reported to be $59,428, the salary of a registered psychiatric nurse is quite high

Psychiatric Nurse Job Description

A psychiatric nurse, also known as a mental health nurse, plays a crucial role in the mental health care system, specializing in providing compassionate and holistic care for individuals facing mental health challenges. 

A psychiatric nurse job description can vary a great deal, but generally, you would assess patients, develop personalized care plans, and administer medications. Psychiatric nurses also facilitate therapeutic interventions, support families, and collaborate with multidisciplinary teams to create a nurturing environment that fosters emotional healing and stability. 

Psychiatric Nurse Career Progression

  • Psychiatric Nursing Assistant: Provides invaluable support by assisting with basic patient care, observing behavior, and ensuring a safe and therapeutic environment within mental health facilities.
  • Staff Nurse: Takes on a more hands-on approach, conducting patient assessments, administering medications, and collaborating with the treatment team to implement individualized care plans.
  • Psychiatric Charge Nurse: Oversees the daily operations of a psychiatric unit, coordinating patient care, supervising staff, and ensuring a seamless and efficient workflow.
  • Clinical Nurse Specialist: Specializes in psychiatric and mental health, providing advanced clinical expertise, education, and leadership to enhance the overall quality of psychiatric nursing care within your healthcare institution.
  • Nurse Manager: Takes on broader responsibilities, overseeing the entire psychiatric services department, managing budgets, and implementing strategic initiatives to enhance patient care and staff development.
  • Chief Nursing Officer: Provides executive leadership, shaping organizational policies, fostering innovation, and championing excellence in psychiatric nursing across the entire healthcare system.
Psychiatric Nurse Career Progression

Best Aspects of Working as a Psychiatric Nurse

  • Impactful Patient Relationships
  • Diverse and Dynamic Work Environment
  • Holistic Approach to Care
  • Continuous Learning and Growth
  • Team Collaboration

Worst Aspects of Working as a Psychiatric Nurse

  • Emotional Strain
  • Workload and Stress
  • Stigma and Misunderstanding
  • Potential for Workplace Violence
  • Limited Resources

Useful Skills to Have as a Psychiatric Nurse

  • Empathy and Compassion
  • Effective Communication
  • Crisis Intervention
  • Cultural Competence
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving

Popular Psychiatric Nurse Specialties

  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing
  • Geriatric Psychiatric Nursing
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nursing
  • Addiction Psychiatric Nursing
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP)

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse

Psychiatric Nurse 4 Steps to Career

Step 1: Complete Nursing Education

The first thing to consider when figuring out how to become a psychiatric nurse, and whether or not it is for you, is the fact that you need to complete a nursing education program.

Do I need a degree to become a Psychiatric Nurse?

Yes, to become a Psychiatric Nurse, you typically need a nursing degree. You can choose to pursue either an associate degree in nursing (ADN) or a bachelor’s degree in nursing (BSN). Both paths will lead you to becoming a registered nurse (RN), which is a foundational requirement for entering the field of psychiatric nursing.

Why is it important to get a Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing?

Getting a degree in Psychiatric Nursing is like giving your career a turbo boost. Sure, you can start with an associate degree (ADN), but snagging that bachelor’s (BSN) opens up a whole realm of possibilities. It’s not just about the paper; it’s about diving deep into the complexities of mental health care, broadening your skills, and making you stand out in the field.

How long does it take to get a degree as a Psychiatric Nurse?

The time it takes to get a degree in Psychiatric Nursing depends on the educational path you choose:

  • Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN): Typically takes about 2 to 3 years to complete.
  • Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing (BSN): Usually requires 4 years of full-time study.

Keep in mind that these time frames are more typical of full-time study. If you study part-time it may take longer.

How much does it cost to study Nursing at university?

The cost of studying for a degree in nursing will vary a great deal depending on where you study as well as a variety of other factors. 

According to some of the cheapest options are for an associate degree in nursing, for as little as USD 7,000. You may pay as much as USD 300,000 for a graduate degree.

Can I become a Psychiatric Nurse through online education?

Absolutely! You can dive into the world of Psychiatric Nursing through online education. Many nursing programs, including those specializing in psychiatric nursing, offer online courses. It’s like bringing the classroom to your living room. Just make sure the program is accredited, and you’re good to go. 

However, keep in mind that you will have to do some sort of practical training at some point.

What are some web resources to learn skills to become a Psychiatric Nurse?

You can check with your educational institution or local nursing associations for additional resources and training opportunities specific to psychiatric nursing.

But here are some general resources to consider:

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Step 2: Obtain RN Licensure

The difficulty of the NCLEX-RN (National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses) can vary for each individual. The exam is designed to assess the knowledge and critical thinking skills of entry-level nurses. Factors that can influence the perceived difficulty include your level of preparation, educational background, and test-taking skills.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Preparation: Adequate preparation is key. Those who dedicate time to reviewing relevant materials, use study resources, and take practice exams tend to perform better.
  • Educational Background: Individuals with a strong nursing education foundation may find certain aspects of the exam less challenging. The content of the NCLEX-RN is based on the knowledge and skills necessary for safe and effective nursing practice.
  • Test-Taking Skills: The NCLEX-RN not only evaluates your nursing knowledge but also your ability to apply that knowledge in various scenarios. Developing effective test-taking strategies is important.
  • Individual Learning Styles: People have different learning styles. Some may find standardized exams more challenging, while others may excel in this format. Understanding your learning style can help you tailor your preparation.
  • Emotional Preparedness: The stress and anxiety associated with the exam can impact performance. Managing stress through relaxation techniques and maintaining a positive mindset can contribute to success.

Step 3: Gain Clinical Experience

What are internship opportunities for a Psychiatric Nurse?

Internship opportunities for psychiatric nurses provide invaluable hands-on experience in various mental health settings. Some potential internship options include:

  • Psychiatric Hospitals and Units: Interning in a psychiatric hospital or unit allows you to work closely with individuals experiencing acute mental health issues.
  • Community Mental Health Centers: Internships in community mental health settings offer exposure to a diverse range of clients and provide opportunities for community-based care.
  • Addiction Treatment Facilities: Interning in facilities specializing in addiction treatment allows you to gain experience in managing co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders.
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health Programs: Internships in programs focused on child and adolescent mental health provide a unique perspective on working with younger populations.
  • Forensic Psychiatry Settings: Interning in forensic psychiatry settings exposes you to the intersection of mental health and the legal system, working with individuals involved in legal proceedings.
  • Telepsychiatry Services: With the growing use of telehealth, some psychiatric nurses may find internship opportunities in online mental health services, providing care remotely.
  • Research or Academic Institutions: Internships in research or academic institutions allow you to explore the academic and research aspects of psychiatric nursing.

What Skills will I learn as a Psychiatric Nurse?

As a Psychiatric Nurse, you’ll develop a diverse set of skills to effectively navigate the complex and dynamic field of mental health care.

Here are some key skills you’re likely to acquire:

  • Therapeutic Communication: Learn to communicate effectively with individuals experiencing mental health challenges, fostering trust and a therapeutic relationship.
  • Crisis Intervention: Develop skills to assess and manage crises, de-escalating potentially volatile situations in a psychiatric setting.
  • Medication Management: Acquire knowledge and proficiency in administering and monitoring psychiatric medications, understanding their effects and potential side effects.
  • Assessment and Diagnosis: Learn comprehensive assessment skills to identify mental health disorders and contribute to the development of individualized care plans.
  • Collaboration and Teamwork: Collaborate with multidisciplinary teams, including psychiatrists, social workers, and therapists, to provide holistic care to individuals with mental health needs.
  • Cultural Competence: Develop sensitivity and cultural competence to provide inclusive and individualized care to a diverse range of patients.
  • Documentation and Record Keeping: Master the art of accurate and thorough documentation to ensure continuity of care and compliance with legal and ethical standards.
  • Patient and Family Education: Provide education to patients and their families on mental health conditions, treatment options, and coping strategies.
  • Boundaries and Self-Care: Learn to establish professional boundaries and prioritize self-care to manage the emotional demands of working in psychiatric nursing.
  • Critical Thinking and Problem-Solving: Hone your critical thinking skills to assess complex situations and develop effective solutions.

Step 4: Obtain Advanced RN-BC Certification (Optional)

Is It Difficult to Obtain an RN-BC Certification?

Obtaining the Registered Nurse-Board Certified (RN-BC) certification can be challenging, but the difficulty level varies from individual to individual based on their knowledge, experience, and preparation.

Here are some factors to consider:

  • Preparation and Study: The difficulty of the certification exam depends on your level of preparation. Adequate study and review of the content outline, recommended materials, and practice exams can significantly enhance your chances of success.
  • Experience: RN-BC certifications often require a combination of education and clinical experience. Having a solid foundation in psychiatric nursing practice and staying current in the field will be beneficial.
  • Content Knowledge: The certification exam assesses your knowledge in specific areas of psychiatric nursing. If you have a strong understanding of the content and keep up with advancements in the field, the exam may be more manageable.
  • Continuing Education: Many certification boards recommend or require ongoing education to maintain certification. Staying engaged in professional development helps you stay current and reinforces your knowledge.

What’s the Career Outlook for Psychiatric Nurses?

The career outlook for Psychiatric Nurses in the USA is generally positive. Mental health awareness has been growing, leading to an increased demand for psychiatric nursing services.

In general, registered nurses have a positive growth projected at 6% between 2022 and 2032. This is higher than average.

Popular Career Specialties

What are the Job Opportunities of a Psychiatric Nurse?

  • Inpatient Psychiatric Nurse: Their home is the psychiatric ward of a hospital, where they’re hands-on with patients dealing with acute mental health issues. It’s all about assessment, intervention, and creating a supportive environment for recovery.
  • Outpatient Psychiatric Nurse: They’re the bridge between the clinic and the community, working with individuals managing mental health concerns on an outpatient basis. It’s about long-term care, therapy, and helping folks thrive in their daily lives.
  • Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nurse: They’re working with children and adolescents, addressing developmental challenges, and creating a safe space for their emotional growth.
  • Geriatric Psychiatric Nurse: They’re there for older adults facing mental health issues, balancing the complexities of aging and the unique challenges that come with it.
  • Forensic Psychiatric Nurse: They’re at the intersection of mental health and the legal system, working with individuals in correctional facilities or forensic psychiatric settings.
  • Addiction Psychiatric Nurse: They’re in the thick of substance use disorders, providing support and interventions for individuals on their journey to recovery. It’s about understanding the intertwining world of mental health and addiction.
  • Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP): They’re involved in diagnosing, prescribing, and leading the charge in mental health care. It’s a more autonomous role, and they’re a key player in shaping treatment plans.
  • Telepsychiatry Nurse: They’re leveraging technology to provide mental health care remotely – through video calls or online platforms.
  • Psychiatric Nursing Educator: They’ve transitioned into education, shaping the next generation of psychiatric nurses. 

What Type of Organizations Hire a Psychiatric Nurse?

  • Hospitals and Medical Centers
  • Outpatient Clinics and Community Health Centers
  • Psychiatric Hospitals and Facilities
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Rehabilitation Centers
  • Educational Institutions
  • Telehealth Companies
  • Government Agencies
  • Nonprofit Organizations
  • Corporate Wellness Programs

What is the Work-Life Balance of a Psychiatric Nurse?

The work-life balance for a Psychiatric Nurse can vary based on factors such as the specific workplace, shift schedules, and personal preferences.

Here are some general considerations:

  • Shift Work: Psychiatric nurses often work in healthcare facilities that operate 24/7. This can involve rotating shifts, including evenings, nights, weekends, and holidays. While this can provide flexibility, it may impact traditional work-life routines.
  • Emotional Demands: The nature of psychiatric nursing can be emotionally demanding. Balancing the emotional toll with self-care is essential for maintaining a healthy work-life balance.
  • Part-Time and Flexible Schedules: Some psychiatric nurses opt for part-time or flexible schedules to better balance work and personal life. Part-time roles may provide more control over your time outside of work.
  • Workplace Policies: Workplace policies and support for employee well-being can influence work-life balance. Some healthcare institutions prioritize staff well-being, offering resources and initiatives to support a healthy work-life balance.
  • Career Advancement and Specialization: Advancing in your career or specializing in a particular area of psychiatric nursing may provide opportunities for roles with more regular hours or different work structures.

Should I Become a Psychiatric Nurse?

So, after diving into the wild world of psychiatric nursing, should you join the ranks of these mental health superheroes? Well, let me tell you – if you’ve got a heart that cares, ears that listen, and a spirit that’s ready for challenges, then heck yes, give it a shot! Being a Psychiatric Nurse isn’t just a job; it’s a chance to be a beacon of light in someone’s darkest days.

Sure, the road might have its twists and turns, but the impact you’ll make is beyond measure. From inpatient settings to community outreach, the options are as diverse as the people you’ll be helping. It’s a journey of learning, growth, and making a genuine difference.

So, if you’re up for a career that’s as rewarding as it is challenging, if you’re ready to be the calm in life’s storms, then becoming a Psychiatric Nurse might just be your calling. It’s not just a career choice; it’s an opportunity to be the kind of nurse who changes lives.

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Lace Brunsden

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