Psychiatric Nurse Job Description, Salary & FAQs

Psychiatric Nurse Careers

Psychiatric nurses (or more specifically known psychiatric mental health nurses) are a job within the nursing field responsible for providing the assessment and diagnosis of individuals’, families’, groups’, and/or communities’ mental health needs. Psychiatric mental health assists in creating care plans, administration, and review of treatment protocols for patients. This job is available in different settings, such as hospitals and care homes. Psychiatric nurses also have their specialized fields, including child mental health, adult mental health, learning disabilities, emotional disturbances, substance abuse, and geriatrics. We will discuss Psychiatric Nurse Careers here.

To become a psychiatric nurse, a nursing degree is required. Different options offer varying degrees in nursing, such as two-year programs that lead to an associate’s degree, three-year programs for a diploma (hospital-based), or four-year university programs leading to a bachelor’s nursing degree. However, this is merely the starting point of becoming a great candidate for psychiatric nursing. Continue reading below to understand the complex world of a psychiatric nurse.

What does a Psychiatric Nurse do?

A psychiatric nurse’s work may differ according to the work setting they’re in, however, all psychiatric nurses generally have these responsibilities:

  • Conducting interviews with patients and their family to gather sufficient data and compile a case history
  • Planning nursing care programs for patients
  • Making a diagnosis of the medical and emotional status of all patients
  • Educating patients and their family about healthy methods of coping with mental health
  • Recommending treatment options, giving advice, and rearranging support systems for the patient, their relatives, and caregivers
  • Communicating and building relationships with the patients
  • Working with other allied health care professionals (doctors, social workers, mental health, and addiction counselor) to provide the best care program

Psychiatric Nursing Skills & Qualities | Psychiatric Nurse Careers

Like any other job in the medical field, psychiatric nurse candidates should also possess soft skills to interact with the patients, their families, and caregivers. Some of the skills are:

  • Have excellent interpersonal skills: A psychiatric nurse must build confidence and trust between themselves and the patient. They are also responsible for providing therapeutic communication (both verbal and written) and listening to help patients cope with their mental illnesses.

  • Emotionally mature: Psychiatric nurses are responsible for providing emotional and social assistance for the patients. To do so, candidates are expected to control their emotions and handle stressful situations, not to distress the patients even more.

  • Compassionate, resilient, and empathize with patients: Being a psychiatric nurse means listening about the patient’s problems and understanding them. Psychiatric nurses should also be resilient in interacting and ensuring the completion of a patient’s treatment, especially because there can be some difficulty along the way.

  • Able to work as part of a team and collaborate with other medical health workers: In taking care of the patients, psychiatric nurses collaborate with doctors, psychiatrists, social workers, and other health professionals to create and manage their treatment programs. Team working skills are crucial in ensuring that the patient’s treatment can run smoothly.

  • Have strong advocacy skills for both the profession and the patients: While there has been much effort to lift the mental health stigma, there are still some stigmatized mental illnesses. Psychiatric nurses should be active in advocating and raising awareness about mental illnesses and teaching the correct way of assisting someone in need. 

  • Strong problem-solving skills and ability to be assertive in their job: Like any other job, there’s always a possibility of a workplace problem, and for professionals working in the mental health field, problem-solving skills, fast responses, and assertiveness will help them respond to a dire situation, such as destructive behaviors and emotional crises.

  • Excellent diagnostic and clinical judgment capacities: One of a psychiatric nurse’s main responsibilities is to assess (and for psychiatric nurses in advanced positions: a diagnostic) a patient’s mental condition. 

Salary Outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics May 2019 data, the annual median wage for psychiatrist nurse practitioners who are registered nurses is $73,300. However, the annual wage average of a psychiatric nurse may vary depending on the state. For example, in the United States, the top 5 highest paying states for this profession are Wyoming ($85,417), Massachusetts ($81,287), Montana ($80,48), Arizona ($79,660), and Hawaii ($79,593). Compare this with the bottom 5 paying states for psychiatric nurses; Michigan ($65,350), Illinois ($65,136), Texas ($64,071), Missouri ($63,876), and North Carolina ($59,499). Another data from the BLS released in May 2018 states that professionals in the 90th percentile or higher earned $106,530 or more per year, whereas the bottom 10th percentile earned $50,800 or less per year. 

The annual wage can also be affected by the workplace. For instance, here are some of the salaries of a psychiatrist nurse depending on their workplace from the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics:

  • Mental health and substance abuse facilities: $123,900
  • Outpatient care centers: $119,920
  • General medical and surgical hospitals: $115,790
  • Offices of other health practitioners: $108,660

Education & Training

To fulfill the position of a psychiatric nurse, a candidate must first be a registered nurse (RN). However, to be eligible, a certain level of education, basic knowledge, and nursing field skills is required. To do so, candidates must first have a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree from an accredited nursing program and go through a period of clinical training and supervision. (Candidates can also use a diploma or an associate degree in nursing). Certification will also be needed as proof of eligibility.

RNs can progress to more advanced nursing roles, but this requires a Master of Science in Nursing degree or even a doctorate. However, some nurses also pursue the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) from the get-go to expand their knowledge and job prospects.

What License and Certification Do You Need?

Essentially, there are several steps a candidate must take to become a psychiatrist nurse. Here is the complete list:

  1. Graduate from a nursing program and receive a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree.
  2. After graduating from school, candidates will have to pass the NCLEX-RN exam to receive a Registered Nurse (RN) license.
  3. When you have received your license, you will then be asked to become board certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. However, before taking the test, candidates need to have at least two years of registered nurse experience and  2,000 hours of clinical practice in a mental health setting in the last three years.
  4. The next step is to again apply for certification, but this time the candidate must take the psychiatric-mental health nursing certification (PMH-BC). This certification will function as proof of a candidate’s basic knowledge and skills as a psychiatric nurse.

Profession Prospect

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics, registered nurses’ employment rate (including nurse anesthetists, nurse midwives, and nurse practitioners) will grow 7% from 2019 – 2029. This means between this time. There will be around 221,900 psychiatric nurse jobs open for candidates. Because of the greater awareness and advocacy for mental health care, there’s a growing demand for mental health professionals to provide service, with psychiatric nurses being one of them. 

Work Environment

As stated in the previous segments, psychiatrist nurses have a wide range of workplaces, and their responsibilities depend on the workplace. Here are some of the breakdowns:

  • General and Psychiatric Hospitals

In this setting, psychiatric nurses are responsible for patient care, such as admitting and discharging patients. Another set of duties is monitoring, assessing, and managing patients and their medications.

  • Correctional Facilities

Compared to psychiatric nurses in hospitals, psychiatric nurses in correctional facilities are more inclined to social-based work, such as provide cognitive behavioral therapy, provide crisis treatment and intervention, and fulfill the patients’ social and emotional needs.

  • Assisted Living Facilities / Care Homes

In this work setting, psychiatric nurses tend to be more involved in the treatment plans, assess a patient’s mental and physical health, consult with other health professionals, and manage their medications.

Work Schedules

Psychiatric nurses typically have 8 – 12 hours of work shift. However, psychiatric nurses working in a hospital and inpatients typically have to be present 24 hours a day. In contrast, those working in care homes or other community health centers usually work according to business hours and are available for on-call services on weekends.

Reliable Resources for Psychiatric Nurses

For candidates who are looking to apply to this position, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself and research more about the field through formal networks, such as:

  • The International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses (ISPN) 
  • The American Psychiatric Nurse Association (APNA).

Related Career Paths

Other career paths that are similar and may interest candidates who want to work as mental health practitioners, includes: 

  • Mental Health Counselor
  • Psychologists
  • Clinical social workers
  • Psychiatrist 

Also read Nurse practitioner vs. nurse anesthetist

Psychiatric Nurse Job Description, Salary & FAQs

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