Career Spotlight: Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

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Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners provide advanced care to patients with psychiatric disorders.


The role of a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP), as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners explains, is to provide advanced care to patients with psychiatric disorders, including assessing, diagnosing, and treating patients’ mental health needs. They often work as a team with primary care and specialty providers to determine treatment plans and deliver care.

Although mental health nurse practitioners fall into the same general care “basket” as other mental health professionals, such as psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers, their role is slightly different. Psychiatric mental health nurses/nurse practitioners have nursing degrees, which means the nursing process forms the basis of how they approach their practice. They can prescribe medications in most states, which is something psychologists and social workers cannot do. Many states allow all types of nurse practitioners, including PMHNPs, to practice independently, which opens many doors for NPs who wish to pursue a mental health specialty.

An RN degree is a prerequisite for anyone wishing to become a mental health nurse practitioner. Moving up to the PMHNP role requires additional advanced education in development, mental and physical health assessment, implementation and integration of care, the diagnosis of mental health conditions, psychopharmacology, and psychotherapy. Such education can be obtained through programs such as Ohio University’s online MSN program, which prepares RNs to be mental health nurse practitioners or to enter other MSN nursing careers.

What Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Do

In 2014, the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) conducted a comprehensive survey of PMHMPs in the United States to determine job functions. According to the survey, a typical mental health nurse practitioner job description may include:

  • Treating both chronic and acute psychiatric disorders and mental health issues
  • Prescribing and monitoring medications for psychiatric symptoms, as well as maintaining a comprehensive current medication list that includes complementary and alternative medications
  • Evaluating medication regimens with consideration for individual needs, potential barriers to adherence, potential side effects, and possible medication interactions
  • Ordering and interpreting laboratory test results
  • Performing initial patient evaluations/interviews that include consideration of mental status, level of functioning, treatment history, substance issues, trauma, sexual behaviors, and family/social history
  • Monitoring and documenting patient response to treatment and arranging follow-ups as needed
  • Performing ongoing mental health status exams and risk assessments
  • Formulating diagnoses based on all relevant information

Additional duties performed by some but not all PMHNPs include:

  • Conducting individual, family, couples, and/or group psychotherapy sessions
  • Participating in professional organizations and collaborating with health advocacy groups
  • Implementing quality improvement initiatives
  • Providing technology-assisted (virtual) direct care
  • Mentoring or otherwise supervising nursing colleagues to foster professional growth
  • Providing mental health services on a volunteer basis to underserved populations or during times of crisis such as natural disasters

Personality Attributes

Although anyone can become a mental health nurse or nurse practitioner, certain personal attributes go a long way toward ensuring job success and satisfaction. In a recent article, psychiatric nurse practitioner Portia Wofford lists some of these attributes:

  • Mental health nurses and NPs should be passionate yet patient and flexible. They should have excellent communication and listening skills.
  • They should be empathetic and have a high level of emotional intelligence. At the same time, they must remain assertive. Wofford points out that all too often, mental health nurses and NPs are their patients’ only advocates.
  • They should welcome the opportunity to form personal relationships with their clients. Familiarity and care continuity are critical for those with mental illness.
  • They should be committed to career-long learning. There is always something new to bring to the table in the field of mental health care.

Qualifications, Salary, and Job Outlook

Along with an undergraduate nursing degree and graduate-level education, nurse practitioners must also be licensed in their state and pass a national certification exam.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the median annual salary for all nurse practitioners as of May 2018 was $107,030. The median salary for those working in mental health–specific fields was higher, at $117,440.

Pay varied, in part, depending on the type of work environment: hospital, outpatient care center, offices of physicians and other health practitioners, or educational service. The demand for nurse practitioners is high, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicting the field will grow 28% between 2018 and 2028 — much faster than the average for all professions.

Ohio University’s Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) Program

The online MSN program at Ohio University is designed for practicing RNs who want to advance their expertise in the nursing field. Students will graduate with the skills they need to enter a variety of MSN nursing careers.

For more information about the online MSN program, MSN degree benefits, and additional concentrations for MSN nursing careers, visit Ohio University’s website.

Recommended Reading:

Role of the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Provider

Difference Between Family Nurse Practitioners and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners: Using Trauma-Informed Care to Help Patients


Definition of mental health nurse practitioner – American Association of Nurse Practitioners

Distinctions between mental health nurse practitioners and other mental health professionals – American Psychiatric Nurses Association

Duties of mental health nurse practitioners – Nursing World

Personality attributes –

Qualifications – American Psychiatric Nurses Association

Salary and job outlook – U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics