The Role of a PMHNP and Why It’s Important

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A nurse meets with a patient.Mental health providers are recognizing the vital role that PMHNPs (psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners) can play in closing the gap in the availability of mental health services. According to a report from the American Psychiatric Association, only 44% of adults and 20% of children and adolescents in the U.S. receive mental health care and substance use help they need.

The high demand for the services of PMHNPs reflects their growing role in the mental health profession. Professionals who are interested in entering this field would do well to consider programs such as an online Master of Science in Nursing.

Breaking Down the Role of the PMHNP

Psychiatric nurse practitioners often serve as educators of patients, families, medical peers, and communities, advancing the idea that mental health is a fundamental component of health care. The role of a PMHNP is essential to changing how mental health care is viewed and lessening stigmas associated with mental health treatment.

In addition to serving as educators, PMHNPs also must be skilled relationship builders and collaborators. Psychiatric nurses form strong therapeutic bonds with their patients and patients’ families. They also work closely with other medical professionals to track the progress of patients.

Other duties of PMHNPs include:

  • Conducting patient intake screening
  • Diagnosing and treating mental illness
  • Overseeing case management
  • Teaching self-care activities
  • Overseeing and monitoring psychotropic medication
  • Providing psychotherapy and integrative therapy interventions
  • Delivering crisis intervention and psychiatric rehabilitation
  • Making referrals
  • Coordinating care

PMHNPs provide treatment in a range of settings. These may include hospitals, ERs, nursing homes, addiction recovery facilities, community mental health centers, government agencies, inpatient and outpatient clinics, and private practice. Patient populations include children, teens, adults, and the elderly. Some PMHNPs specialize in certain types of patients, such as children, families, or those with substance abuse problems.

While all 50 states allow PMHNPs some level of prescribing authority, more than 20 states specify that responsibility a bit further. They allow psychiatric mental health advanced practice registered nurses (PMN-APRNs) including PMHNPs to diagnose, treat, order diagnostic tests, and prescribe medications to patients without physician oversight under the authority of a state board of nursing, according to the American Psychiatric Nurses Association.

Mental health care professionals must carefully consider all potentially effective treatment strategies for a patient. To fully assess a patient’s well-being, PMHNPs also evaluate a patient’s physical symptoms and health to determine underlying medical conditions and possible side effects of medications. As part of a comprehensive care strategy, PMHNPs often communicate and collaborate with other key people in the patient’s life, including family members and health care professionals such as therapists and primary care physicians. PMHNPs may also refer patients to other health professionals for treatment.

What Are the Skills of a PMHNP?

A key component of a growing mental health workforce, PMHNPs must have a broad skill set that covers in-depth and detailed medical knowledge as well as polished communication skills. To be successful, a PMHNP needs:

  • Compassion, sensitivity, and strong communication skills
  • Critical thinking skills
  • Excellent organizational and time management skills
  • A high degree of sensitivity and confidentiality to appropriately manage delicate and urgent patient situations
  • Ability to collaborate and form effective relationships with colleagues, physicians, staff, and patients
  • Ability to solve problems and manage changing priorities
  • Experience with electronic medical records
  • Experience with tracking, measuring, and using patient-reported outcomes in developing treatment plans
  • Knowledge of medical science, the neurobiology of psychiatric disorders, treatment methods, and management of psychiatric conditions

Advanced education can help nurses gain the skills to assume greater responsibilities and grow their careers. Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing helps students cultivate the particular skills for success as a PMHNP. Students enrolled in the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program experience rigorous training and two on-campus intensives that further build the advanced practice nursing knowledge to become leaders in the field.

Trends in PMHNP Nursing

Growing recognition of mental health as a public health issue has led to more people seeking care, but access to mental health services remains a challenge for many people in the U.S. Some people may not be able to find qualified mental health professionals in their area, and those who find them may have to wait several months for an appointment. Seen as an emerging resource to help mitigate the shortage of mental care professionals in the U.S., PMHNPs represent one of the fastest-growing non-physician specialties in health care.

The mental health field will fall short by 250,000 professionals to meet projected service demand in 2025, according to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). More than three-quarters of U.S. counties have a shortage of mental health workers, and more than 95% of counties have a shortage of mental health prescribers, with the crisis worsening in rural areas.

Explore a Career as a PMHNP    

Nursing professionals who are ready to accelerate their careers can benefit from Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program. With a robust core curriculum that integrates advanced nursing theory with evidence-based nursing practice, the program enables practicing RNs to advance their expertise and apply new skills to much-needed roles in mental health care. To maximize convenience, nurses in the program may complete clinical requirements at an approved facility near where they live or work.

Learn more about acquiring the skills and knowledge to assume the role of a PMHNP. Explore Ohio University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program.

Recommended Reading:

The Importance of Nursing Theory in Nursing Education
What is an MSN Degree? Definition of a Master of Science in Nursing
Five High-Paying MSN Careers for Nursing Graduates?


American Psychiatric Nurses Association, “Report: Shortage of Trained Professionals a Growing Threat to U.S. Mental Health System”
American Psychiatric Nurses Association, “Report: Expanding Mental Health Care Services in America: The Pivotal Role of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses”
KGW8, “Mental Health Nurses Could Play Big Role in Shrinking Psychiatrist Shortage”
Houston Chronicle, “Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Job Description”
Houston Chronicle, “What Skills Are Pertinent to Psychiatric Nursing?”
NCBI, Nursing Shortage
Ohio University, Online Master of Science in Nursing
Sacramento Bee, “California Needs More Mental Health Professionals – and the Shortage Will Get Worse, Experts Say”Taylor & Francis Online, “Increased Mental Illness and the Challenges This Brings for District Nurses in Primary Care Settings”
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, State-Level Projections of Supply and Demand for Behavioral Health Occupations: 2016 – 2030