Psychiatric Nurse Salary and Career Opportunities

Marissa Mararac

Psychiatric nurses, also known as mental health nurses, take care of patients of all ages with mental health diseases such as bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, and depression. These professionals are sometimes called mental health nurses.  They work in a range of settings with communities, individuals, families and groups.

Find open opportunities for Psychiatric Nurses near you.

Salary Overview

The demand for these nurses is expanding.  According to the University of Mississippi Medical Center the need for family psychiatric nursing is growing, particularly in hospitals, rehabilitation centers, clinics, correctional facilities and nursing homes.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics says the demand for registered nurses (RNs) should increase 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, a rate that is higher than average for U.S. job growth.

RNs who are psychiatric nurses earn an average of $27.89 an hour, which calculates to $58,011 annually, according to PayScale.  Those who are psychiatric nurse practitioners earn an average of $89,634.

Paths to Increase Psychiatric Nurse Salary

The path to this subspecialty begins with becoming an RN.  Prospective nurses accomplish this through two-year programs that award associate’s degrees in nursing, three-year programs that result in a diploma in nursing or four-year college programs that award a bachelor’s degree.  Graduates of any of these programs can take the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN), the American Psychiatric Nurses Association states.

Find open opportunities for RNs near you.

Most psychiatric nurses further their careers by becoming advanced practice nurses.  Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (PMH-APRNs) provide primary care services such as prescribing medication and administering psychotherapy.  Many are in private practice.

Healthcare professionals often refer to these advanced practice nurses as psychiatric nurse practitioners (NPs).  Scrubs ranks the average salary of these NPs as number 3 of the 10 highest-paying nursing specialties.  Another path to advancement is through working in a psychiatric nursing subspecialty such as adolescent mental health, forensics, substance abuse disorders or gerontological mental health.

Advanced practice nurses earn master’s and in some cases doctoral degrees in psychiatric mental health nursing.  An example is the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DP).  Some opt to earn additional degrees such as an Ed.D. or a Ph.D. to work as researchers, educators or nursing administrators.  Many employers will provide at least partial assistance for formal and continuing education if it increases skills.

When additional formal education isn’t of interest, nurses might choose to work in travel or per-diem nursing.  Employers who fill these positions frequently offer candidates housing and relocation expenses.

Related: Dementia Patients: Reaching The Unreachaable

Related Specialties

RNs already working in psychiatric nursing might find these related specialties a good career choice:

Public health nurses ( Opportunities )

Theses nurses work at mental health agencies or in mental health departments.  Services for mentally disabled individuals are expanding rapidly, creating a variety of opportunities to develop care plans tailored to patients’ psychiatric or mental health needs.

Substance abuse nurses ( Opportunities )

Substance abuse nurses help treat individuals with addictions. They educate patients about the dangers posed by abuse of alcohol, drugs, and other substances and about treatment options.  They have training in both mental health and general medicine.

Rehabilitation nurses ( Opportunities )

These nurses assist patients with chronic illnesses or physical disabilities by helping them deal with limitations and reach their potential.  Often this requires dealing with psychiatric issues related to adjustment.

Further Your Career

Psychiatric nurses enjoy the satisfaction of helping those with psychiatric or mental disorders.  Before choosing this subspecialty, many completed volunteer work in hospitals or community organizations.  In addition, most basic nursing programs include a rotation in a psychiatric nursing setting that helps students determine if this specialization is the right one for them.

Employment opportunities as a psychiatric nurse are plentiful in the United States.  Combining such a positive employment outlook with the rewards of helping patients makes this a very attractive career for nurses.

Vonda J. Sines is a freelance writer based in the Washington, DC area. She specializes in health/medical, career, and pet topics and writes extensively about Crohn's disease. Her work has been published at EverydayHealth, Lifescript, womansday.com, Yahoo! Health, Catholic Digest, Angie's List Health, and many others.

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