What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

11 Min Read Published August 14, 2023
What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) is a type of nurse practitioner who helps patients suffering from mental illnesses, disorders, or substance abuse problems by assessing, diagnosing, and providing treatment plans to them.

PMHNPs are in extremely high demand as the need for qualified mental health professionals is on the rise. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), 22.8% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2021 (57.8 million people). Additionally, 7.6% of U.S. adults experienced a co-occurring substance use disorder and mental illness in 2021. 

This article will highlight some of the job responsibilities of a psychiatric nurse practitioner, including day-to-day duties, where you can work, and the pros and cons of the job. Keep reading to determine whether this career is right for you.

Popular Online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Programs

Sponsored
Walden University
Walden’s online programs for nursing meet rigorous standards for academic quality and integrity, and the School of Nursing teaching faculty all hold doctorates. With three degree completion options, you can choose a bachelor’s in nursing path that makes sense for your busy, unpredictable schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY, RI and CT. Certain programs have additional state restrictions. Check with Walden for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Seton Hall University
Seton Hall University’s College of Nursing, founded in 1937, provides a wide variety of undergraduate and nationally ranked graduate programs that prepare students for leadership in the nursing industry. We are pioneers in evidence-based practice, servant leadership and cutting-edge technology, and encourage our students to integrate their values into their daily nursing practice. College of Nursing students spend most of their time at Seton Hall’s Interprofessional Sciences Campus in Nutley, New Jersey. This integrated and interprofessional environment allows for a unique and innovative team-based approach to medical education. This gives a large advantage to our student’s ability to work collaboratively, improve patient care and be better prepared for entering the healthcare profession. Seton Hall’s College of Nursing is recognized by U.S. News and World Report as having one of the top programs in the nation for Online Graduate Nursing Programs, ranking 17th in the nation, making it the top online graduate nursing program in New Jersey in 2020. All nursing programs at Seton Hall are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding AL, CA, KS, LA, OR, TN, WA, WY

Wilkes University

The R.N. to M.S.N program is for registered nurses with associate degrees who want to become nurse practitioners. It focuses on advanced clinical skills, professionalism and evidence-based practice. Our integrated exam preparation courses provide dedicated study resources, leading to impressive passing rates consistently above the national average and graduate success.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Do?

The specific duties of a psychiatric nurse practitioner will vary depending on location and patient population. Additionally, PMHNPs can be limited in their practice depending on the state of practice.

Here is an overview of what PMHNPs do:

Patient Care 

PMHNPs are responsible for overseeing the care of patients with a variety of mental illnesses and disorders, including, 

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Eating disorders
  • Trauma-related disorders
  • Smoking cessation
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Dementia
  • Panic Disorders
  • Disruptive behavior

Caring for patients with these illnesses and disorders requires individualized treatment plans and will vary depending on the patient. Generally, these patients benefit from both medication and non-medication treatment plans.

Specifically, PMHNPs will be responsible for the following, 

  • Diagnosing and treating common acute psychiatric problems, illnesses, and crises
  • Psychopharmacologic management in collaboration with a psychiatrist
  • Providing individual, group, and family psychotherapy
  • Caring for and counseling clients with commonly identified chronic psychiatric conditions
  • Coordinating and integrating multidisciplinary services for clients with complex psychiatric problems
  • Monitoring common healthcare problems and referring to specialized medical treatment as needed
  • Performing or recommending age-appropriate screening procedures
  • Emergency psychiatric care

Education

From educating about medications to running group therapy sessions, a PMHNP is responsible for caring for the entire patient. Oftentimes, patients with mental health disorders and illnesses will receive complementary therapies with their pharmacological regimens. 

PMHNPs will educate patients as well as their support systems with information regarding illness, treatment plans, and medications. 

>> Show Me Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

Where Do Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Work?

Psychiatric nurse practitioners are becoming increasingly popular as mental health illnesses are on the rise. This makes becoming a PMHNP a very desirable career option, with the ability to work in a variety of locations. Those locations include, 

  • Academia
  • In-patient Psychiatric Facilities
  • Primary Healthcare Clinics
  • Private Psychiatric Practices
  • Psychopharmacology Clinic
  • Psychiatric Consult Services
  • Public health agencies
  • Residential Substance Abuse Facilities
  • State Psychiatric Facilities
  • Student Health Clinics
  • Urban Nurse-Managed Clinic
  • Veterans Administration Psychiatric Facilities

A Day in the Life of a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Shifts as a PMHNP will follow a similar pattern, as it is important for patients with mental illness and disorder to have structure. So, the schedule of a PMHNP will follow a similar suit. However, this does depend on the location. PMHNPs who work in a hospital or psychiatric facility will have very similar days.

>> Related: Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner vs Psychiatrist Differences

1. Receiving a Sign-Out From the Overnight Team

You can expect to start your day by receiving a sign-out from the overnight team on the patients and any changes that may have occurred over the previous shift. 

2. Make the Rounds

The PMHNP will join the rest of the medical team for rounds on the patients. The team will vary but may consist of a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker, and case manager. 

3. Visit Patients 

After morning rounds, most PMHNPs will physically go and see their patients as well as update them on plans for the day. 

Depending on the type and severity of mental health illness, the patients might be seen in a common room or in their own room. They will also discuss progress in their treatment plans and any news of discharge of facility placements. 

4. Place Orders

Once morning rounds are all complete, orders are placed to reflect the change in the plan of care for the day. 

5. Tend to Patients

PMHNPs will continue to tend to their patients throughout their shifts, making any necessary changes to their medication regimen. In fact, PMHNPs, while specializing in mental health disorders, are also generally responsible for the overall health and well-being of their patients. 

Popular Online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Programs

Sponsored
Walden University
Walden’s online programs for nursing meet rigorous standards for academic quality and integrity, and the School of Nursing teaching faculty all hold doctorates. With three degree completion options, you can choose a bachelor’s in nursing path that makes sense for your busy, unpredictable schedule.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY, RI and CT. Certain programs have additional state restrictions. Check with Walden for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Seton Hall University
Seton Hall University’s College of Nursing, founded in 1937, provides a wide variety of undergraduate and nationally ranked graduate programs that prepare students for leadership in the nursing industry. We are pioneers in evidence-based practice, servant leadership and cutting-edge technology, and encourage our students to integrate their values into their daily nursing practice. College of Nursing students spend most of their time at Seton Hall’s Interprofessional Sciences Campus in Nutley, New Jersey. This integrated and interprofessional environment allows for a unique and innovative team-based approach to medical education. This gives a large advantage to our student’s ability to work collaboratively, improve patient care and be better prepared for entering the healthcare profession. Seton Hall’s College of Nursing is recognized by U.S. News and World Report as having one of the top programs in the nation for Online Graduate Nursing Programs, ranking 17th in the nation, making it the top online graduate nursing program in New Jersey in 2020. All nursing programs at Seton Hall are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding AL, CA, KS, LA, OR, TN, WA, WY

Wilkes University

The R.N. to M.S.N program is for registered nurses with associate degrees who want to become nurse practitioners. It focuses on advanced clinical skills, professionalism and evidence-based practice. Our integrated exam preparation courses provide dedicated study resources, leading to impressive passing rates consistently above the national average and graduate success.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Pros and Cons of Being a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

Being a PMHNP can be a rewarding career, especially in helping those who are struggling in their everyday lives. However, it can also be frustrating as mental health and illness are ongoing and often uphill battles for many patients. In fact, many patients’ mental illnesses are often compounded by substance abuse, making the job of a PMHNP even more difficult.

>> Related: Shortest Online PMHNP Certificate Programs

Pros

  • Work in a high-demand career
  • Job security
  • Help others
  • Competitive salary
  • Autonomy
  • Flexibility 
  • Individualized care of patients
  • Telehealth opportunities
  • Advocate for patients
  • Reduce the stigma associated with mental health disorders
  • Work in nontraditional settings

Cons

  • Emotional stress
  • Can be dangerous depending on the work environment
  • High-stress environments
  • Ethical dilemmas
  • Legal responsibilities 
  • High chance of burnout

Next Steps to Becoming a PMHNP

Becoming a PMHNP is a fulfilling career, especially for those who are willing to put in the time and effort to make a lasting difference in their patients’ lives. 

There are many reasons to become a PMHNP, but it’s important to remember that mental health is not always as easy to diagnose and fix as other diseases. To take the next step in your career, check out our comprehensive PMHNP resources:

Popular Online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Programs

Sponsored
Walden University

Earn your nursing degree from one of the largest nursing education providers in the U.S. Walden University’s BSN, MSN, post-master’s APRN certificate, and DNP programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Get enhanced practicum support with our Practicum Pledge.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding NY, RI and CT. Certain programs have additional state restrictions. Check with Walden for details.

Western Governors University

WGU's award-winning online programs are created to help you succeed while graduating faster and with less debt. WGU is a CCNE accredited, nonprofit university offering nursing bachelor's and master's degrees.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Liberty University
At Liberty, you’ll benefit from 30+ years of learning, growing, adapting, and innovating for the distance learner — and more than a decade of researching the needs of the online student. You can be confident that we’ve taken the time to learn what’s important to you.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Seton Hall University
Seton Hall University’s College of Nursing, founded in 1937, provides a wide variety of undergraduate and nationally ranked graduate programs that prepare students for leadership in the nursing industry. We are pioneers in evidence-based practice, servant leadership and cutting-edge technology, and encourage our students to integrate their values into their daily nursing practice. College of Nursing students spend most of their time at Seton Hall’s Interprofessional Sciences Campus in Nutley, New Jersey. This integrated and interprofessional environment allows for a unique and innovative team-based approach to medical education. This gives a large advantage to our student’s ability to work collaboratively, improve patient care and be better prepared for entering the healthcare profession. Seton Hall’s College of Nursing is recognized by U.S. News and World Report as having one of the top programs in the nation for Online Graduate Nursing Programs, ranking 17th in the nation, making it the top online graduate nursing program in New Jersey in 2020. All nursing programs at Seton Hall are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide, excluding AL, CA, KS, LA, OR, TN, WA, WY

Wilkes University

The R.N. to M.S.N program is for registered nurses with associate degrees who want to become nurse practitioners. It focuses on advanced clinical skills, professionalism and evidence-based practice. Our integrated exam preparation courses provide dedicated study resources, leading to impressive passing rates consistently above the national average and graduate success.

Accreditation
CCNE
Location
Online
Prerequisite
RN Required

Enrollment: Nationwide

Kathleen Gaines
MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Kathleen Gaines
News and Education Editor

Kathleen Gaines (nee Colduvell) is a nationally published writer turned Pediatric ICU nurse from Philadelphia with over 13 years of ICU experience. She has an extensive ICU background having formerly worked in the CICU and NICU at several major hospitals in the Philadelphia region. After earning her MSN in Education from Loyola University of New Orleans, she currently also teaches for several prominent Universities making sure the next generation is ready for the bedside. As a certified breastfeeding counselor and trauma certified nurse, she is always ready for the next nursing challenge.

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