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What is a Psychiatric Nurse

A psychiatric nurse is a Registered Nurse (RN) who specializes in mental health nursing. A mental health nurse may work in various settings including hospitals, outpatient clinics or in physician's offices. They care for people across their lifespan, from pediatric to geriatric patients. Psychiatric nurses are skilled in caring for patients with various mental health disorders. Mental health nursing can be very difficult and challenging as care is provided to psychiatric patients who can be unpredictable.

Psychiatric Nurse Job Description

A mental health nurse has many of the same duties as other nursing specialties, but has greater skill and knowledge regarding caring for patients with psychiatric disorders. Psychiatric nurse duties may include performing a nursing assessment, such as taking vital signs and examining the patient. They may also be responsible for administering medications, delegating tasks to certified nursing assistants and educating patients and their families. Though often considered to be tasks for certified nursing assistants, depending on the setting, mental health nurses may also help patients with activities of daily living such as toileting, bathing or eating. Mental health nurse jobs often involve shift work, requiring the nurse to work weekends, nights or holidays.

Psychiatric Nurse Training

A career as a mental health nurse starts by becoming a RN. In order to become a RN, an associate's or bachelor's degree in nursing must be earned. Degree programs are found at the community college and university levels across the country. Traditional nursing programs are classroom-based, but recently online programs have become available. Online programs still require an in-person component due to required clinical rotations, but these can be arranged close to home. An associate's degree requires two years of post-high school study versus a bachelor's degree that requires four years of post-high school study. Graduates of either degree program are eligible to take the National Council of State Boards of Nursing exam, NCLEX-RN. Upon successful completion of the exam, students are eligible for licensure in their respective state. While some psychiatric nursing training may take place during school, the majority of training as a mental health nurse is done on the job.

Mental health nurses can apply for certification as a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse. The certification is offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Requirements to be eligible for certification include holding an active license as a RN and two years of work experience. Also required are a minimum of 3,000 clinical hours and 30 continuing education credits in mental health nursing in the previous 3 years. Upon meeting these requirements, candidates are eligible to sit for the exam. Successful completion of the exam awards the RN the credentials, RN-BC which designates Registered Nurse-Board Certified. While certification is usually not required for working as a mental health nurse, it can lead to a greater sense of worth and achievement for the nurse. Some employers may pay a higher rate of pay to a certified nurse, or may give preference to a certified nurse when a promotion is being considered.

Psychiatric Nurse Salary

Mental health nurses have a similar rate of pay to other nursing specialties. According to Payscale.com, in 2012 the salary for a psychiatric nurse ranged from $42,217 to $80,689, with a median salary of $56,546. Pay varies based on years of experience, region of employment and place of employment. Mental health nurses who have a certification may earn a higher rate of pay.

Opportunities For Nursing Career Advancement

Mental health nurses can choose to earn a graduate degree in nursing and become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP). A master's degree is the entry level degree in order to become a nurse practitioner. There are over 100 PNP programs across the country, with some programs available online. While classes may be available online, there is still a clinical component that must be completed in person. Clinicals can be arranged close to home for convenience. Nurse practitioners wishing to be certified in psychiatric nursing can test for certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Upon successful completion of the exam, the credentials PMHNP-BC are earned to designate Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified. According to Payscale.com, in 2012 the salary for a psychiatric nurse ranged from $69,238 to $119,889, with a median salary of $90,242. Pay varies based on years of experience, region of employment and place of employment.

Psychiatric nurses have both a challenging and rewarding career. Like other nurses, they often have flexibility in their job choices and work schedules that can lead to higher job satisfaction. They also have plenty of opportunity for advancement should they choose to go back to school. Despite the challenges of psychiatric nursing, these nurses are an important part of the healthcare team and can make lasting, positive impressions on patients with psychiatric disorders.

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