What Is a Psychiatric Nurse?

The psychiatric or behavioral health nurse specializes in caring for patients receiving treatment for a variety of mental illnesses, addiction, eating disorders or substance abuse. Patients with psychiatric disorders require a great deal of emotional support, education, and therapy from skilled mental health professionals. Working with patients and the interdisciplinary team, including case managers and social workers, to assess and provide a safe discharge environment is a large part of the day-to-day of a psychiatric nurse. This specialty is suited to the nurse who is patient and kind, but not afraid to lay down some boundaries when necessary.

Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse

Those who know they want to become a psychiatric nurse should plan on taking a few mental health courses while in school. Upon becoming an RN, most nurses gain experience in general nursing before they move into the psychiatric specialty, although it's not unheard of for a new grad nurse to go right into psychiatric nursing. One way to break into psychiatric nursing is to determine a focus; geriatric care, eating disorders, and child/teen mental health are just a few of the specialized areas a psychiatric nurse may consider finding work.

What Are the Education Requirements for Psychiatric Nurses?

Education requirements include holding an active RN license, which may be achieved via an Associate's Degree in Nursing or a Bachelor's degree. The trend in the healthcare industry is shifting toward primarily hiring BSN-educated registered nurses, but this is not currently an enforced requirement. Earning more education, however, will make an RN more money and create better opportunities.

Are Any Certifications or Credentials Needed?

The Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification, or RN-BC, may be required by some facilities after a set amount of time after hire.

Eligibility for the RN-BC includes:

  • Have practiced the equivalent of 2 years full-time as a registered nurse
  • Have a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in psychiatric-mental health nursing within the last 3 years
  • Have completed 30 hours of continuing education in psychiatric-mental health nursing within the last 3 years

Where Do Psychiatric Nurses Work?

Psychiatric nurses work in a variety of healthcare settings where mental health is practiced. This typically includes hospitals, private practices, and mental health facilities. Psychiatric nurses are also commonly employed in community clinics, schools, correctional facilities, and long-term care facilities.

What Does a Psychiatric Nurse Do?

Psychiatric nurses treat patients with varying mental health or behavioral problems. They often assist in assessing and diagnosing patients, monitoring symptoms and behaviors, and providing short or long-term care. This type of nurse also typically has a hand in developing care plans for psychiatric patients, as well as educating and working with the patient's family to ensure follow-through with home care.

What Are the Roles and Duties of a Psychiatric Nurse?

  • Assess mental health symptoms and help to diagnose and treat patients
  • Monitor patients in a psychiatric facility
  • Educate family members about a patient's condition and care plan
  • Work alongside psychiatric doctors and other mental health specialists as part of a comprehensive psychiatric care team
  • Connect patients with programs and services
  • Help patients set and hit short and long-term mental health goals
  • Assist patients with medications

Psychiatric Nurse Salary & Employment

The average salary of a psychiatric nurse is $57,703 in the US with a range of $45,790 - $80,143. Things like level of education, place of employment, location, and experience will affect salary.

The aging population means that the employment outlook for a psychiatric nurse is good, since the elderly typically experience a higher rate of cognitive illness. Communities are also generally in high need of mental health nurses in clinics and hospitals in underserved areas.

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