How To Become a Psychiatric Nurse

Young medical professionals

Psychiatry is a medical science that deals with the diagnosis and treatment of mental disorders, integrating pharmacological treatment with psychological therapy. A psychiatric nurse is therefore, a registered nurse (RN) who works exclusively in managing the care of psychiatric patients.

For those of you interested in becoming a psychiatric nurse, here are some helpful guidelines…

Job description
The job of a psychiatric nurse mainly involves working with individuals, families or larger community groups to facilitate medical care for people suffering from mental disorders such as depression, psychosis, schizophrenia, etc. They can be employed in general hospitals&clinics, specialized psychiatric treatment centers, in government health departments or assisted-living or mental health institutions.

The road to a career in psychiatric nursing takes the following direction:

  • A 2-year associate degree in nursing or an accredited diploma course administered through a hospital placement, lasting for a period of 2-3 years depending on the state and institution. The most preferable option however, is to complete a 4-year bachelor’s degree in nursing.
  • Upon completion of the degree/diploma, pass the National Council Licensure Examination to become a licensed RN.
  • Complete additional certification in Psychiatric&Mental Health Nursing conducted by the American Nursing Credentialing Center (ANCC).
  • Qualifications earned can be for a career in general psychiatry or you can choose to practice in any of the following specialty areas: (a) adult mental disorders; (b) child&adolescent; (c) substance abuse; (d) eating disorders; (e) forensic psychiatry; and (f) disorders associated with old age, such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, etc.

Other than working as a psychiatric nurse, you can also opt for becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner (PNP), for which you will need a Master’s degree in Nursing (MSN). A PNP can diagnose and prescribe treatment for various mental health disorders, which a psychiatric nurse is not qualified to do.

Skills & competencies
As a psychiatric nurse or PNP, you will be dealing with people who are mentally fragile, hostile and sometimes, even dangerous. Like other nursing roles, this job also requires lots of patience, empathy for patients under your care, good people management and communication skills and above all, high physical stamina and endurance levels. In order to determine whether you have the aptitude for this kind of a job, it is recommended that you do volunteer work in mental health institutions or government-sponsored community programs, while studying for your nursing degree(s). Additionally, hospital-based nursing programs have departmental rotation schedules for trainee nurses and this will include a short stint in the psychiatric ward as well. Use such opportunities to experience first-hand the skills and competencies you would need should you decide to pursue a career in psychiatric nursing.

The information discussed in this article will help you become a psychiatric nurse and have a rewarding career caring for people with mental health problems; additional field training and continuing education classes in nursing can help you advance your career.


Share this article!

Follow us!

Find more helpful articles: