What is a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners, or PMHNPs, are advanced level health care providers who offer pharmaceutical and psychotherapeutic treatments to people who suffer from mental health issues. PMHNPs may work in a variety of different settings, including private practice, hospitals, rehabilitation centers, home health care agencies, domestic violence centers, community mental health centers and outpatient treatment centers.
Some PMHNPs work with a wide variety of people who have a vast array of mental health issues, while others choose to specialize in one specific population or diagnosis. This means that some PMHNPs may be responsible for providing care to all patients in a hospital’s psychiatric ward, while others may only be responsible for providing care to patients with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or patients struggling with addiction issues. While seeing a nurse practitioner is not a substitute for care from a medical doctor, a NP can provide much of the treatment provided by a doctor, and is often able to spend more time with patients. Many psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners take on the role of a mental health therapist when working with their patients. PMHNPs often develop long lasting professional relationships with their patients, seeing them through the course of their mental health issue, and changing their treatment plan as their symptoms and life circumstances change over time. Many patients prefer to see nurse practitioners over traditional medical doctors, as they report that they get more personalized care and feel less rushed than they do when seeing their normal doctor.
In some healthcare settings, PMHNPs are solely responsible for developing and implementing patient care plans. In other settings, PMHNPs work with a team of other health care providers to develop care plans. Whether the PMHNP is the lead on a patient care plan or not, they are a vital piece of their patients’ treatment teams. As such, it’s important for PMHNPs to be organized and be able to keep track of all the moving pieces of a patient care plan.
What Does a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Do?
Many PMHNPs spend much of their time providing direct patient care. In the mental health field, this often means talking with patients and providing support for ongoing mental health problems, rather than caring for acute health problems, such as injuries and illness. While patients may present with acute problems related to their mental illness (an addict may need to go through detox with the help of a PMHNP, for example), this type of treatment is not the main part of a PMHNP’s job.
A PMHNP may also be in charge of supervising other health care providers. While the daily schedule can differ greatly depending on the needs of patients, most PMHNPs start their day by looking over their schedule of appointments and checking in with any staff they supervise. They then review patient notes for any recent developments since the last time they met with the patient. In inpatient settings, such as rehabilitation centers, PMHNPs may see the same patients every day. In other settings, such as hospitals or outpatient facilities, PMHNPs may go weeks or even months between visits with patients. This means that practitioners may need to communicate with patients via email or phone calls. Returning calls and listening to messages can take up a substantial part of any nurse practitioner’s day.
Much like a psychiatrist or psychotherapist, a PMHNP spends much of their direct patient care time listening to patients describe their symptoms. Patients and practitioners work together to evaluate strategies that are working well to manage the patient’s mental health struggles, while revisiting and changing strategies that aren’t working as well. PMHNPs also talk with patients about their medications, and make decisions on when to change medications, or increase/ decrease dosage.
PMHNPs are in a constant feedback loop with patients. Many psychiatric patients have more than one mental health diagnosis and take more than one medication. This means that PMHNPs must be familiar with drug interactions, and work with patients to make sure that the benefits of their medications outweigh any side effects that they may experience. In many settings, PMHNPs also work closely with patient families. Psychiatric patients often need support after they leave inpatient care, and practitioners talk with families about how they can best support their loved one through living with a psychiatric illness.
It’s important for PMHNPs to have excellent communication skills, as communicating with other health care providers is a part of their daily routine. When patients leave psychiatric care, they are often placed under the care of a general physician. It’s key for the patient’s PMHNP to communicate their symptoms and medications with the patient’s regular doctor as well.
Career & Median Salary
Remember, actual salaries depend on a variety of factors, including location, years of experience, education, and financial health of the employing organization. That being said, the median salary for a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner is $102,000. Nurse practitioners often have the opportunity to take on overtime and holiday shifts, which can significantly increase pay.
It’s important for nurse practitioners to be sure they leave plenty of time for self care. Many health care organizations have rules about how many hours nurses and nurse practitioners can work per week, to protect their physical and mental health. Nurse practitioners who work in private practice may set their own rates, making it possible for them to make a significantly higher salary.
Becoming a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
The course of education required to become a PMHNP is rigorous. Not only must nurses pass the standard requirements for becoming a registered nurse, but they must also complete a postgraduate program in order to learn more about the psychiatric health care field. First, candidates must possess a degree in nursing and be a certified registered nurse in the state or territory in which they wish to become a nurse practitioner. Next, candidates must apply to certified PMHNP programs. Once accepted, in addition to completing coursework, candidates will also need to fulfill at least 500 supervised practice hours working with people who need psychiatric care. This can be especially daunting if you are not able to fulfill these requirements within the constraints of your regular nursing job.
After completing all required coursework and practice hours, candidates will sit for the PMHNP certification exam as dictated by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. The exam is comprehensive and tests knowledge of patient treatment techniques, psychological and psychiatric concepts, pharmacology, and assessment/diagnostic techniques. After the test is taken and passed, you’ll need to apply for your PMHNP license. Licenses need to be renewed every five years.
If you’re already a registered nurse and are interested in becoming a PMHNP, it’s a good idea to talk with your supervisor. Many healthcare workplaces will pay for some or all of your education, provided you agree to work for them for a certain number of years after you earn your graduate degree. You may also be able to work some or all of your 500 practice hours into your normal work schedule.
It’s also important for PMHNPs to keep up with continuing education. The field of mental health is constantly evolving and changing, and new research is being done every day on the most helpful types of therapies and medications for different mental health disorders. This means that PMHNPs need to read research, take classes, and attend conferences with other professionals in the field to make sure they are using the latest techniques to treat their patients.
Is Becoming a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner a Good Fit for Me?
Becoming a PMHNP may be a good fit for you if you’re a caring, patient, driven person who has a passion for helping people with mental health issues. It’s important for nurses to put the health and well being of their patients above all else. Nursing typically involves long hours and can be tiring, so it’s important for nurses to have a passion for their work that will keep them going through long days and nights.
Leadership skills are key for nurse practitioners, as other medical professionals often look to PMHNPs for guidance on next steps to take with patients. In some settings, PMHNPs are in formal leadership roles, required to supervise and provide feedback to others. In other settings, leadership is informal. In all settings, PMHNPs are regarded as nursing experts, and are expected to be able to guide others in making the right decisions on patient care.
All nursing positions can be stressful, but working in psychiatric mental health can take even more of a toll on a medical professional’s well-being. As previously mentioned, it’s key for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners to take plenty of time for self care. Practicing stress management techniques is an important part of staying mentally healthy and able to provide top notch care to patients.