Home Education News Transitioning from an RN to a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP)

Transitioning from an RN to a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP)

by Lisa A. Yeager

The notion that mental health is as important as physical health is an increasingly common understanding. As mentally ill patients continue to experience stigma, more and more are finding themselves seeking mental and psychiatric health care provided by a PMHNP (Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner).

While specific information for psychiatric nurse practitioners is not available, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in the past years reported the demand for nurse practitioners is bound to increase by 52% by 2029.


By pursuing psychiatric nurse practitioner programs, you will be responsible for helping patients living with psychiatric disorders. You will also offer resources that improve their overall quality of life as you educatepatients’ families on the right recovery path. If you’re interested in mental health, you can pursue the PMHNP certification online, thanks to the efficiency of online education. Let’s look at this in more detail.


Having become an RN, you must then complete a psychiatric nursing-focused postgraduate degree. While an MSN in psychiatric nursing practice is the most common route to this, you can choose from several other options.

There’s also the option of a joint bachelor’s and doctorate (BSN to DNP) degree that can work if you’re in a hurry to achieve the certification. A combination of core nursing courses, clinical hours, and PMHNP concentration courses can see you complete this within 48 months.

You may also consider the option of a post master’sPMHNP certificate to focus on psychiatric practice if you’ve already earned a postgraduate nursing degree.

Gaining clinical experience 

According to the ANCC certification rules, PMHNP programs should provide a minimum of 500 clinical hours in psychiatric mental health nursing, external – supervised by the faculty. Part of attaining a PMHNP certification involves getting clinical experience while working in the field, including clinical training in at least two modalities of psychotherapeutic treatment.

You can choose what you want to focus on from several specialties such as Freudian psychoanalysis, humanistic therapy, or cognitive therapy, among others. Some may decide not to tie themselves on a single approach but instead practice holistic or integrative therapy. That involves blending the elements of different methods to tailor treatment.

Becoming a board-certified PNP (Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner)

Having completed postgraduate studies in psychiatric nursing and the necessary clinical work, you will earn a nurse practitioner’s certification through the ANCC. The board certification exam for a psychiatric NP covers the range of psychiatric nursing and tests for practice knowledge, including psychotherapy diagnosis and treatment, while following legal principles. The questions here are multiple-choice questions, just as with the NCLEX.

Note that you can only be allowed to sit for the NP examination after completing all your coursework, as well as the required number of faculty-supervised hours of clinical practice.

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