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) has reported that the demand for nurse practitioners will 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 educate patients’ 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.


After becoming an RN, you must 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.

A joint bachelor’s and doctorate (BSN to DNP) degree can also 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.

If you’ve already earned a postgraduate nursing degree, you may also consider the option of a postmaster’s PMHNP certificate to focus on psychiatric practice.

Gaining clinical experience 

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

You can choose what you want to focus on from several specialties, such as Freudian psychoanalysis, humanistic therapy, or cognitive therapy. Some may decide not to adhere to a single approach but instead practice holistic or integrative therapy, which 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 sit for the NP examination after completing all your coursework and the required number of faculty-supervised hours of clinical practice.

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