Psychiatric Nursing

Psychiatric nurses are RNs that work with mental patients in a variety of settings such as: psychiatric hospitals, mental health centers, community mental health programs, health maintenance organizations, and clinics. Some are nurse practitioners (NP) who specialize in psychiatric care. Psychiatric nurses can teach other health care workers and the public about mental health, working with groups or individuals. There are two levels of psychiatric nurses and the responsibilities vary by level. Both levels of psychiatric nurses serve as patient an advocate, which means they support the interests of patients and ensure that their needs are met.
Basic level psychiatric nurses are registered nurses who carry out doctors' orders. Their duties include

  • Developing nursing care plans for patients
  • Providing direct patient care
  • Administering medications
  • Work with family members helping and teaching them how to deal with a family member's mental illness
  • Assess the mental health needs of a community and assist with crisis intervention and counseling

Advanced level psychiatric nurses have a master's degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing. In addition to basic psychiatric nurse duties, advanced duties may include:

  • Assess, diagnose, and treat individuals with psychiatric problems
  • Work independently
  • Prescribe medications
  • Do psychotherapy (a method in which the therapist meets regularly with patients to talk about their problems and help them find solutions)
  • Act as case managers overseeing the care of patients

Psychiatric nurses with doctoral degrees may choose to teach, conduct research, or serve as administrators in hospitals, schools, and various agencies.

A Psychiatric Nurse must have a current, active RN license and two years of RN clinical experience. They must also have a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in psychiatric mental health nursing within the last three years and have completed 30 hours of continuing education in psychiatric mental health nursing within the last three years

The salary for an entry level psychiatric nurse averages $33-59,000 while an experience psychiatric nurse can make up to $78,000.

American Nurses Credentialing Center, 2009
Pay Scale, 2009
American Psychiatric Nurse Association, 2009