How to Choose an Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program

January 29, 2024

To help address the mental health crisis among their patients and in their communities, many registered nurses—and nursing students—are considering becoming psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs). These advanced practice nurses screen, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions through psychotherapy and psychotropic medication with little to no physician involvement (depending on their state’s practice environment). This rising health care profession is starting to help close the acute mental health care gap in the United States. 

The path to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner requires earning a PMHNP master’s degree, which prepares graduates to pass the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification (PMHNP-BC) exam and obtain a nurse practitioner license in their state. You can earn this degree through remote learning—but how should you go about choosing an online PMHNP program?

Choosing an online PMHNP program

One of the primary considerations in selecting a PMHNP program—in addition to a school’s reputation and accreditation—is finding one that works best for you and your situation. Enrolling in an online PMHNP program, such as the online Master of Science in Nursing Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty (PMHNP) offered by Yale School of Nursing, offers two significant advantages in this regard. First, you can earn your degree while continuing to work and earn in your current job. Second, because you’ll be learning remotely, your options to attend an exceptional PMHNP program aren’t limited to nearby schools. You don’t need to uproot your life and move to Connecticut to earn a PMHNP degree from YSN.

As you consider online PMHNP programs, you should also look for programs that:

  • Teach a holistic approach to physical and mental health care for people from diverse and special populations.
  • Develop critical thinking skills to respond to various situations.
  • Feature faculty who are practicing clinicians.
  • Arrange program-vetted clinical placements near where you live.

Putting people first

If you’re like most of your fellow nurses (over 90 percent, according to one study), a desire to help heal others drove your decision to enter nursing. You understand your chosen profession is challenging and complicated; many factors affect each patient’s health. That’s why it’s vital to find an online PHMNP program that prepares you to assess and treat the whole person.

YSN’s online PMHNP program puts people first. YSN students learn a holistic approach to patient care that bridges the gap between physical and mental health care. In addition to coursework in psychotherapeutic and psychopharmacologic interventions, YSN’s PHMNP curriculum includes classes in:

  • Advanced Pathophysiology, which teaches the advanced physiologic and pathophysiologic concepts central to understanding the maintenance of health and the prevention and management of disease across the lifespan.
  • Promoting Health in the Community, which emphasizes the prevention of disease, health maintenance, health promotion, and care of the sick within households, families, groups, and communities, across the lifespan.
  • Advanced Health Assessment, in which students learn how to assess the physical, psychosocial, spiritual, and cultural dimensions of health—particularly for people from diverse (transgender, LGBTQIA) and special populations (geriatric, pediatric, and individuals with disabilities).

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Developing critical thinking skills

Since no two patients are alike, you must hone your critical thinking skills to be able to “think on your feet”—to assess and respond to each presenting situation with the appropriate treatment for the individual. Indeed, studies have demonstrated that critical thinking is a vital process in “safe, efficient, and skillful” clinical practice.

The clinical placements in YSN’s online PMHNP program provide opportunities for students to develop and hone their critical thinking skills by applying what they’ve learned in their coursework in supervised practice with patients. Clinical placements take place in the second and third year of the program and require 802.5 hours of clinical hours in a clinic setting (within 90 miles of your address), working with a minimum of two of three patient populations: under 18, 18-65, and over 65.

While in their psychiatric clinical settings, YSN PMHNP students apply their physical and mental health assessment skills, formulate differential diagnoses, plan and implement developmentally appropriate psychiatric nursing interventions, and evaluate interventions and outcomes. Emphasis is placed on the application of a variety of population-specific assessment skills and use of differential diagnosis, and a beginning utilization of pharmacologic and psychotherapeutic treatment methods with individuals, groups, and families.

Learning from faculty with practical experience

Not all online PMHNP nursing programs feature a practicing clinical faculty. YSN is one of the few that does. Since their teaching is informed by the current challenges of mental health nursing practice, YSN PHMNP faculty are best positioned to help their students bridge the gap between psychiatric nursing theory and practice. They guide you from direct experience.

YSN’s PMHNP program faculty (the same faculty that teaches the on-campus program) includes:

  • Lecturer in Nursing and Interim MSN Online Program Director Katy Maggio, who has practiced as a psychiatric nurse practitioner since 2016. She has worked with clients across the lifespan in various settings, including a community mental health clinic, a day treatment program in a New York City high school, and a college student health center, as well as in her private practice. 
  • Senior Lecturer in Nursing Dr. Susan J. Boorin, who has worked in both outpatient and inpatient mental health services in New York and Connecticut over the past several decades, with clinical experiences ranging from work in acute psychiatric ICU units to community outpatient settings. Dr. Boorin is the owner of Psychiatric Health Associates, LLC, which she established in 2014 to provide outpatient psychiatric services for individuals across the lifespan.
  • Lecturer in and Assistant Clinical Professor of Nursing Dr. Lindsay Powell, who has over 30 years of experience in the field of psychiatric nursing working with marginalized populations. Dr. Powell’s clinical interests include global health, the social determinants of disease, concepts of shared decision making, the neurologic basis of psychiatric and addictive disorders, public health care and policy, and HIV/AIDS. She currently sees patients one day a week with the Community Health Care Van, where much of the population base has substance use disorders, PTSD, and histories of incarceration. 

Arranging meaningful clinical placements near you

All PMHNP programs have two main components: classroom learning, where students build medical competencies in psychopharmacology, psychopathology, neurobiology, and psychotherapy; and clinical experience hours, where they employ skills learned in class in clinical settings with patients from across the lifespan.

For online PMHNP students, their program must be able to set up appropriate, high-caliber, and meaningful clinical experiences near where each student lives​. The YSN PMHNP program arranges clinical placements with YSN-vetted preceptors and sites within 90 miles of each student—wherever they live in the U.S. (except for New York and Tennessee)—in a variety of health care environments, including community mental health centers, integrated psychiatric and primary care, and acute and long-term care settings. Taking into consideration each student’s interests and professional goals, the YSN placement team also ensures that all clinical experiences meet course and certification requirements.

Yale School of Nursing: join a tradition of nursing excellence

Yale School of Nursing stands at the forefront of nursing education. For a century, YSN has equipped nurses with a patient-centered approach to patient care. Today, YSN upholds its legacy of excellence in nursing education, advancing the field through pioneering research and innovation.

YSN psychiatric nurse practitioner students benefit from the first-hand expertise of instructors, mentors, and preceptors who are active clinical practitioners. PMHNP graduates emerge ready to serve their communities, educate individuals, and advocate for inclusive and equitable mental health care, particularly for residents of rural and underserved communities.

If you apply and are accepted to YSN’s online MSN Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program, you will be trained in this tradition of nursing excellence and graduate fully prepared for a successful and rewarding career treating patients as a psychiatric nurse practitioner.

(Note: Students must be located in the United States to complete the program and clinical placements. The YSN online PMHNP program is currently not offered to students residing in New York, Tennessee, or foreign countries.)

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