Who Should Apply to an Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program?

February 8, 2024

The United States is experiencing a mental health crisis, especially in its younger population. Mental health-related emergency room visits by children, adolescents, and young adults grew sharply between 2011 and 2020, from 4.8 million to 7.5 million visits annually—and suicide-related issues increased from 0.9 percent of these mental health ER visits to 4.2 percent. After discharge from the ER, many parents cannot find mental care resources and treatment for their children. This is due, in part, to a shortage of care providers—there are only fourteen child and adolescent psychiatrists per every 100,000 children in the U.S. 

While psychiatrists are among the small cadre of care providers qualified to prescribe medication to help treat mental health conditions, their numbers are becoming augmented by psychiatric nurse practitioners who also have prescriptive authority and can help close the mental health care gap. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNP) do many of the same things as psychiatrists—they can screen, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions with psychotherapy and psychotropic medication with little to no physician involvement, depending on their state’s practice environment

Since the need for psychiatric care is acute, the demand for psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners is high. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) forecasts employment of nurse practitioners to grow by 38 percent from now to 2032 (the projected average growth for all occupations is three percent). As of 2022, around seven percent of all nurse practitioners were certified in psychiatric/mental health (according to the BLS, there were 266,300 nurse practitioners in 2022). BLS lists the median total income, including base salary, bonuses, and incentive payments, for full-time PMHNPs at around $121,610.

Yale School of Nursing’s online Master of Science in Nursing Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty is educating the next generation of psychiatric nurses to meet the urgent need for psychiatric treatment through a holistic, inclusive, and human-focused approach to mental health care. YSN’s PMHNP program offers online coursework taught by practicing clinicians (the online faculty is the same as on-campus) as well as local, in-person supervised clinical experience arranged through YSN’s placement team. Students graduate prepared for the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification (PMHNP-BC) exam, and obtain nurse practitioner licenses in their states—and begin providing mental health care in their communities.

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So, who should apply to an online psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner program? What types of nurses are interested in becoming PMHNPs? And what type of candidates are PMHNP programs looking for?

Four types of nurses who should become PMHNPs

To be considered for YSN’s online Master of Science in Nursing Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty, an applicant must be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, have earned a bachelor’s degree with a minimum 3.0 GPA, and possess an active RN license. But beyond these prerequisites, RNs interested in becoming PMHNPs are motivated by a desire to provide quality mental health care and close the mental health care gap in their communities, including in rural areas and for underserved populations, and to have more clinical autonomy in treating patients.

Nurses committed to providing quality mental health care

A study cited in “The Future of Behavioral Health—Harnessing the Potential of Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners” assessed the quality of care delivered by PMHNPs and found that when they have full practice authority, patient mental health outcomes and access to mental health care—particularly for underserved populations—improve significantly. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are trained to effectively treat their patients’ mental health conditions and enhance the quality of their lives.

RNs interested in becoming expert psychiatric nurse practitioners can enroll in YSN’s Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)-accredited PMHNP program. YSN’s online Master of Science in Nursing Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialty draws on a century of excellence in nursing education to prepare the next generation of advanced practice nurse practitioners to promote mental health in all people. 

Nurses passionate about closing the mental health care gap

Around 160 million Americans live in federally designated mental health professional shortage areas, regions that do not have enough mental health providers to meet the population’s needs. Researchers forecast that demand for mental health professionals may exceed supply by 250,000 by 2025, with “96 percent of all counties in the United States facing a shortage of mental health prescribers.”

Nurses who witness the urgent need for psychiatric care among their patients, see the yawning gap in available care, and are motivated to meet this demand should consider becoming psychiatric nurse practitioners. YSN’s online MSN Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program does not require prospective students to have a mental health care background, though the strongest candidates typically have basic exposure to psychiatric settings and a demonstrated interest in caring for individuals with mental health needs.

Nurses seeking to provide mental health care in rural areas and to underserved populations

Even though rates of mental illness are similar in rural and urban areas, specialty mental health care treatment services in rural areas are scarce. Approximately 65 percent of nonurban counties do not have any psychiatrists, and over 60 percent of rural Americans reside in designated mental health provider shortage areas. As well, societally marginalized populations underserved by the mental health care system include racial minorities, LGBTQ+ people, individuals who are unhoused, those who are incarcerated, people with severe mental disorders or substance abuse issues, and immigrants. 

YSN’s PMHNP program is designed, in part, to train successive cohorts of psychiatric nurse practitioners to expand access to meet the mental health needs of rural and underserved communities in a variety of clinical settings. YSN prepares students to leverage research-based evidence and a bio-psycho-spiritual-cultural approach to improve mental health outcomes and cultivate a holistic understanding of their patients as people. All of this is conducted in a manner reflecting YSN’s commitment to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in the classroom, clinic, and beyond.

Nurses eager for more clinical autonomy to treat patients

Nurse practitioner autonomy varies from state to state, but overall PMHNPs enjoy much greater independence than RNs. In full practice states, PMHNPs can operate independently in their own practice, handling every aspect of patient care without physician supervision. In reduced or restricted practice states, they operate with relative independence and some degree of physician oversight.

Autonomy is more than an abstract professional goal. One review of academic literature found that it was easier to recruit and retain nurses in work environments where they experienced higher levels of professional autonomy, as nurses were able to exercise independence in decision making and utilize their competence. Another study revealed that when nurses were “able to exercise their clinical and organizational knowledge via autonomous practice,” patient outcomes improved significantly. 

PMHNPs practice with a high level of autonomy due to their advanced training and clinical experience. YSN’s PMHNP program helps students develop critical thinking skills so they are prepared as clinicians to appropriately respond to all manner of presenting situations. After completing a PMHNP program, psychiatric nurse practitioners earn board certification and obtain state licensing—and are qualified to work directly with patients requiring mental health care treatment with full or partial autonomy.

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So, if you are an RN looking to gain more clinical autonomy and provide quality mental health care that addresses the mental health care gap in your community—particularly for patients from underserved populations—you are the type of candidate that the online MSN Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program is seeking. 

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