Steps to Becoming a Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN

Kathy Quan RN BSN PHN

The Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) is an RN with an advanced master’s degree preparation for a nurse practitioner in psychiatric mental health care. This degree helps prepare the NP to provide improved mental health care with the goal of improving overall health status across the lifespan. 

In the future, a DNP education will be required for entry-level NPs. In 2015, the American Association of the Colleges of Nursing (AACN) recommended that nursing programs shift from awarding master’s degrees to doctoral degrees for advanced practice nurses. The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) deemed in 2018 that all entry-level NP education programs would meet DNP by 2025 phasing out the MSN NP.  

With a DNP program these organizations feel certain NPs will provide improved level and quality of care with a stronger background in clinical preparation focused on evidence-based practice, treatment and prevention. It is expected that the DNP curriculum will also provide proficiency in health economics, ethical and legal health issues, health policy and demographics. 

What is a PMHNP? 

The role of the PMHNP is vital to the healthcare community. The lack of access to mental health care over the past several decades has proven to be detrimental to healthcare in general. Expanding the psychiatric workforce is essential. The example of the effect of the pandemic on the mental and physical health of the medical community alone has been expanding exponentially since 2020 and isn’t showing signs of slowing. 

According to the CDC (Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention,) Mental illness in the US today is among the most common conditions. One in 5 Americans will experience some form of mental illness in a given year, while 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness such as bipolar disorders, major depression or schizophrenia. The third most common cause of hospitalization for both youth and adults aged 18-44 is mood disorders. These include bipolar disorders, major depression, and dysthymic disorder. This predisposes this demographic for chronic medical conditions and mortality on average 25 years earlier than those without the chronic mental illness. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US today. It ranks as the 3rd leading cause of death in ages 10-14 and 2nd in ages 15-24.  

What Does a PMHNP Do? 

Using evidence-based practice, psychotherapy, pharmacological interventions, and therapeutic skills PMHNP’s assess, diagnose, and treat individuals and their families experiencing psychiatric disorders and crisis. PMHNPs provide their patients with holistic primary and mental health care while advocating for them and working to help reduce stigma.  

You can find PMHNPs working in a wide a variety of settings including private practice, substance abuse clinics, community mental health facilities, emergency rooms, urgent care and crisis clinics, schools, in-patient settings, long-term facilities, rehabilitation centers, primary care as well as many medical specialty practices.  

Should I Take the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Board Certification Exam? 

Most NP programs require two years of relevant nursing experience as a licensed RN for admission. Upon graduation from an accredited PMHNP program which must include at least 500 hours of faculty-supervised clinical experience, the candidate is eligible to take the American Nurses Credentialling Center’s board exam. The ANCC exam is competency-based and consists of questions on health promotion and maintenance, differential diagnosis, disease management, along with pharmacological prescription practice and non-pharmacological interventions across the lifespan.  

What Happens After I Pass the Board Certification Exam? 

Once the candidate passes the board certification exam, the ANCC awards the credential of PMHNP-BC. The PMHNP is then eligible to apply for prescriptive privileges in the state of residence and seek employment. The PMHNP-BC Scope of Practice is determined by each state’s Board of Nursing. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), from 2020-2030 there is expected to be a 45% growth in employment. This is noted to be much faster than the average for all occupations based on a rapidly increasing demand for mental health care. The average salary for a PMHNP is $143,240 according to Indeed.com. 

What Continuing Education is Required for a PMHNP? 

Continuing education for PMHNPs is set by the state’s Board of Nursing. Nationwide, the average requirement is 75 ceus in the specialty area per recertification period which is 5 years per the ANCC. This includes 25 ceus in pharmacology and the PMHNP can choose from other relevant ceus to complete the requirement. The state may also set specific requirement for a number of hours of clinical practice in order to recertify. Check with the ANCC website periodically to stay abreast of your recertification requirements. They can change and nurses are responsible to stay informed. Always be sure to recertify before your certification ends.  

To maintain NP certification, it is also a requirement to renew the RN licensure periodically every 2-3 years as per state BON requirements. This may or may not coincide depending on when licensure and certification took place. It is the responsibility of the nurse to know when renewal is required. Requirements for continuing education for nurses for the renewal of the RN licensure are also set by the state BON. Ceus must be completed before the renewal date.  

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