For those already working within the nursing profession or who are considering entering the nursing field, there are many specialties and role types within nursing that can fit a wide range of personalities, career goals, skill sets, interests, and life circumstances.
One such specialty is psychiatric nursing (sometimes called mental health nursing).
Psychiatric nurses most often work within hospital settings or in mental health or psychiatric facilities. Psychiatric nurse practitioners are often responsible for conducting developmental, physical, and mental health assessments for patients.
They can do everything from diagnosing mental health conditions to implementing care or treatment plans. They can prescribe psychiatric medication and provide psychotherapy. These actions and responsibilities require robust training and licensure.
This article will serve as a quick guide to becoming a psychiatric nurse. It will specifically explore the advantages and disadvantages of earning a Master of Science in Nursing – Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (MSN-PMHNP) degree.
Requirements for Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse
As referenced above, psychiatric nurses perform a large variety of tasks that require specialized and technical training.
In addition to general nursing skills and subjects, a psychiatric nursing program will include coursework on psychiatry, psychopharmacology, psychotherapy, social and behavioral sciences, and more.
The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) requires that a nurse pursuing a career in psychiatric care achieve these three requirements before they can be considered for certification:
- They must practice for at least two years as a full-time RN.
- They must gain, at minimum, 2,000 hours of clinical experience in psychiatric mental health nursing. This must be completed within three years of passing their RN licensure exam.
- They must complete at least thirty hours of continuing education in the area of psychiatric mental health nursing. This must also happen within three years of passing the RN exam.
While some nursing specialties require a master’s level degree, pursuing psychiatric nursing doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll have to obtain a master’s degree before entering the field.
However, obviously, MSN-PMHNP degrees exist and could be of benefit. What factors should you consider when deciding whether an MSN-PMHNP is worth obtaining?
Reasons One Would Not Get an MSN-PMHNP
Earning a master’s degree of any kind requires resources. It obviously costs money to complete a degree.
Additionally, it takes time and energy.
Some professionals that are interested in pursuing psychiatric nursing hold off on obtaining an MSN-PMHNP for various reasons.
These might include working in a normal RN position to amass hours while shadowing a psychiatric nurse for a period of time to make sure the role is actually one they’d be interested in pursuing or being content with entry-level psychiatric roles.
Since it is possible to take a role as a psychiatric nurse without a master’s degree (as long as one has fulfilled the three requirements listed above), it is possible to pursue a psychiatric nursing career without ever earning a master’s degree in the field.
However, there are a few reasons it might be to your advantage to consider earning an MSN-PMHNP.
Reasons an MSN-PMHNP Can Be Advantageous
Though some nursing professionals choose never to earn a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing, there are a few reasons that investing the time, energy, and money required to pursue an MSN-PMHNP can prove a strategic move for career advancement.
Higher Paying Positions
First, earning an MSN-PMHNP often makes higher-paying positions available than you would have been eligible to apply for otherwise.
Many of the more elite and high-paying psychiatric nurse positions available in the country are limited to those who have earned at least a master’s degree.
Stronger Foundation of Expertise
Second, those who have earned a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing have a stronger foundation of expertise from which they are able to fulfill their duties and serve their patients.
This leads to a higher standard of care, higher levels of confidence and satisfaction in their work, more opportunities for promotions and raises, and a better understanding of the core subjects that are relevant to the field.
Having that academic foundation can also make any further study and continuing professional education much easier.
Third, having an MSN-PMHNP degree can enhance job security. Holding advanced degrees gives you an advantage in the job market over those who do not have such a degree.
This can often prove valuable to a current employer, but can also prove effective in helping you secure jobs of choice at other institutions or organizations as well.
Finally, having an MSN-PMHNP will often make more advancement opportunities available to you as you progress through your career.
Earning a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing can expose you to nuances and facets within the field that may inspire future specialization or study interests.
Having advanced degrees often makes management or leadership positions more attainable as well.
Though there are legitimate reasons for foregoing or postponing the pursuit of an MSN-PMHNP degree, earning one could benefit your career.
Next Steps for Pursuing an MSN-PMHNP Degree
If you decide that psychiatric nursing is the direction you hope to pursue and, to do so, you’d like to obtain an MSN-PMHNP to help you catalyze that trajectory, you have a few options for completing such a degree.
One such option is attending a conventional in-person master’s program at a local university or institution. Some people learn better by completing their coursework in a classroom.
If you live in an area close enough to a psychiatric nursing master’s program of your choice and have a lifestyle or current job that would allow you to attend regular in-person classes, this can sometimes be your best strategy.
However, online psychiatric nursing programs can be a welcome alternative for some people.
Especially as technology and world events have made it possible (and in some cases necessary) to complete even rigorous higher education degrees completely online, online psychiatric nursing degrees are quickly becoming a highly touted option for nursing students and professionals who need the flexibility online programs can offer.
Studying psychiatric nursing online can also make specialized or preferred programs accessible that aren’t local and wouldn’t be otherwise possible to attend.
Nurses who are interested in pursuing mental health and psychiatric care should weigh the costs and benefits of earning an MSN-PMHNP carefully.
In some cases, earning a master’s degree can significantly benefit individuals who are interested in developing a career in psychiatric nursing.