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How Do I Become a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

Most aspiring mental health nurse practitioners have worked as a registered nurse for several years.
Article Details
  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 September 2014
  • Copyright Protected:
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People can become a mental health nurse practitioner by getting a degree in registered nursing and then completing master’s or doctorate work, and possibly additional studies in a psychiatric nurse practitioner program. It takes several years to achieve this title, which is more typically called psychiatric nurse practitioner. People can expect to spend at least four years achieving an RN (registered nurse degree) and then two to seven more getting a master’s degree or doctorate.

High school students who would like to become a mental health nurse practitioner can start early by getting good grades in math and science. Both of these are important areas of nursing studies at the undergraduate level. It can also help to take some social sciences classes to learn about the psychological care a psychiatric nurse might be required to give in normal working situations.

Past high school, the student who will become a mental health nurse practitioner needs to find a college with a strong nursing program or a nursing school offering a bachelor’s degree or bachelor of science degree in registered nursing. Such programs can be competitive to enter, so grades, recommendations and possibly SAT or ACT scores should be strong.

Some nurses spend a few years working after getting a degree in registered nursing, and moreover some programs to become a mental health nurse practitioner require nurses to have some working experience. Others don’t and may allow people with a bachelor’s in registered nursing to progress straight into a master’s or doctorate program.

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In graduate work, the goal is to become a nurse practitioner and many nurse practitioner programs have different emphases. People should look for a program that has a particular study track in psychiatric nursing. After a program is complete, people may need to take examinations or get board certified in the psychiatric specialty.

The psychiatric nurse practitioner is becoming more and more familiar in a variety of clinical settings. Like psychiatrists, these nurse practitioners can prescribe medication and have extensively studied psychopharmacology. They may work with psychiatrists and sometimes must be supervised by a doctor. In some cases, they are state licensed to work alone, providing counseling and medication management to people with mental illness. Psychiatric nurse practitioners also find work in mental health facilities and in areas like research.

Many people especially want to become a mental health nurse practitioner because they specifically would like to treat those with mental illnesses. The training is much shorter, as compared to becoming a psychiatrist, about six to ten years of study as opposed to 11-12 years for certification in psychiatry. A number of people view this field as increasingly attractive due to high demand for psychiatric care, and especially care that is less expensive than that offered by psychiatrists.

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