Career Profile: Psychiatric Nurse

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Psychiatric nurses provide care for psychiatric mental health patients. Psychiatric nursing has its roots in the late 19th century when it became common for psychiatric patients to receive nursing care. Since then, psychiatric mental-health nursing has developed into a field of its own, expanding and adapting to fit the changing needs of the mental health community. There are two levels of psychiatric nursing today--basic and advanced. Basic care nurses work with individuals, families, groups and communities to assess mental health needs, develop ways to diagnose mental health illnesses, and formulate a care plan for these patients. They provide care for patients by assisting with self-care, administering and monitoring treatment regimens, educating the patient, and crisis intervention and counseling.

Advanced psychiatric nurses, who must obtain a master’s or doctorate in psychiatric nursing, can be certified as specialists in adult, child, or adolescent psychiatric nursing. Some other psychiatric specialties include geriatric, substance abuse, eating disorders, and forensic, which require their own certification. In addition to care services provided by the basic psychiatric nurse, advanced practitioners assess, diagnose, and treat psychiatric disorders. In some states they have the authority to prescribe medication, and are qualified to practice independently to offer direct care services through agencies, communities, homes, or hospitals.

Psychiatric nurses work in various settings, such as hospitals, community-based or home health care programs, local, state and federal mental health agencies, military, prison, home health agencies, or primary care offices. Their schedules can also vary due to the nature of the job, and they often work evenings, weekends, and holidays, as well as overtime. Their salaries vary, but a basic psychiatric nurse can expect to make between $25,000 and $47,000, while an advanced psychiatric nurse can expect to make between $50,000 and $70,000.

In order to become a psychiatric nurse, an RN needs to take specialized education courses and have experience working with psychiatric patients before becoming certified. If they wish to become an advanced psychiatric nurse, they must also gain their master’s or doctorate in psychiatric nursing.

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Quick Fact
In 2018, workers with a bachelor's degree or higher had almost twice as much
median earnings per week than workers with only a high school diploma.*
*Bureau of Labor Statistics