How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse: Salary, Job Description, Certification

Nurse speaks with personA psychiatric nurse assesses, examines and treats patients diagnosed with mental health conditions, such as bipolar disorder, depression and schizophrenia. The psychiatric nurse develops and implements a nursing plan of care then evaluates it for effectiveness. A nurse working as a psychiatric nurse, sometimes called a mental health nurse or a psychiatric mental health nurse, also teaches patients and family members how to cope with the challenges associated with psychiatric disorders.

Psychiatric nurses provide care for patients with mental illnesses and neurological disorders. These nurses help patients suffering from mental breakdowns or other mental health conditions. Psychiatric nurses work with patients of all ages, including children with disabilities and elderly patients with Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia.

Table of Contents
How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse
Education Requirements
Psychiatric Nurse Job Description
Psychiatric Nursing on YouTube
Personality Traits
Career Options
Psychiatric Nurse Certification
Cost of Certification
Career Path
Professional Organizations
Relevant Publications
Related Careers

While the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) does not provide specific education, salary and job information specific to psychiatric nurses, the website does offer an overview of registered nurses who may work in this capacity.

Nurse Salary and Employment Data

Quickly compare salary and job statistics in your area

1. Select a State

2. Select a City

3. Select a Job Title

Source: BLS Wage Data by Area and Occupation. * or ** indicate insignificant or unavailable data.

Level of Education Required Associate degree or Bachelor Degree in Nursing
Board Examinations needed NCLEX-RN, RN-BC
Median Salary $68,857
# of Jobs (2012) 2,712,000
Job Outlook (2012 to 2022) 19% growth

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics
Salary information courtesy of

How to become a psychiatric nurse

To work as a psychiatric nurse, an individual:

  • Must have earned an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited school of nursing
  • Must have passed the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX-RN)
  • May pursue additional education in mental health
  • May pursue voluntary certification from American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)

Education requirements

To work as a psychiatric nurse, an individual must get an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN), Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) or Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), pass the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX) and already be a registered nurse (RN). Registered nurses interested in working as psychiatric nurses may take advanced courses in psychiatric assessment, psychotherapy and pharmacology as it relates to psychiatric medicine.

A psychiatric nurse may earn a master’s or doctoral degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing to become an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). These advanced practice nurses offer primary psychiatric-mental health care services. PMH-APRNs assess, diagnose, and treat individuals and families with psychiatric disorders or are at high risk for developing such disorders. APRNs practice as Clinical Nurse Specialists (CNSs) or Nurse Practitioners (NPs).

Job description

The psychiatric nurse performs evaluations of psychiatric patients, develops and implements psychiatric nursing care plans and assesses these care plans for effectiveness. A psychiatric nurse assists physicians and psychiatrists during psychiatric evaluations and mental health status assessments. A nurse working in this capacity may conduct individual, group and family psychotherapy sessions. A psychiatric nurse administers medications and therapies prescribed by a physician.

Sample Job Description

Sample job descriptions and qualifications are sourced from various job board websites, like these:,

  • Directs, supervises, evaluates and provides skilled nursing care to patients with mental disorders
  • Facilitate social and emotional needs
  • Supervise medication schedules
  • Evaluate patient progress


  • Current RN license
  • CPR certification
  • Minimum of three years experience working with psychiatric patients in a facility

Psychiatric nursing on YouTube

Personality traits:

  • Empathy
  • Good communication skills
  • Patience
  • Ability to spot and diffuse the development of tense situations
  • Goal-setting
  • Independent
  • Proficient at multitasking
  • Creative
  • Flexible

The psychiatric nurse reports to a nurse manager, department head or administrator.

Career options

Typical workplaces for a psychiatric nurse include:

  • Hospitals
  • Community health centers
  • Outpatient clinics predicts the number of psychiatric nurse jobs will increase by 26 percent by the year 2020. This job growth rate is much faster than average for jobs within the medical community and outside of it. Salary and job outlook relies on the candidate’s education, certification and job experience.

National salary snapshot

Indeed lists the average psychiatric nurse salary at $65,000, while SimplyHired states that the average salary for the job is $67,000 yearly.

Certification information

The American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC) offers psychiatric–mental health nursing certification that demonstrates the bearer has advanced knowledge and expertise in psychiatric nursing. After certification, psychiatric nurses use the initials RN-BC after their names.

To be eligible for certification as a psychiatric nurse, the individual must hold a current, active RN license and have practiced two years full-time as a registered nurse or the part-time equivalent in that position. The applicant must also have at least 2,000 hours of clinical practice and at least 30 hours of continuing education in psychiatric–mental health nursing within three years of application.

Certification is valid for five years.

Cost of certification

Credential: RN-BC

Fees for Non-Members:

Initial Exam: $395

Recertification: $350

Fees for Members:

Initial Exam: $270 for American Nurses Association members, $290 for American Psychiatric Nurses Association member, $340 for International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses members.

Recertification: $200 for American Nurses Association members, $240 for American Psychiatric Nurses Association member, $280 for International Society of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses members.

Typical career path

The typical career path for psychiatric nurses is to:

  • Earn an Associate of Science in Nursing (ASN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
  • Pass the NCLEX-RN

Professional organizations

American Psychiatric Nurses Association:

Relevant publications

Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (JAPNA)

Archives of Psychiatric Nursing

Journal of Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing

Related careers

Neuroscience nurse – cares for patients with nervous system damage or disease that may result in alterations of consciousness, cognition, communication and more