Psychiatric Nursing

by Premier Medical Staffing Services on March 16, 2021 in Nursing Specialties


7 Things You Should Know

Psychiatric nursing jobs are among the most in-demand jobs within the healthcare industry. However, preconceived notions often prevent many clinicians from applying for these rewarding positions. Find out the seven things you should know about psychiatric nursing before passing it over for a different nursing specialty.

1. What Psychiatric Nursing Entails

two clinicians discussing psychiatric nursingPsychiatric nursing, also known as mental health nursing, is a specialized healthcare field that involves caring for the psychological and physiological needs of patients with mental health conditions or behavioral problems. Consequently, psychiatric nurses are responsible for assessing their patient’s mental health, developing a care plan, implementing that care plan and evaluating its effectiveness over time.

Some of the most common psychiatric nursing tasks include:

  • Assisting with crisis intervention or management;
  • Assessing dysfunction and evaluating progress;
  • Administering psychotropic medications;
  • Monitoring and managing medication side effects;
  • Promoting environments that prevent further disability;
  • Offering basic counseling services (i.e., general guidance);
  • Assisting with self-care activities;
  • Promoting general health; and
  • Educating family members and caregivers about conditions and care plans.
2. Where Psychiatric Nurses Work

Mental health disorders can range from mild cases of anxiety and depression to schizophrenia and psychosis. Furthermore, these disorders can affect individuals of all ages, ethnic origins and socioeconomic statuses. As a result, psychiatric nurses are needed in a variety of healthcare settings to ensure patients receive the appropriate level of care. Below is a list of the most common places where psych nurses work:

  • General hospitals;
  • Doctors’ offices;
  • Long-term care centers;
  • Rehabilitation centers;
  • Outpatient treatment facilities;
  • Psychiatric specialty hospitals;
  • Substance abuse treatment centers;
  • Correctional institutions; and
  • Local, state and federal mental health agencies.
3. Psychiatric Nursing Is a Rapidly Growing Field

A 2019 national workforce assessment from the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) reported that “approximately 56 million American adults are struggling with a mental illness or substance use disorder.” The assessment went on to say that despite the best efforts of the current mental health workforce, the overwhelming demand has created a situation where many patients fail to receive the treatment they need. Consequently, suicide is now one of the leading causes of death in the United States.

To that end, the APNA advocates “that the nation’s experienced psychiatric-mental health nursing workforce be allowed to practice to the full extent of their education and training.” Doing so will ensure effective interventions and positive outcomes for those dealing with mental health or substance use disorders.

For more information on the growth of the psychiatric nursing field, read: Expanding Mental Health Care Services in America: The Pivotal Role of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses from the APNA.

4. Strong Communication Skills Are Essential

Strong communication skills are essential in psychiatric nursing for two main reasons.

First and foremost, clear, honest and empathetic communication helps foster a positive nurse-patient relationship. As psychiatric nurses gain the trust of their patients, they are better able to gather the information that is needed to develop an effective treatment plan. Furthermore, psych nurses with strong communication skills are better able to advise patients and caregivers on the importance of adhering to the care plan.

Secondly, psychiatric nurses work as part of an integrated healthcare team. Doctors, social workers, psychiatrists and psychologists are just a few of the other medical professionals that psych nurses encounter regularly. Being able to share and receive information with colleagues enhances the likelihood of a positive patient outcome.

5. Boundaries Are a Must

As a psychiatric nurse, it is important to find a balance between being a compassionate caregiver and becoming too emotionally attached. Psych nurses that fail to abide by professional boundaries risk becoming over-involved with and/or exploitative of the patient. Below are a few ways that psych nurses can maintain professional boundaries:

  • Always dress professionally;
  • Use language that conveys concern and respect;
  • Share your role and care limits with the patient and their family;
  • Share personal information very discriminately;
  • Refrain from connecting with patients and their family members on social media;
  • Do not keep secrets with or for a patient;
  • Do not accept gifts from the patient or their family; and
  • Be aware of your emotional response to a patient.
6. The Work Is Rewarding

Psychiatric nurses work with an extremely vulnerable patient population. As a result, they use the full extent of their nursing skills to ensure patients receive the most effective treatment available. Psych nurses are there to calm their patients when confusion and uncertainty arises and to celebrate the victories of treatment, no matter their size. While psych nurses do not always see dramatic changes in their patients’ statuses, they can take satisfaction in knowing they helped a person (and that person’s family and community) during a fragile time. That is why psychiatric nursing is an exceptionally rewarding career.

7. Certification Is Beneficial

While a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification (PMH-BC) is not typically required to obtain a psychiatric nursing job, there are benefits associated with obtaining this credential. For instance, certified psychiatric nurses have a distinct advantage over non-certified psychiatric nurses during the interview process. This is especially true for highly competitive positions. Furthermore, certified nurses frequently command a higher salary than their non-certified counterparts.

The PMH-BC is issued by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Nurses interested in obtaining this credential must pass a competency-based examination that assess entry-level clinical knowledge and skills related to the specialty. They must also meet the eligibility requirements, which include:

  • Having a current RN license or international equivalent;
  • Having practiced the equivalent of two years as a full-time RN;
  • Having completed a minimum of 2,000 hours of clinical practice in mental health nursing within the last three years; and
  • Having completed 30 continuing education hours in mental health nursing in the last three years.


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