What does a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner do?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

A psychiatric nurse practitioner is a highly trained nurse, with at minimum a master’s degree in psychiatric-mental health nursing, and sometimes a doctorate in these studies. Need for these specialists is growing since they can work in many of the same ways that psychiatrists work, and yet they are typically less expensive to employ. This downgrade in pay shouldn’t convince anyone that the work nurse practitioners do is less expert than that of psychiatrists. They tend to be very skilled and their masters or doctoral work has focused on diagnosing and treating mental illnesses, with lots of clinical practice.

A psychiatric nurse practitioner may take a patient's medical history.
A psychiatric nurse practitioner may take a patient's medical history.

Nurse practitioners typically begin as registered nurses, though it is possible to find some bachelors to nurse practitioner MS degree programs. These are not that common however. It is usually presumed that the practitioner first has been trained as a registered nurse. Licensing for these practitioners, due to the fact they can often prescribe medications, may be different from state to state and in varied countries.

Nurse practitioners who specialize in mental-health issues may be employed at a facility that provides inpatient and partial hospitalization services.
Nurse practitioners who specialize in mental-health issues may be employed at a facility that provides inpatient and partial hospitalization services.

There are many things that a psychiatric nurse practitioner can do, and many areas in which he or she can work. In direct patient care, which could take place in offices, hospitals or care facilities, this nurse specialist can give counseling, determine diagnosis of mental illness, and prescribe medications accordingly. People can see these nurses as their therapist while also receiving any prescriptions they may need to medically manage a mental health condition. In this context, the one thing such nurses are usually not authorized to do is to run psychological tests.

Psychiatric nurses often work with patients in a psychiatric hospital.
Psychiatric nurses often work with patients in a psychiatric hospital.

The psychiatric nurse practitioner doesn’t have to run a one-stop shop for mental health needs. He or she, like a psychiatrist, could function primarily as someone who prescribes meds. In this case the practitioner might work closely with patients’ therapists or psychologists to coordinate patient care. In mental institutions or day facilities, nurses of this type can prescribe, provide medical care, and perhaps work with patients individually who need extra education about their condition. In this educational role, nurse practitioners can be invaluable too, in helping to teach families about a loved one’s psychiatric condition.

Nurse practitioners provide both counseling services and medical care for people who struggle with mental illnesses.
Nurse practitioners provide both counseling services and medical care for people who struggle with mental illnesses.

While a psychiatric nurse practitioner may work alone and maintain an individual practice, others might work directly under the supervision of a psychiatrist, or in an office with psychiatrists. Other nurses in this specialty can be case managers or they might work for health insurance companies, a variety of care facilities, or public health agencies. When a psychiatric nurse practitioner has a doctorate degree, he or she might teach the profession in a variety of programs, or could work at an administrative level in a number of different facilities.

Psychiatric nurses may work with geriatric patients who have failing mental health.
Psychiatric nurses may work with geriatric patients who have failing mental health.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication.
Psychiatric nurse practitioners diagnose illnesses and prescribe medication.
Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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Discussion Comments

Heavanet

With the need for more people in the health care industry always growing, the specialty of psychiatry is an interesting career field for those who want to help people with a wide range of mental and emotional problems. A psychiatric nurse practitioner job would give an individual a wide range of career options, from working in an office setting to being on staff at a psychiatric hospital. It seems like a very rewarding career path for those looking for a job in the mental health industry.

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