A psychiatric nurse is a nurse who specializes in providing psychiatric care. This type of nursing may be provided at a psychiatric facility, a psychiatric wing in a hospital, or at home, depending on the nature of the patient's needs. You may also hear psychiatric nursing referred to as mental health nursing. Pay scales for psychiatric nurses vary, depending on their level of experience and training, and where they are employed.
As a nurse, providing psychiatric care can be very complex. Psychiatric nurses must administer medications to their patients, keep an eye on the mental health of their charges, and be active participants in the patient's treatment plan. Especially in psychiatric facilities, psychiatric nurses are relied upon to monitor the mental health of patients, providing insight into which treatment techniques are working, and evaluations of the patient's progress in treatment. Nurse to patient ratios are often low, reflecting the fact that caring for the mentally ill can become very complex.
Like other nurses, a psychiatric nurse may also need to tend to physical patient needs, such as assistance with going to the bathroom, bathing, and dressing, or help navigating physical therapy programs. Some psychiatric nurses also receive counseling credentials and additional training on psychology so that they can lead group therapy sessions and offer other mental health care to their patients. In the case of a psychiatric nurse who provides care at home, the nurse may also need to submit patient evaluations to a supervising doctor in which the patient's progress is discussed.
Working with the mentally ill can be very physically and emotionally demanding, especially in the case of people who have been institutionalized for long-term treatment. Psychiatric nurses are usually qualified to look after patients of all ages, but some pursue additional certifications so that they can focus on patients of particular interest, such as juveniles with mental illness, or the elderly. The more certifications a psychiatric nurse has, the more employable he or she will be.
Someone who wants to become a psychiatric nurse usually studies psychiatric nursing in nursing school. In addition to covering basic nursing topics, the student will be introduced to topics specific to psychiatry and psychology, including overviews of common psychiatric conditions, the medications used to assist in treatment, and specific issues which may come up when treating the mentally ill. Psychiatric nurses can also join professional organizations to network with other psychiatry professionals and have access to continuing education training which will keep their skills current and sharp.