If you would like to become a psychiatric nurse, you will need to learn how to specialize a nursing degree in psychiatry. Psychiatric nursing professionals, also known as mental health nurses, work closely with patients who have been diagnosed with conditions like depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and other mental health issues. They may assess a patient’s condition, examine the patient, diagnose certain conditions, and treat patients with mental illness in a variety of patient-facing healthcare settings. Read on, and learn more about the formal education programs you need to complete to be considered a specialized nurse in psychiatry.

Bachelor of Science in Nursing Degree

The very first step to becoming a specialist in psychiatric nursing is to become a Registered Nurse. While it is possible to become a licensed nurse with a 2-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing, pursuing nursing specialities of any kind will require more schooling. Earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) will satisfy graduate degree requirements so it recommended to pursue this 4-year degree from the start. It will ensure that you learn what you need to know to become a Registered Nurse and that you have the educational prerequisites to eventually get into a specialized nursing program.

Specialize Your Graduate Nursing Degree in Psychiatry

Once you complete your BSN and have demonstrated that you have what it takes to work in a clinical setting, the next step to becoming a psychiatric specialist is to complete a Master’s degree program majoring in Psychiatric and Mental Health Nursing. It is important to find programs that are approved by the American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) so that you know the curriculum meets high standards and will satisfy certification requirements.

APNA-approved programs that prepare Mental Health Nurse Practitioners, also known as PMHNP’s, will help you specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of mentally ill patients. You can expect to take courses in Nursing Theory, Advanced Nursing Practice Issues, Research, Epidemiology, Advanced Pharmacology, Advanced Health Assessment, Pathophysiology, Applied Psychopharmacology, and Psychiatric Mental Health. You will also need to do an internship. Once you complete the formal graduate program, you will be prepared for practice with patients in mental health settings.

How to Get Certified as a PMHNP

Once you specialize your formal degree in psychiatric nursing, the last step to becoming a specialist is to get certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center. While there are age-specific certifications that you can pursue, if you want to work with patients across the lifespan the most general certification is the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner board certification. Before you can earn the designation, you must take an examination, hold an advanced degree, have training in 2 psychotherapeutic modalities, and have no less than 500 clinical hours as a supervised practitioner.

As with most specialty areas within the field of nursing, there is a major shortage for psychiatric nurses who have completed advanced training to work with mentally ill patients. Once you are certified, you can work in mental health facilities, corrections facilities, hospitals or within your own practice. Make sure that you understand the steps you must take to specialize a nursing degree in psychiatry, and then you can become certified.

Please also see: What Skills and Experience Should a Psychiatric Nurse Have?