Specialization is an excellent option for nurse practitioners looking to take their scope of practice to the next level without committing to another multi-year degree program. It generally provides a boost in salary as well as opportunities to pursue leadership roles, more complex levels of care and a career path that more closely aligns with personal or clinical interests.
The Master of Science in Nursing – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) online program at Northern Kentucky University offers a streamlined pathway to a high-demand field. In as few as 22 months, graduates will be prepared to work independently as a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner and nurse leader, perform assessments, create treatment plans and evaluate outcomes. Graduates of NKU's MSN – PMHNP program will be eligible to take the ANCC NCC Psychiatric – Mental Health NP certification examination.
This specialization is ideal for nurses who desire to expand their practice to assist individuals, families and groups in managing common and complex psychiatric disorders.
Why Should Nurses Consider a Career in Psychiatric-Mental Health?
As of 2021, roughly 37% of the U.S. population — the equivalent of 122 million people — live in areas without sufficient access to mental health service providers, as reported by U.S. News & World Report. It is estimated that 6K mental health providers are needed to ensure equitable access nationwide.
In fact, mental health provider shortages are only expected to worsen, says the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), due to how the "COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have negatively affected many people's mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders." For example, between January 2019 and January 2021, a KFF study found that the share of adults experiencing anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms rose nearly 300%, affecting 41% of total respondents.
According to KFF, "young adults, people experiencing job loss, parents and children, communities of color and essential workers" have been disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. This has likely prompted an influx of these patients seeking care and an unprecedented demand for qualified mental health providers. Just as primary care nurse practitioners are stepping in to alleviate primary care physician shortages, those with training in advanced psychiatric-mental health nursing will be instrumental in ensuring continued access to mental health services.
What Career Options and Benefits Await MSN PMHNP Graduates?
Given the widespread shortages of mental health providers, psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners may encounter job opportunities across the spectrum. They can work with patients of any age, from pediatric and school-aged children to young adults and geriatrics. Or, PMHNPs can hone their practice to a certain demographic.
Most PMHNPs work in "behavioral health/addictions clinics, psychiatric mental health facilities and private NP practices," according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), and focus their clinical expertise in the areas of psychiatry, behavioral health and addiction.
Other settings PMHNPs may work in include:
- Outpatient clinics
- Residential treatment centers
- Schools and universities
- Nonprofit organizations
- Public health and governmental agencies
- Correctional facilities
- Large businesses and corporations (as consultants)
PMHNPs often enjoy greater autonomy and "function with little or no supervision from physicians, allowing them to establish independent relationships with their patients. Others open their own practices, depending on their state's regulations," according to Johnson & Johnson Nursing.
Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners typically earn higher salaries than NPs who do not have a subspecialty background. According to AANP, the median annual income for PMHNPs in 2020 was $137K, including productivity bonuses and incentive payments. In addition, employers, especially those in shortage areas, may also offer substantial sign-on bonuses and relocation assistance.
Nurse practitioners specializing in psychiatric-mental health are in short supply. Graduates of an advanced degree program can quickly enter the workforce, improving critical access to care and enhancing their scope and earning potential.
Learn more about the NKU's MSN – PMHNP online program.
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