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A Look at the ANCC Family Psych NP Exam

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) provide medical and psychiatric care to patients. After nurses have graduated from a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) — Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program and meet other eligibility requirements, they are ready to apply for certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Nurse practitioners who receive an acceptable score on the certification exam receive a credential that signifies they are prepared to practice mental health nursing.

What Is the American Nurses Credentialing Center?

ANCC is a subsidiary of the American Nurses Association (ANA). The shared mission of the ANA Enterprise (including ANCC, ANA and the American Nurses Foundation) is to “lead the profession to shape the future of nursing and healthcare.” In alignment with this mission, ANCC recognizes healthcare organizations that promote excellence in nursing and healthcare, accredits nursing education organizations and offers certifications and examinations that demonstrate a nurse’s specialty expertise and competency to practice.

What Exam Do PMHNPs Take?

PMHNPs sit for the ANCC Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Across the Lifespan) board certification examination. The certification was formerly named the Family Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner. Nurses who pass the exam are awarded the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (PMHNP-BC) credential.

What Are the Eligibility Requirements for the Certification Exam?

Nurses need to apply to and gain approval from ANCC before they can take the certification exam. An MSN, post-graduate certificate or DNP from a PMHNP program is required. The degree granting program must be accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the National League for Nursing (NLN) Commission for Nursing Education Accreditation (CNEA). Additional requirements include:

  • A current, active RN license
  • A minimum of 500 supervised clinical hours in a PMHNP program
  • Completion of three separate, graduate-level courses in advanced physiology/pathophysiology, advanced health assessment and advanced pharmacology
  • A working knowledge of health promotion/maintenance, differential diagnosis, disease management, pharmacology and non-pharmacologic interventions
  • Clinical training in at least two modalities of psychotherapeutic treatments

What Is the Format of the PMHNP-BC Exam?

With ANCC’s December 2019 update to the PMHNP-BC exam, the test now has a total of 175 questions. The allotted completion time is 3.5 hours. The number of scored questions is 150. The other 25 are pretest questions for possible incorporation into future testing. The pretest questions are mixed in with the scored ones, so test takers should answer everything on the exam. The final tally is based only on correctly answering the 150 scored questions.

As detailed in ANCC’s latest Test Content Outline, the PMHNP-BC exam consists of five content domains. The following table that shows the domains, number of questions and the percentages involved.

Content Domain

Number of Questions


Scientific Foundation



Advanced Practice Skills



Diagnosis and Treatment



Psychotherapy and Related Theories



Ethical and Legal Principles



How Does Northern Kentucky University (NKU) Prepare Nurses for the Certification Exam?

The NKU online MSN – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program provides nurses with the competencies needed for a full scope of practice. Students are taught neuroscientific principles, neurophysiological theory and a broad range of therapeutic methods.

The NKU curriculum emphasizes advanced psychopharmacology, diagnostic reasoning, advanced physical assessment, human pathophysiology, and theory and research in evidenced-based practice. When nurses graduate from NKU, they are prepared to deliver quality and safe care to patients. The knowledge and preparation of graduates have resulted in a three-year pass rate of 88.94% on the ANCC PMHNP-BC exam.

National certification is necessary for maintaining a license and being recognized by state Boards of Nursing as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who specializes in psychiatric mental health. The ANCC PMHNP-BC credential validates a nurse’s expertise and skills to uphold the standards in nursing. The credential is valid for five years, at which point PMHNPs must renew the certification.

Learn more about the NKU online MSN – Psych-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program.

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