Psychiatric Mental Health Clinical Nurse Specialists (PMHCNS) were the first advanced practice nurses in the United States. Today, these specialized nurses still provide an essential function in the nursing field. Explore your training options and follow in their footsteps.
Overview of Mental Health Nurse Training
Mental health nurses treat patients with mood or personality disorders. Due to the advanced nature of mental health treatment, very specific training is typically required for these specialized nurses. Mental health nurses are valued for their blend of compassion and comprehensive knowledge of the mental health world.
Trained mental health nurses can be found in a range of work environments. You might work with soldiers and veterans in a government position or find employment at a medical or psychiatric hospital. Many mental health nurses work in specialized mental health facilities, which may be private or operated by the state. Still others might work one-on-one with patients in social work or school counseling scenarios.
Within the environments above, mental health nurses can further specialize, working in inpatient psychiatry, outpatient services, emergency and urgent psychiatry or court-liaison psychiatric services. Your specialty is up to you and can depend on your training, experience and interests.
Training to work as a mental health nurse means starting with basic nursing coursework and moving on to specialized education. A mental health nurse may work as a clinical nurse specialist, nurse practitioner or in a career that blends the two fields.
Mental Health Nurse Training: Degrees and Coursework
If you're just starting your nursing career and would like to become a mental health nurse, a bachelor's degree in nursing (BSN) is recommended. You could also qualify to work as a registered nurse (RN) with an associate degree or a diploma, but the bachelor's degree will be your most efficient route towards earning a master's degree down the line.
With advanced training in the form of a master's degree, clinical nurse specialists or nurse practitioners may find work as psychiatric mental health clinical nurse specialists. Students may choose to work specifically with adults, families or children.
In order to earn a master's degree in mental health nursing, you must first have a BSN, plus meet certain other requirements. Prerequisites generally include the following courses:
Master's degree programs also typically require a current license in the state in which you'll study. Contact individual schools for detailed information on degree requirements.
Mental Health Nurse Career Outlook
Nursing is expected to be one of the fastest-growing fields in the coming years. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of registered nurses is expected to grow much faster than average, with 581,500 new jobs expected to enter the field between 2008 and 2018. The 22 percent projected growth for nursing careers is due in part to the aging population, along with an increased emphasis on preventative care.
The BLS reports that registered nurses earned mean annual wages of $66,530 in 2009. Workers earning the lowest 10% of wages earned $43,970, while those earning the highest 10% earned $93,700. Because clinical nurse specialists working in mental health require more education, one can reasonably expect that they would earn more than entry-level registered nurses.
Take a look at mean annual wages in 2009 for RNs in industries with the highest level of employment, according to the BLS:
While no training program can guarantee a particular career or salary, registered nurses must possess some level of formal training and certification in each state. For the most competitive careers, a bachelor's or master's degree may be required, while some entry level jobs may only require an associate degree. Explore mental health nurse training programs today to find out how education fits in with your career plans in the health care field.
Resources for Mental Health Nurses: