Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs (PMHNP)

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) provide advanced nursing care to individuals, groups, and families suffering from psychiatric and mental health problems. Their typical responsibilities include diagnosing mental health conditions, developing holistic health care plans that address patients’ physical and mental health care needs, providing individual, group, and family psychotherapy, and implementing crisis interventions when necessary. PMHNPs work with patients across the lifespan, and in such settings as community health clinics, schools, hospitals, prisons, and public health departments.

To become a PMHNP, registered nurses must complete a PMHNP program that has been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing, or the National League for Nursing (NLN). RNs who complete an accredited PMHNP program and who wish to become nationally certified must apply to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), which is the only organization that currently offers national certification in advanced practice psychiatric nursing. Registered nurses who wish to only earn certification in their state of residence should contact their state’s board of nursing for application details.

Overview of Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs

Accredited online PMHNP programs are available at the MSN, post-MSN certificate and DNP levels. Different psychiatric mental health NP programs are available for RNs who have obtained different levels of education. Examples of such online PMHNP programs include:

  • Online BSN to MSN PMHNP Programs require applicants to have a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) from a CCNE or ACEN accredited program. BSN to MSN programs typically require the completion of 50 to 60 academic credits, and can take between 12 and 24 months to complete.
  • Online Bachelor’s to MSN PMHNP Programs admit registered nurses who have earned a bachelor’s degree (either a BSN or a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field) from an accredited program. For students who hold a BSN, these programs are equivalent to BSN to MSN programs. Students with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree typically need to complete a certain number of baccalaureate-level bridge courses, and thus this type of program generally requires the completion of 60 to 75 credits, and can take between 24 and 30 months.
  • Online RN to MSN PMHNP Programs admit RNs who hold either an Associate Degree in Nursing or a diploma in nursing from an accredited institution, and who wish to earn their BSN and MSN through one concentrated program. RN to MSN programs generally require the completion of 120 to 150 credits, and can take between 24 and 36 months. While some online RN to MSN PMHNP programs accept applicants who hold either an ADN or a diploma, other programs only admit ADN graduates.
  • Online Post-MSN PMHNP Programs accept applicants who have already earned a master of science in nursing in a field other than psychiatry and/or mental health, and who want to gain training and certification as a PMHNP. Post-MSN PMHNP certificate programs typically require 22 to 40 credits and take 12 to 15 months to complete.
  • Online BSN to DNP PMHNP Programs are for registered nurses who have earned a BSN from an accredited school of nursing, and want to pursue a DNP without first completing a separate MSN program. These programs include both MSN and DNP-level courses, and can entail anywhere from 65 to 95 credit hours. A full-time BSN to DNP PMHNP program typically takes three to four years to complete, while a part-time program may take as much as six years to complete. Some of these programs give students the chance to earn both an MSN and a DNP, and others only confer a DNP upon completion.
  • Online Post-Master’s to DNP PMHNP Programs give nurses with a master’s degree the opportunity to pursue their DNP alongside APRN certification as a PMHNP. These programs are more or less a DNP program combined with a post-master’s PMHNP program, and generally take one to two years to complete. There are several different MSN to DNP paths available to students based on their educational background. MSN to DNP PMHNP new specialty programs are designed for students who earned their master’s in a non-APRN nursing field (such as clinical nurse leader or nursing education), and want to pursue APRN certification as part of their DNP program. MSN to DNP PMHNP second specialty programs, on the other hand, require that students already have APRN certification. These programs are for APRNs who want to pursue a DNP as well as a second certification in the specialty area of PMHNP.

Admission Requirements for Accredited Online PMHNP Programs

Accredited online PMHNP programs typically have rigorous admission requirements. In addition to the degree requirements explained above, applicants to online PMHNP programs must be registered nurses with an active, unrestricted license to practice in their state of residence. Other admission requirements may include a minimum overall GPA requirement, the completion of certain courses such as statistics and health assessment with a minimum grade, and at least one year of professional experience as a nurse. Applicants to online psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs must submit a personal statement, transcripts of all their college classes, letters of recommendation, and a professional resume. As online nursing programs tend to revisit their admission requirements on a regular basis, students should always check with the admissions office of the schools that interest them in order to receive the most up-to-date information on admissions criteria and application requirements.

Curriculum Details for Online PMHNP Programs

Online psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs generally feature a combination of core courses in advanced practice registered nursing, such as Advanced Health Assessment and Clinical Decision Making, and classes that focus specifically on psychiatry and mental health, such as Psychopharmacology and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Medical Settings. Students generally complete the core courses of their program before progressing to specialized classes.

In addition to the coursework mentioned above, online DNP programs contain a set of doctoral-level courses designed to provide training in the eight core competencies outlined by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing in The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice. While their specific titles may vary, these courses are included in all DNP programs regardless of specialty, and cover topics such as health care policy, systems and organizational leadership, health care information systems, interprofessional collaboration, and analytical methods for evidence-based practice.

Accredited online PMHNP programs are available in both full-time and part -time formats. Relative to part-time programs, full-time PMHNP programs typically allow students to earn their degree in a shorter amount of time, as they require students to take more classes per term. While they tend to take longer than full-time programs, part-time programs permit students to take fewer courses per term, and thus they can be a helpful option for individuals who have other personal or professional obligations. When selecting between a full-time and a part-time program, students should consider such factors as their present and future commitments apart from school, and how soon they wish to earn their degree.

Clinical Hours Requirements for Online Psychiatric Mental Health NP Programs

On top of graduate courses, PMHNP programs generally require students to complete between 600 and 1000 clinical hours over the course of their program. DNP students are required to complete a minimum of 1000 clinical hours as part of their doctoral program, however many schools require more than that. Clinical hours are defined as the time a student spends fulfilling actual nursing responsibilities in a real medical setting, while under the supervision of a preceptor, who is a medical professional that evaluates and mentors students as they complete their hands-on clinical tasks.

Accredited online PMHNP programs typically divide students’ clinical hours among multiple practicum courses that students take throughout the course of their program. These practicum courses generally give students the opportunity to discuss their clinical experiences with peers and faculty. Some PMHNP programs match students to clinical sites and preceptors, while other programs may ask students to find their own supervisor and clinical location, while providing support and assistance to students during their search.

Campus Visit Requirements for Online PMHNP Programs

The majority of online APRN programs, including online psychiatric mental health NP programs, require students to attend a certain number of on campus intensives, also known as campus visits. These visits may require students to participate in in-person lectures and discussions with instructors and fellow students, group projects, networking events, and clinical simulation experiences. OnlineFNPPrograms.com considers an online program to be one that requires three or fewer visits to campus annually.

Sample Courses for Online PMHNP Programs

Online PMHNP programs are typically composed of classes that cover general advanced practice nursing methods and principles, as well as advanced psychiatric and mental health topics. While class content and titles vary by program, typical courses may include:

Core Courses for Online PMHNP Programs:

  • Human Physiology and Pathophysiology: The structure and function of the different organs and organ systems within the human body. The role and anatomy of different cells and tissues are also discussed. How a healthy human body functions across the lifespan, and how different factors (ex. environment, age, lifestyle) can affect human health at different life stages. Students will learn how to apply their understanding of human anatomy and physiology to health assessments and clinical decisions.
  • Advanced Health Assessment: The methods and principles of taking accurate medical histories. How to collect, analyze, and synthesize information about patients’ physical, emotional, and mental characteristics to create an actionable understanding of their health. How to also take cultural and social considerations into account when assessing patient health and developing an effective health care plan.
  • Advanced Pharmacology: The different classes of medicines and their effect on the human body. Common diseases and conditions, and how various drugs act at the cellular, tissue, organ, and organ systems levels to treat different ailments. The principles of drug metabolism, dose-response relationships, pharmacodynamics, and pharmacokinetics.
  • Psychiatric Mental Health Concentration Courses:

    • Psychopharmacology Across the Lifespan: The different classes of drugs that are used to treat mental and emotional disorders, and how they act on different systems within the human body. How common mental disorders are medically treated at different stages in a patient’s life, from childhood on through old age.
    • Mental Disorders: Pathogenesis and Development: The biological origin and development of common mental disorders, including bipolar disorder, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and other psychological and emotional conditions. Students will focus on different populations, such as children, adolescents, adults, and the elderly, and the potential mental health issues these populations face.
    • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Clinical Settings: Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and its use in clinical settings to treat a wide range of mental and emotional disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, phobias, and anxiety. Students will also discuss conditions such as eating disorders, marital problems, obesity, and substance abuse, and how CBT can help patients address the underlying emotional and mental problems that contribute to self-destructive behaviors. The focus of this course will be on guiding patients through self-awareness and self-help strategies that can be used both in and outside of a clinical setting.
    • Child and Adolescent Mental Health: This course focuses specifically on the psychological, emotional, and social challenges that children and adolescents face as they develop, and how these challenges impact these individuals both physically and mentally. How psychological and emotional disorders such as anxiety, OCD, ADHD, and depression originate and develop in children and teenagers. How different types of trauma can translate into mental, emotional, and behavioral problems in youth, and how nurse practitioners can address these problems through medication and/or cognitive therapy.
    • Mental Health Care for the Aging and Elderly: The specific social, emotional, and mental challenges that elderly individuals face. The impact of environment and changing life circumstances (ex. retirement, shifting family relationships, deaths of friends and family) on older adults’ physical and psychological well-being. Common psychological disorders that the elderly face, such as depression, anxiety, Alzheimer’s disease, and dementia, and their treatment through medicine and CBT.