By Staff Writer
Nurse practitioners are similar to both nurses and doctors. Nurse practitioners meet with patients independently, and many states allow these professionals to diagnose patients and prescribe medication. Nurse practitioners may also specialize in different nursing subfields, including psychiatric mental health.
Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) use psychotherapeutic techniques to help people facing mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders and challenges. Before PMHNPs can practice, however, they must obtain the appropriate degree, national certification, and state licensure. This guide outlines the steps for one pathway to become a PMHNP: earning a post-master's certificate in psychiatric nurse practitioner online.
Online Post-MSN PMHNP Certificate Programs
Sometimes, nurses or advanced practice nurses already hold a master's degree in nursing, but they want to change their focus or pursue a specialization. Instead of enrolling in another master's program, some select a post-MSN certificate program, which allows them to fulfill all of the state licensure and national certification requirements in a shorter amount of time.
A variety of colleges and universities provide a post-master's psychiatric nurse certification, and many offer post-master's psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs online. Candidates should enroll exclusively in accredited programs; otherwise, they cannot obtain licensure and legally practice.
New Speciality Programs
New specialty certificate programs accept students with a master of science in nursing who do not necessarily hold nurse practitioner licensure. This type of program includes all of the requirements students need to become licensed psychiatric nurse practitioners, including the necessary courses and supervised clinical hours. This certificate might appeal to MSN-holders working in nursing leadership, education, or administration who want to change their career focus.
Second Specialty Programs
Individuals can enroll in a second specialty certificate program if they already possess a master's in nursing and advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) licensure in another area, like pediatric or geriatric care. This program helps candidates add a PMHNP certification to their credentials. Since these students already hold APRN licensure, second specialty certification programs generally do not require as many courses as new specialty programs, allowing students to earn a certificate on a faster timeline.
Featured Online Programs (RN License Required)
Admission Requirements for Online Post-MSN PMHNP Certificate Programs
While admissions requirements for new specialty and second specialty psychiatric nurse practitioner certification programs are generally similar, guidelines diverge when it comes to APRN licensure. Individuals applying to a second specialty should already possess a license, while new specialty program applicants do not. In addition, many programs require incoming students to hold an active RN license and 1-2 years of professional experience.
All prospective students should hold both a bachelor's and master's degree. While some certificate programs require applicants to hold an undergraduate degree in nursing, others allow any bachelor's degree, as long as incoming learners possess an MSN. Schools often set a minimum GPA for admissions -- most commonly 3.0 -- although some universities simply dictate that applicants should be in "good academic standing."
Frequently, certificate programs expect students to have previously completed courses like pharmacology and advanced health assessment.
Online Post-MSN PMHNP Certificate Program Requirements
New and second specialty programs vary mainly in their number of required course credits. Students entering a new specialty program must take courses to prepare them for APRN licensure, which could add an extra semester or year to their curriculum plan. Second speciality programs may last 1-2 years, while new specialty programs usually take 2-3 years to complete. Part-time learners may take even longer to graduate.
Required credits also depend on incoming students' educational backgrounds. Licensed APRNs do not need to complete as many credits, nor as many clinical hours. Usually, second specialty programs require 25-35 credits, while new specialty candidates without APRN licensure may need to complete up to 50 credits of coursework.
Keep in mind: many schools allow students to pursue a post-master's PMHNP certification as a new specialty or second specialty program.
Clinical Practicum Requirements
The ANCC requires psychology mental health nurse practitioner candidates to complete at least 500 hours of supervised clinical work before taking the certification exam. Even nurse practitioners who already hold APRN licensure in another field must complete 500 clinical hours within their PMHNP certification programs. While individuals without the APRN credential usually need to complete additional hours to meet state licensing guidelines, specific requirements vary by state.
Post-MSN PMHNP Certificate Program Curriculum
These programs' curricula focus on psychology theory, psychopathological disorders, and neurobiology. Students learn to provide psychotherapy for individuals and groups, and to assess and diagnose patients. Candidates also explore psychology-specific pharmacology so they can prescribe medication, and may study different therapy techniques, like integrative therapy or systems interventions.
Individuals without APRN licensure must take additional courses at the beginning of the program. These courses often cover health assessment, pathophysiology, and disease prevention and health promotion.
Licensure Requirements for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
Prospective psychiatric nurse practitioners must earn state licensure before they can legally practice. State licensing boards set licensing requirements, so specific qualifications vary from state to state. However, psychiatric mental health APRN licensure follows some general guidelines from state to state. All candidates must complete a master's in nursing and a certain number of supervised clinical work hours.
Applicants should also obtain the proper national certification by taking the ANCC's qualifying exam. This exam costs anywhere from $250-$375, depending on whether test-takers belong to a professional association.
PMHNPs must also renew their certification every five years. To qualify for renewal, nurse practitioners need to participate in professional development and complete at least 1,000 practice hours.