FAQ: Are there any online post-master’s PMHNP certificate programs?

Answer: Yes – There are online post-master’s certificate programs available in the psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) specialty. These programs are for registered nurses (RNs) and/or current APRNs who already possess a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), and want to earn national certification as a PMHNP. In general, an online post-MSN PMHNP certificate program will require around 18 to 40 credits, and take about 12 to 15 months of full-time study to complete.

Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners provide advanced care to patients suffering from psychological, emotional, or behavioral health issues. Much like psychiatrists, their responsibilities include diagnosing mental illness, creating treatment programs to address these issues, prescribing medication if necessary, and monitoring any resulting changes in patients’ psyche. In order to practice as a PMHNP, nurses must obtain both national certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), and state-level licensure through their state’s board of nursing. This requires completing a graduate-level PMHNP program accredited by either the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN).

Online post-master’s certificate programs give RNs who already possess an MSN in a field other than psychiatric mental health nursing the opportunity to earn PMHNP certification in as little as one year. While students can expect to complete the majority of their coursework online, they still must fulfill a set number of clinical practice hours at a local health care facility. To learn more about online post-MSN PMHNP certificate programs, including the typical admissions criteria and length of completion, see the sections below.

Admission Requirements for Post-MSN PMHNP Certificate Programs

Post-master’s certificate programs fall into two different categories based on their admission requirements. New or Second Specialty programs are open to licensed RNs who possess any type of MSN, whether it is in advanced practice nursing or an indirect care focus such as nursing administration, clinical nurse leader, or nursing education. Second Specialty programs, on the other hand, require APRN certification for admission, which means applicants must have earned their MSN and typically be licensed in an APRN specialty. The main difference between these two types of programs is the number of MSN-level courses students must complete in order to earn their post-master’s certificate, as current APRNs will have already fulfilled some of these course requirements in their previous graduate program. Note: For APRNs, the two types of programs are typically equivalent, as a gap analysis of previous MSN coursework is often used to determine how many credits are needed to earn the post-master’s certificate.

In addition to these degree requirements, both of the pathways discussed above require applicants to hold a current, unrestricted RN license in their state of practice. Students often must have a certain amount of professional nursing experience before enrolling, usually around one to two years. Most programs also have a minimum GPA threshold that students must meet in order to be considered for admission. Other admission requirements may include the completion of certain prerequisite courses such as statistics or health assessment, a personal statement essay, and letters of recommendation from past professors or professional supervisors. Admission requirements vary by school and program, and can change from year to year. As such, students should be sure to carefully review all admission criteria before applying, or contact an admissions advisor for the most up-to-date requirements.

Length of an Online Post-Master’s Certificate PMHNP Program

The length of time it takes to complete an online post-master’s PMHNP certificate program will vary based on several factors. First, these programs are structured differently at different schools, and thus may take longer to finish at some institutions than others. Next, APRNs pursuing a post-MSN PMHNP certificate in order to earn their second specialty can typically complete the program in less time than RNs pursuing their first specialty. This is because APRNs will have already completed some of the required MSN-level coursework in their master’s program, and are typically allowed to waive those core courses in the certificate program. For some programs, APRNs only need to take the PMHNP specialty classes to earn their certificate.

A major decision students must make when it comes to pursuing a post-master’s certificate program is whether to enroll full-time or part-time. Both options are available, and may even be offered at the same school. While full-time programs take less terms to complete overall, they require a larger time commitment on a weekly basis. This makes part-time study, in which students take fewer courses each term over a longer period of time, a better option for those who intend to work full-time while completing their certificate program. In most cases, a full-time post-master’s certificate PMHNP program can be completed in approximately 12 to 15 months. Part-time students might finish in anywhere from 16 to 24 months, depending on how many courses they take each term. Actual program lengths also typically depend on a gap analysis of previous MSN coursework to determine the exact number of credits and classes needed to finish the program.

Online Post-MSN PMHNP Certificate Program Requirements

Post-master’s PMHNP certificate programs generally require the completion of around 18 to 40 course credits. The exact number depends on both the school offering the program, and students’ past MSN coursework. As discussed earlier, current APRNs can often waive certain MSN core courses they already completed in their master’s program. Most programs will conduct a gap analysis of incoming students’ graduate transcripts to determine if they need to take additional courses before beginning the PMHNP curriculum. RNs who received their MSN in an area such as nursing education or nursing administration may need to complete graduate-level core courses in fundamental clinical topics like advanced health assessment and pharmacology in order to prepare them for PMHNP specialization coursework.

In addition to the required coursework, online post-MSN PMHNP students must fulfill a set number of clinical practice hours to graduate and qualify for national certification. For these programs, the requirement generally ranges from 500 to 700 hours; however, some schools may require more than that. Online students typically complete these clinical hours at a hospital or other health care facility near their place of residence, under the supervision of a preceptor or instructor. Some schools match online students with clinical sites and preceptors in their area, while others leave it up to students to find their own clinical placements. Finally, some online post-MSN PMHNP certificate programs require students to visit campus one or more times for orientation events or clinical training sessions, which can span several days. On OnlineFNPPrograms.com, we only classify a program as “online” if it requires three or fewer campus visits per year.

Post-MSN PMHNP Curriculum and Sample Courses

The curriculum in a post-MSN certificate PMHNP program is primarily comprised of specialized coursework meant to train students in psychiatric mental health nursing. However, depending on the focus of their master’s program, students may need to complete certain MSN core courses before they can begin the PMHNP specialty coursework. These courses cover general advanced practice nursing methods and principles that all APRNs must know, no matter their specialization. While exact course titles may vary by program, here are some examples of MSN core courses and PMHNP specialization courses typically found in a post-master’s certificate program:

MSN Core Courses:

  • Advanced Health Assessment
  • Advanced Pharmacology
  • Advanced Physiology/Pathophysiology

PMHNP Specialization Courses:

  • Psychopharmacology Across the Lifespan
  • Mental Disorders: Pathogenesis and Development
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in Clinical Settings
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health
  • Mental Health Care for the Aging and Elderly

For more information about online PMHNP programs, including detailed descriptions of the courses listed above, check out our Online Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs page.