FAQ: Are There Any Online RN to MSN PMHNP Programs?

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By Staff Writer

A psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) takes on many of the same roles as a psychiatrist. These professionals help patients with mental health needs using therapy. PMHNPs may evaluate and diagnose patients and also prescribe psychiatric medications.

This page answers questions about how to become a PMHNP. It outlines the educational pathways aspiring nurse practitioners can take and offers information about what students can expect from these programs. This guide also covers additional steps to becoming a PMHNP, such as clinical practicum and professional licensure requirements.

Online RN-to-MSN PMHNP Programs

Most registered nurse (RN) to master of science in nursing (MSN) programs offer several concentration options. Individuals who want to become PMHNPs should look for RN-to-MSN programs with a specialization in psychiatric mental health. These programs can last anywhere from 2-4 years, depending on whether students enroll full or part time. Some schools offer accelerated options that allow students to graduate even more quickly.

When researching degree options, make sure you look for accredited programs. Accreditation ensures that the program provides a quality education. With an accredited degree, you can apply for licensure, jobs, or doctoral programs. With an unaccredited degree, finding these opportunities becomes more difficult, if not impossible.

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Traditional RN-to-MSN Programs

RNs with a bachelor’s degree in nursing can apply to traditional RN-to-MSN programs. Unlike bridge programs, the curriculum for traditional programs includes only graduate level courses. Students participate in supervised clinical experiences and study psychiatric theory and therapy techniques. The program prepares students to take the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner certification exam from the American Nurse Credentialing Center (ANCC), which PMHNPs need in order to practice.

Bridge RN-to-MSN Programs

Nurses can obtain RN licensure with an associate degree instead of a bachelor’s degree, or they might hold a bachelor’s degree in another area. Bridge RN-to-MSN programs allow these nurses to enroll directly in an MSN program without previously earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing. These programs typically include “bridge” courses or a few undergraduate nursing courses before they can move on to master’s level coursework. Graduates may take the national certification exam from the ANCC.

Admission Requirements for Online RN-to-MSN PMHNP Programs

Online RN-to-MSN mental health nurse practitioner programs consider applicants who possess, at minimum, an RN license. Traditional programs require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree, while bridge programs often accept prospective learners with an associate degree. Some bridge programs still require incoming students to hold a bachelor’s degree, even if those degrees do not relate to nursing.

No matter their previous degree, applicants should send in their academic transcripts. Often RN-to-MSN programs set a minimum GPA requirement. Most commonly, schools set this GPA requirement at 3.0, but some schools consider applicants with minimum GPAs ranging from 2.5-3.2.

Applicants should submit their CV or resume outlining their work experience. Some universities expect incoming students to hold one or two years of nursing experience, but many schools do not. Generally, applicants must write an essay, such as a personal or goals statement. Several programs also require prospective students to submit one or more recommendation letters as well.

Online RN-to-MSN PMHNP Program Requirements

The requirements for RN-to-MSN mental health nurse practitioner programs vary, depending on several factors. For one, ADN-to-PMHNP bridge programs require additional foundational coursework. State licensure regulations also determine certain requirements within MSN curriculum plans.

RN-to-MSN programs generally comprise at least 36 credits of coursework, although many curriculum plans require more. Especially within an MSN PMHNP specialization, students take additional concentration courses that might add up to 45-60 credits in total. On top of that, bridge programs typically include 12-24 additional credits of coursework.

Most programs take at least two years to complete for full-time students on traditional pathways. Part-time students may take an extra year or two longer to complete their degree, and those without a bachelor’s degree might need 3-4 years, even if they enroll full time. Still, ADN-to-PMHNP bridge programs offer a faster pathway than earning a full bachelor’s and master’s degree.

Clinical Practicum Requirements

MSN programs always require students to complete clinical practicum hours. States set licensure requirements for nurse practitioners, which include supervised work experience. In other words, students work in a psychiatric clinic or other mental health setting under the supervision of a licensed professional. Each state sets its own minimum practicum hours needed for licensure, and accredited programs within that state integrate those requirements within the curriculum.

RN-to-MSN PMHNP Curriculum

MSN students in psychiatric mental health nursing take courses focusing on advanced nursing and psychotherapy. They learn about how to assess, diagnose, and treat patients through courses like advanced pathophysiology, pharmacology, and diagnostic reasoning. Programs also sometimes include a culminating experience, such as a capstone course or final research project.

Bridge programs include additional courses that students must complete before they begin their graduate curriculum. These may consist of bachelor’s-level nursing courses like health assessment, community nursing, and nursing research. Alternatively, some programs develop courses specifically for bridge students.

Licensure Requirements for Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners

PMHNPs need advanced practice nursing licensure in order to legally practice. State licensing boards set these rules and regulations, which means that requirements vary, depending on the state.

In general, licensure candidates must obtain a master’s degree in nursing. During this time, they complete the required practicum hours and prepare for the national ANCC certification exam in psychiatric mental health. They must earn a passing score on this exam to qualify for state licensure. The exam may cost $250-$400; candidates within certain professional associations pay a lower price.

Finally, the state may also require PMHNPs to participate in a collaborative or supervised practice agreement before they can practice independently.