psychiatric nursing

Psychiatric Nursing: Professional Care in Mental Health

Psychiatric mental health nurses (PMHNs) are registered nurses who are specially trained to ensure the mental wellbeing of patients. They form an important part of the medical personnel community specializing in mental health. A study published in Sage Journals records that they are the “second largest group of behavioral health professionals in the United States.”

Psychiatric nurses can treat patients, their loved ones, families or even communities. Psychiatric treatments are long drawn to ensure that patients recover from traumatic incidents and heal in ways that can mentally strengthen them. These treatments are also aimed at identifying and managing causes and triggers in one’s immediate environment that is affecting their mental well-being. This means that psychiatric nurses can be in touch with their patients for years, perhaps even for life.

PHM nurses are mostly hired by hospitals, clinics or private practices. They can also be hired by institutions providing mental health facilities like schools, universities, offices, rehab centres, assisted living facilities, correctional facilities or community organizations.  They can be required to work with psychiatrists, nurse practitioners and other medical personnel to provide tailored healthcare facilities for patients. At times, they may even be required to interact with non-medical professionals like social workers.

Responsibilities of a Psychiatric Nurse

Psych nurses are trained to treat patients with prominent mental health needs. However, they differ from other mental healthcare professionals in the fact that they provide bedside care in institutional settings. Therefore, their approach to patient care is also different.

Often, due to their unique position, they can be required to juggle several hats from primary caregiver, to behavioral therapist to nurse manager to informatics officer.

Their primary duties can include:

  • Assisting patients: PMH nurses are often responsible for assisting patients go about their daily tasks which can range from self-care to recreational activities. They ensure that medicines are taken on time, and treatment plans are followed properly. While psych nurses cannot prescribe medications or draft advanced treatment plans, they can certainly help ensure that protocols are being followed.
  • Interpersonal relationships: Psych nurses are often required to communicate with patients regarding their diagnosis and treatment. It is important that they build trustworthy relationships with patients. They must also communicate with doctors about the patient’s status and other medical needs. They may even be required to interact with family members and help them understand medical diagnosis and treatments in layman’s terms. Therefore, interpersonal skills are an important requirement for PMHNs.
  • Enforcing patient rights: Just like all other registered nurses, psych nurses too interact with the patient on a more personal level. The responsibility of the patient’s primary care falls upon them. They can be trusted with confidential patient information. Therefore, they must be the ones to ensure that the patient’s interests are given the highest priority when it comes to clinical decision making.
  • Maintaining patient charts: Along with ensuring that proper treatment plans are being followed, psychiatric nurses also maintain patient charts to map their response to treatments or medications. This helps to gauge the effectivity of the ongoing medical care and can help determine if they need to be adjusted or should continue as is.
  • Conduct assessments: Routine evaluations are a part of any recovery journey. It is a crucial step towards healing. PMHNs are tasked with this duty as they interact the most with patients. It would therefore be easier for them to notice changes in the patient.
  • Informatics: Psychiatric nurses are also required to ensure that everything is properly documented digitally. They are often required to venture into the informatics field to ensure accuracy in data collection and preservation.
  • Ensure safety: Psychiatric nurses are often required to treat patients of varying severity in the same settings. They must therefore maintain a safe environment at all times. This is to ensure that all possible triggers which can put both patients and healthcare staff at risk, can be avoided.
  • Coordinating with other professionals: PMH nurses often work with a team to ensure quality patientcare. They spend a lot of time with patients which puts them in a position from which they can monitor their wellbeing closely. Owing to this, they can be required to interact with other medical staff, family members or social workers.

How to become a Psychiatric Nurse?

To become a psychiatric nurse, you must begin your career as registered nurse. You can qualify for your NCLEX-RN after completing your ADN or BSN degree. You can also opt for an accelerated nursing programme.

After receiving this, you need to have two years of clinical experience as a full time RN. You also need to complete 2,000 hours of clinical duty in a psychiatric setting within three years of getting your RN licensure.

In addition to this, you also need to get a specialization certificate as a psychiatric nurse from the American Nursing Credentialing Center.

Salary Expectations for Psychiatric Nurses

NurseJournal notes that the average psychiatric nurse salary is around $67,360 per year with the hourly rate being $32.59.  The numbers can vary according to location, experience or the institution that nurses are hired.

PMHNs can also increase their salary significantly by pursuing advanced degrees.

Career advancement prospects

As healthcare moves towards a more holistic approach to healing, mental and physical health is being considered to be of equal importance. Psychiatric nursing blends nursing expertise with psychiatric knowledge. It is a diverse field and further advancements only stand to hone its practice.

Psychiatric nurses can pursue MSN or DNP degrees which will not only facilitate salary increments but also increase demand. In some states, psychiatric nurse practitioners, mostly PMH-APRNs, can diagnose patients, prescribe medications and create treatment plans. In these cases, they can work independently of physicians. This can increase job prospects. PMH-APRNs can also act as consultants which can also provide networking opportunities for further career advancement opportunities.

PMH nurses can also choose the area they want to focus on, depending on the patient demographic they wish to treat. Nurses can choose to focus on mental health issues in children, veterans, addicts or elderly patients.

Final thoughts

Mental health has become an increasingly significant concerns in the recent times. Lifestyle, diet, work, school everything seems to have become an impacting factor. Mental health problems seem to have become ‘normalized’ to a degree, considering the high stress environments most individuals are surrounded by. However, despite this, nearly 157 million Americans do not have access to adequate mental health facilities.

By choosing to specialize in mental health, nurses can add to the solution of a problem that will only continue to grow. With their expertise, PMHNs can help individuals and communities in need.



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