Mental Health Nurse career
There are several types of nurses who work in a mental health facility. They include licensed practical nurses (LPNs), registered nurses (RNs), advanced practice nurses (APRNs) and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). However, only the RN and APRN are trained to assess, treat and counsel patients. APRNS can go a step further to diagnose and prescribe medications.
RNs typically train for two years to obtain an associate degree or four years to obtain a bachelor’s degree. However, most facilities require a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Training includes classroom lectures and hands-on work in various areas of nursing. Some schools offer a bridge program from an associate to a bachelor’s degree. Other schools offer accelerated programs for students who hold a degree in another field.
Having become an RN, aspiring nurse practitioners then get a master’s or doctorate degree in a specialized area of nursing. This can take an additional two to five years.
When searching for a nursing school to attend, it is important to choose one that is accredited. Both the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) and the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) offer searchable program directories on their websites. Make sure that the program is accredited by a national nursing accreditation association such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE – the accrediting arm of AACN) or ACEN. The state board of nursing should approve the school as well.
Accredited nursing schools are required to have students complete a specific number of clinical training hours in various settings. There is also a classroom requirement for lectures and testing. Newly licensed RNs may complete a one-year residency, if offered, to enhance skills. All nurses are required to complete a specified number of continuing education (CE) hours yearly and submit those hours when renewing their RN license.
Licensing and Certification
Nurses must be board-certified to practice by the state where they are working. Each state has a board of nursing with criteria for certification. To get an RN license, the candidate must attend a state-approved school and pass the National Council Licensure Examination, or NCLEX.
An experienced psychiatric nurse can also obtain certification as Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse (PMHN) through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Again the candidate must pass an examination and demonstrate work experience as well as expertise in the field of mental health nursing.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Aspiring psychiatric nurses should be compassionate and have empathy for people who are living with mental illness. Nurses also need to have good self-awareness and maturity to support patients without feeling overwhelmed by the patients’ problems.
Psychiatric nurses need to be “people people” who enjoy interaction and helping others through their problems. They also rely on excellent communication skills and the ability to collaborate in order to work effectively within a medical team.
Quick thinking and the ability to problem-solve are additional skills that psychiatric nurses need. They can be called upon in emergencies with patients who have destructive behaviors and emotional crises.
Psychiatric nurses need to be detail-oriented and organized, especially when working with medications and documentation.
Opportunities for Advancement
Experienced psychiatric nurses may move into management or administrative positions, such as unit manager or director of nursing. These positions often require a master’s degree as well as leadership skills, good judgment, excellent communication and negotiation skills. Nurse leaders also need to work well with others and be motivators for the nursing staff.
Some psychiatric nurses pursue advanced practice degrees and certifications as an APRN. An APRN can make diagnoses and, where allowed, prescribe medications as well as hold therapy sessions. These nurses can work in hospitals, community centers, private practices and other areas to serve as primary care providers.