If you’re an empathetic soul who’s up for a challenge, then psychiatric nursing may be a great fit for you. The assessment and treatment of psychiatric and mental health issues are growing in our society and the patients who experience these conditions need healthcare professionals who will treat them with the expertise, professionalism and compassion they deserve. If you’re already seasoned in the field and looking for a change, then becoming a traveling psychiatric nurse maybe exactly what your adventuresome spirit needs.
Also known as psychiatric mental health nurses (PMHN), psychiatric RNs practice in a variety of roles and in a number of settings. Overall, as specialty registered nurses, they work with individuals, families, and any numbers of groups to assess the patient’s mental health needs, develop appropriate nursing diagnoses, implement the nursing process, and then evaluate for effective outcomes. Such needs can include a variety of psychiatric and mental health diagnoses, including addictions, depression, and those associated with dementia. Psychiatric Mental Health Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (PMH-APRNs) (think NPs for patients with mental disorders) practice at a more advanced level, and provide primary care services to this population, and is able to assess, diagnose and provide treatment – including psychotherapy and medication prescription.
Depending upon credentials, PMHNs can practice in a variety of settings – including inpatient, community, academic, research, and both private and public health institutions. Some hold advanced administrative positions at the state and federal levels. Within these settings, and according to the individual nurse’s role, tasks may include foundational nursing functions using the knowledge and skills associated with the nursing process: assessment, planning, implementation and evaluation. This could be shift- and unit-based practice within the inpatient setting, or more advanced practice in the community in a variety of roles. Generally the advanced licensures allow for a more independent practice.
Psychiatric nursing can be very challenging. Unfortunately, mental health issues and psychiatric diagnoses still carry a stigma in our society, and individuals who live with them often undergo a great deal of negative treatment from society. Psychiatric nurses need to be compassionate, non-judgmental, patient, and calm in a crisis. The ability to maintain professional boundaries, as well as provide advocacy for these patients, is paramount – as is the ability to work as part of a team. This isn’t a field for the weak-of-heart. Patient behavior can be quite challenging – even violent in some situations – and these professionals need to skillfully deal with such behavior using all of the expertise and support the team provides.
There are numerous “pros” and “cons” working as a PMHN, they include:
The minimum educational requirement is the same as for other registered nurses, which is an associate degree in nursing (ADN) and licensure in the state of practice. Some nurses have baccalaureate (BSN) degrees, and others who practice in advanced roles have master (MSN) degrees, also known as advanced practice nurses (APN), such as clinical nurse specialists (CNS), and nurse practitioners (NP). Nurse scientists and those who practice in academia typically have a minimum of an MSN, but many also have PhDs.
The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) is a professional membership organization that offers support for PMH nurses who possess this entire spectrum of credentials and operate in a variety of practice settings. Both the American Association of Colleges of Nursing (AACN) and the National League for Nursing (NLN) offer guidance about accredited nursing programs, and the
APNA provides a list of psychiatric mental health nursing graduate programs that are available in each state.
Salaries vary depending upon education, experience, credentials, practice settings, and geographical areas. According to payscale.com, PMHNs can expect to make just over $39,000 to almost $100,000, with pay variability linked to experience. Advanced practice nurses salaries can range from $70,000 to nearly $127,000. A great way to increase your salary, as well as showcase your expertise, is to become certified in psychiatric-mental health nursing. Those interested in becoming traveling psychiatric nurses can secure the best positions by being certified, since prospective employers know these professionals offer verifiable expertise.
Since PMHNs are registered nurses who do not practice at an advanced level, the medical careers that are most similar to this role are registered nurses who practice in different specialty areas and licensed practical nurses and technicians who work in the psychiatric/mental health setting. LPNs and technicians in this field work with the same population of patients, but have lesser educational requirements and responsibilities, provide care under the supervision of the PMHN, and make less money. The role of the advanced practice nurse (PMH-APRN) may be more like that of the psychologist, social worker and psychiatrist – who all have extensive educational and credentialing requirements as well. All can practice independently, but the scope of practice for each is determined by the state laws in which they operate.
Traveling psychiatric nurses enjoy many benefits. There are new places to visit, and you’ll get to work in some of the best healthcare institutions in the country. Travelers make more money, with benefits and living expenses often included. Lengths of assignments vary, but typically range from 13-26 weeks. Salaries depend upon credentials, experience, work setting, employer and location. So if you’re empathetic soul is looking for a challenge, consider psychiatric nursing as a way to find it. There are many people in our society who need what you can uniquely offer. And if you’re a seasoned pro ready for a change, then maybe it’s time to hit the road as a traveling psychiatric nurse to start your new adventure.
Sue Montgomery, RN, BSN is a freelance healthcare writer and professional copywriter. In her 30 years as a registered nurse, Sue has held roles from staff nurse to administrator in critical care, hospice and the health insurance industry.