How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse

nursing student studying to be in psychiatric specialty

Psychiatric nurses are trained to provide psychological and physical health care services for patients with a broad range of mental health conditions in various settings, including public hospitals and private psychiatric clinics. These nurses are indispensable, providing essential and life-saving care to patients needing support. 

Being a psych nurse can be incredibly challenging, and nurses who work in these roles may face violence, so it’s essential to know how to handle violence from patients and avoid violent nursing situations. 

Despite the challenges that come from this role, some psych nurses share highlights of the job, including the following:

  • “It’s one of the most rewarding things you can do…helping people, treating people who often struggle to have a voice of their own and giving them a voice and their own treatment…” - Kirk Bergmark 
  • “Caring for people who are misunderstood by many other people… this is a profession of the heart…” - Beth Phoenix
  • “In the last 20 years I’ve seen psychiatric nursing grow so much and our understanding of behavior health issues… not matter what kind of nurse you are, you’re doing psych nursing…” - JoEllen Schimmels
  • “With psychiatric nursing, I love integration, I think the whole health begins with mental health…” - Gail Stern 

If you’re interested in becoming a psych nurse, this blog post will outline what steps you need to take, including educational requirements and any mandatory or optional certificates. You’ll better understand whether this is a path you’d like to pursue or whether you want to explore other nursing specialties. 

For more information on psych nursing, refer to Nursa’s comprehensive guide on psych nursing, which answers questions including the following: how much does a psych nurse make, is psych nursing hard, daily roles of psych nurses, and more. 

Steps to Become a Psych Nurse

To become a psych nurse, you’ll need to complete the following requirements:

  • An active RN license
  • A minimum of two years experience as a full-time RN
  • A minimum of 2,000 hours in clinical psychiatric nursing within the previous three years 
  • Thirty hours of continuing education in psychiatric-mental health nursing within the past three years

How Long Does It Take to Become a Psych Nurse?

Becoming a psychiatric nurse generally takes six to eight years, depending on a student’s academic choices, whether it be an ADN or BSN and part-time or full-time study. Students also need to consider the duration of time taken to pass the NCLEX-RN and whether they intend to get a master’s degree. 

Most master’s degrees in nursing “require applicants to have completed 2 years of work experience, adding to the timeline,” according to NurseJournal. In addition, many jobs require practical clinical experience as a nurse before becoming a psych nurse, which adds one or more years to the timeline of becoming a psych nurse. 

Resources for Psych Nurses

The following online and in-person resources provide networks and community for psych nurses:

If you’re still early on in your journey of becoming a psych nurse, it may still be worthwhile to connect with psych nursing groups in order to ensure you have the most up-to-date information on the profession, know what to expect when you become a psych nurse, and develop connections which you can leverage into a job or other opportunities. 

To connect with nursing professionals, including psych nurses across the country, you can also join Nursa’s community, a space to ask questions, network, and share insights with like-minded individuals.

Read More About this specialty

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