Perhaps you’re here because you’ve decided you want to pursue a psychiatric nursing career and are researching how to become a psychiatric nurse. You know that helping people is what fills your cup, and the fast-paced environment appeals to you because you know you’ll never get bored. 

Maybe you’re also aware of the high number of Americans facing mental illness and want to help do something about it.

So, what is a psychiatric nurse, and what specifics should you know about psychiatric mental health nursing before you choose a career path?

Beyond gratification and intellectual stimulation, there are a few more tricks (and perks!) of the trade you’ll want to consider before committing to this particular branch of nursing. 

1. Psychiatrists and Psychiatric Nurses Are Not the Same

Psychiatric nurses, also known as mental health nurses or PMHNs, are not to be confused with psychiatrists. While both offer mental health services and may work in collaboration with one another, the jobs and the qualifications needed for each mental health professional are unique.

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors that specialize particularly in mental health. As part of their training, they have participated in three years of residency focused on diagnosing and treating several types of mental health disorders and illnesses. They can prescribe medication and offer psychotherapy as part of their patient care plan for patients.
  • Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses that help carry out these plans but are generally not involved in prescribing medications (unless they are registered as Nurse Practitioners, aka NPs).

2. There are Multiple Pathways to Success

Psychiatric and mental health care nurses can follow a few possible educational trajectories on their way to becoming registered nurses.

As part of their advanced practice nurse training for psychiatric care, all PMHNs complete coursework in pharmacology and behavioral science. However, not all psychiatric mental health nursing candidates are required to complete a four-year degree before entering the field. 

Nurses can start with any of the following programs:

  • A two-year Associate’s Degree in Nursing (ADN)
  • A two-to-three-year RN diploma
  • A four-year Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing (BSN)

Aspiring nurses making a career change after completing an undergraduate degree in another subject may be eligible for admission to a two-year Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN), assuming they have fulfilled all prerequisites.

All of these programs are viable pathways towards state licensure and official status as a registered nurse. 

  • To become RNs, graduates must pass the NCLEX-RN exam. ADN, BSN, and MSN graduates are eligible to stand for this test.
  • Candidates with an RN diploma are only eligible for the NCLEX-PN exam.

Some students may be navigating a career change while working a full-time job in another industry. Others are unable to commit to a bachelor’s degree program for financial reasons.

With alternative routes available, the psychiatric-mental health nursing career path is accessible to a wide population.  

Master your craft through new experiences. Apply today!

3. Compassion and Communication are Key 

Mental health nurses must graduate from an approved nursing program and receive proper licensure for their state, but what about the soft skill requirements for this profession?

Compassion and excellent communication skills are essential qualities for PMHNs. 

Nurses who have mastered the art of listening to verbal and non-verbal communication, who ask the right questions, and who can navigate through silence are indispensable. They will not only pave a pathway to success in their careers but also be able to provide their patients with more effective treatment overall. 

4. Mental Health Nursing is Among the Highest-Paid Nursing Jobs 

Nursing can be an appealing career to enter, not only because it allows you to work closely with people but also because it can be very well-paid. 

Psychiatric and mental health nursing salaries can vary depending on the state, a nurse’s years of experience, and level of training, but it can be among the highest-paid fields of nursing. 

  • The average salary for a registered nurse at psychiatric and substance abuse hospitals is $69,460 per year. 
  • A psychiatric nurse practitioner, who has gone on to earn a more advanced degree in nursing, could earn around $107,000 per year. 1

Though many nurses are motivated by their passion for helping others, a reliable paycheck to compensate for the occasional long, stressful hours of work is an appealing bonus.  

5. Psychiatric Nurses Can Work in a Number of Settings

If flexibility is important to you when picking a career, it might be helpful to know that psychiatric nurses are needed in a variety of places.

Unlike some jobs that can tie you down to a specific location or schedule, psychiatric and mental health nursing can be adapted to your preferences. 

PMHNs can work in:

  • General and psychiatric hospitals
  • Correctional centers
  • Assisted living facilities
  • Rehabilitation centers
  • Private homes

…and in a myriad of other settings.

Nurses working in hospitals or environments providing 24-hour care may work nights, days, or a mix of the two. Those working in private practices may have the option of working during standard daytime hours. 

6. Mental Health Nurses are in Increasingly High Demand

Job demand and security are often a concern for young professionals entering the workforce. After years of expensive schooling, pairing an uncertain job outlook with thousands of dollars in student loan bills can be a little unsettling, to say the least. 

Fortunately, employment for registered nurses is expected to rise by seven percent by 2029.<sup<2 

Mental health nurses may be in even greater demand.

Several behavioral health centers reported an increase in calls during the COVID-19 pandemic.3

This particular need could continue rising as a result of the lasting effects of the global pandemic. 

7. There are Opportunities For Advancement

The road doesn’t necessarily end when you’ve become a psychiatric-mental health nurse.

Registered nurses become eligible to complete a psychiatric-mental health nursing certification (PMH-BC) through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) after 2,000 hours of clinical experience. 

Additionally, PMHNs may decide to further their education by obtaining a master’s or doctoral degree in psychiatric nursing, a necessary stepping stone between status as a registered nurse (RN) and as an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN). 

Nurse practitioners can create and administer treatment plans independently, making their role similar to doctors’. 

8. Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses Work with an Array of Clients 

No two days are ever the same in the field of mental health nursing. And no two clients or patients are either. Whether you prefer working with children, adolescents, or older adults, there is a need for mental health nurses across all generations. 

Additionally, if you are interested in working with a particular category of illness, there are plenty of opportunities to specialize in fields like:

  • Addiction medicine
  • Forensic psychiatric nursing
  • Disordered eating
  • Emergency care

PMHNs can choose a specific area of research to focus on or gain experience in several different settings. 

9. Mental Health Nurses Form Part of a Rewarding Healing Journey

Saving a patient’s life after an accident or serious physical illness is an act of heroism that registered nurses get to be a part of on a daily basis. But having a positive impact on a patient’s mental health as a psychiatric nurse can be just as powerful of an experience.

PMHNs can develop relationships with families, engage in group therapy sessions, and aid in recreational activities, all of which give them insight into what brings their patients joy. 

Because of their focus on psychiatry, PMHNs have the unique opportunity to restore excitement, bring peace, and equip patients and their families with skill sets to maintain improved states of mental well-being in the long term.  Embark on a journey that transforms lives, including your own, by exploring the rewarding opportunities available through our psych travel nursing jobs today.

10. Mental Health Nurses are Great Candidates for Travel Nursing

Mental health nurses are no strangers to adaptability. They may have to react quickly to a  patient’s change in behavior or respond calmly in the midst of a crisis.

These skills have not only led them to success in their careers but have also helped to shape them into savvy travelers.

Psychiatric nurses looking to add another layer of adventure to their daily lives may consider taking the leap into travel nursing!

Consider a Career in Mental Health Nursing with Host Healthcare 

Are you feeling more confident in your decision to pursue mental health nursing after reading this blog? If you’re just starting, you can continue your nursing journey by choosing the educational path that works best for you. A two-year associate’s degree? Four years of study? 

If you’ve already finished your education, it’s time to study for the National Council Licensure Examination to officially become a registered nurse. Once you’ve passed with flying colors, Host Healthcare can take it from there.

As a top-rated travel healthcare company in the United States, we strive to bring top-notch nurses on board with us. Show us why mental health nursing is your passion, and we’ll do our best to connect you to facilities around the country that would benefit most from the care you provide. Apply to be a psychiatric-mental health nurse with Host Healthcare today. 

Happy traveling.



  1. Provo College. The 16 Highest Paid Nursing Jobs in 2021
  2. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Registered Nurses
  3. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Pandemic drives increased demand for nurses in behavioral health.