Can an FNP Work in Psych? Your Career Guide

Trailblazers / Can an FNP Work in Psych? Your Career Guide
can an fnp work in psych nurse with patient
May 6, 2022

As a family nurse practitioner (FNP) does it ever feel like you wear too many hats? Have you wanted to narrow it down to one? After working hard to earn your degree, the idea of specializing may bring back memories of APA papers and endless clinical hours. With your broad range of skills, you have the ability to specialize without going back through NP school.

As an FNP, you treat a variety of conditions daily. Your work is all about promoting health in a primary care setting. But, as part of a comprehensive health assessment, FNPs address the psychosocial needs of their patients as well. With the amount of psychiatric-mental health (PMH) crossover in the primary care setting, you might ask:

Can an FNP work as a psychiatric-mental health practitioner?

We discuss how FNPs can leverage their knowledge of the psychosocial needs of patients to treat PMH conditions in a more formal setting. Find out how furthering your education will improve your practice – and may be less of a hassle than you think.

What is psychiatric mental health nursing?

Psychiatric-mental health registered nurses and advanced practice nurses identify and treat mental health issues and disorders.

A key role of psychiatric mental health nurses is to partner with patients and establish a trusting relationship during their treatment. PMH nurses help patients achieve their wellness goals by providing patient education and creating a safe space as they work toward recovery.

Psychiatric-mental health nurses may care for patients with:

  • Substance use disorder
  • Major depressive disorder
  • Alzheimer’s disease

Psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) function in an advanced practice role to oversee clinical treatment for their patients. As a PMHNP, your duties may include:

  • Performing screenings
  • Performing evaluations
  • Triage for mental health patients
  • Diagnosing psychiatric illness on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5)
  • Providing psychotherapy
  • Prescribing medical treatments

Advanced practice PMH nurses may also perform crisis intervention and stabilization. Working within a multidisciplinary team, PMHNPs are essential in care coordination and collaborating on action plans to provide best-practice care for their patients.

How can family nurse practitioners work in psychiatry?

Family nurse practitioners may work in private practice or retail clinics and hospitals in primary care settings. While FNPs provide mental health counseling and treatment, their primary focus is on a patient’s broader health picture. As part of their health assessment, FNPs may evaluate a Patient Health Questionnaire (PHQ) score to screen for and measure the severity of depression.

A family nurse practitioner may provide counseling and prescribe medical treatment for patients suffering from depression. However, if a patient requires a higher level of psychiatric care, an FNP may refer to a psychiatric specialist.

If an FNP is interested in providing more in-depth psychiatric-mental health care to patients, they will need specialized training. The American Association of Nurse Practitioners recommends obtaining national certification for psychiatric-mental health nursing care across the lifespan. This will allow a nurse practitioner to treat patients in prisons, psychiatric facilities, public health facilities, opioid treatment centers, or telemedicine practice.

Career outlook and salary.

Healthcare providers in the U.S. have already begun treating patients experiencing health challenges from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Whether a patient is experiencing mental health challenges like grief and burnout or new physical conditions, nurse practitioners are in high demand to meet the needs of increasing patient volumes.

If you’re interested in becoming a PMHNP, the statistics are in your favor for finding employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the outlook for nurse practitioners is projected to grow by 45% between now and 2030. During the same timeframe, the BLS projects employment growth for psychiatrists of 12.5%, creating a need for 3,500 additional providers.

In addition to job security, as a nurse practitioner, you may be interested in specializing in mental health in exchange for a comfortable income. According to, the average salary for PMHNPs is $111,010.

How to become a psychiatric nurse practitioner with an FNP degree.

If you already have an FNP degree and are interested in specializing in psychiatric-mental health nursing, you have a few options to further your education.

Any registered nurse can become psychiatric-mental health nursing certified by taking a competency-based exam. As a nurse practitioner, this may help supplement your knowledge of psychiatric care for your primary care patients.

However, to become board certified in PMH as an advanced practice nurse, you must take the Psychiatric-Mental Health Board Certification Exam. The prerequisites for this exam are 500 hours of clinical experience as a PMHNP in addition to specialized education.

Nurse practitioners have the option to obtain a PMHNP post-master’s certificate. This will allow you to complete a PMHNP degree and become board certified in significantly less time than starting over in nursing education. Like an FNP board certification, a PMHNP license needs to be renewed every five years

Make your next career move at United States University

As a family nurse practitioner, you are already providing mental health care to your patients in a meaningful way. If psychiatric-mental health nursing is of interest to you, consider furthering your education and becoming a PMHNP.

To learn more about earning your FNP, check out United States University’s FNP program here.