Psychiatric Nurse Certification

The nursing profession has evolved in recent years and continues to adapt to the changes in the healthcare industry. One example is the advancement of many nurses in their selected nursing specialties. Although you have obtained the title of Registered Nurse by passing the NCLEX-RN test, your long term career goals probably include the pursuit of a specialty nursing certification. This will not only open up lucrative job offers, but will also contribute to your personal and professional development.

What is the Psychiatric Nurse Certification?

Certification concerns the evaluation of an individual’s knowledge, skills and abilities in a specialty. The Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse certification indicates a level of specialization in providing nursing care to the patient with mental illness. This includes being aware of specific mental illness characteristics and monitoring the patient for treatment effectiveness and the risk of potential side effects of treatments.

Why get the Certification?

There are many cited advantages on being a certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. As a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, you’ll act as a therapist, helping patients with depression, anxiety and suicidal individuals, and other conditions that can be remedied with counselling. Specifically you can perform the following activities once you pass the certification process:

  • Refer mentally ill patients who need a more specialized or complex workup to the primary care physician and/or specialist;
  • Provide on-the-spot health promotion and preventive services for medical problems;
  • Provide routine physical health screening;
  • Offer continuing primary health care for routine physical problems, saving both patient and facility additional hospital/medical costs; and
  • Conduct short term psychotherapy and psychoeducation.

Qualifications for the PMHNP Exam

In order to take the ANCC Adult Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurse certification exam, the applicant must be a licensed Registered Nurse with an Associate Degree or diploma from an accredited 2-year RN program. The RN must have worked at least 2 years in a full-time capacity as a psychiatric and mental health nurse, with at least 2,000 hours within the past 3 years. In addition, at least 30 hours of continuing education hours should have been completed in psychiatric and mental health nursing over the past 3 years.

Choose to apply online or by mail; not both. You may apply for this computer-based test year round and test during a 90-day window at a time and location convenient to you.

PMHNP Exam format

The Psychiatric Nursing Certification exam is a computer-based test. It allows 3.5 hours to answer 175 questions (150 scored plus 25 pre-test questions that are not scored).  Pre-test questions are used to determine how well these questions will perform before they are used on the scored portion of the examination. The pre-test questions cannot be distinguished from those that will be scored, so it is important for a candidate to answer all questions. A candidate’s score, however, is based solely on the 150 scored questions. Performance on pre-test questions does not affect a candidate’s score.

Most of the questions are in multiple-choice formats. The multiple-choice questions are presented in one of two formats: case-based or independent. Case-based questions are a set of approximately four questions associated with a brief health-care scenario (i.e., a description of the client’s health-care situation). Independent questions stand alone.

Areas that are covered in the examination will include the following domains of practice:

I. Assessment (28%)

  • Knowledge and skills in obtaining patient history and performing physical and psychological assessment.

II. Diagnosis, planning and Outcome Identification (27%)

  • Knowledge of developing problem lists and prioritizing nursing diagnoses.
  • Skills in formulating expected outcomes and developing individualize plan of care.

III. Implementation and Evaluation of Comprehensive Plan of Care (28%)

  • Knowledge of psychopharmacology.
  • Skills in establishing trust and rapport, drug administration, maintaining appropriate physical and emotional boundaries, implementing evidence-based guidelines, creating developmentally appropriate therapeutic environment, and coordinating patient safety.
  • Skills in identifying significant clinical changes and patient responses to interventions.

IV. Professional Role (17%)

  • Knowledge of performance standards like quality improvement of nursing care delivery and legal and regulatory implications for documenting patient care, including electronic information systems.
  • Skills in following ethical standards in nursing care delivery and management, promoting and upholding patient rights, following legal and regulatory requirements, and reporting problems.
  • Skills in coordinating patient care and serving as patient advocate in all practice settings.

PMHNP Exam Preparation Strategy

#1: CREATE YOUR OWN STUDY SPACE. This is going to be your favorite place for the next two months. Fin a place that is free from distractions, with good lighting, and comfortable for a study session (not to comfy that you have more nap time than your review time). Make sure that no one can disturb you once you begin to study in this area. Isolate yourself for some time. Have all your study materials with you to prevent interruptions.

#2: CONDUCT A CONTENT ASSESSMENT. Make a listing of the topics or contents that comprises the examination. Identify the areas that will require no review, minimal review, intensive review, or you need to start studying the concept from the very beginning. Be honest! Your study time will depend on how much you know the different subject areas.

#3: DEVELOP A STUDY PLAN. Each person has different styles of acquiring knowledge. If you have already adopted a study plan that is effective, stick to it. Some study in groups while others concentrate more when alone. The general rule is you know how to prioritize your study needs and is able to achieve your study goals.

Start on your weak areas first.
Allow for general review at the end of the review.

#4: DO NOT PROCRASTINATE! Indeed time is gold. Once you have decided in taking the test, don’t waste time in preparing for the big day. The smart test taker begins the study process early.

Career Options

A certified psychiatric-mental health nurse can practice autonomously in a wide variety of settings like the mental health clinics, correctional facilities, or even running your own clinic. As a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, you’ll do many of the same things a psychiatrist does, including diagnosing mental illness and prescribing medication.

Psychiatric Nurse Salary

The average salary for a Nurse Practitioner is still quite a bit lower than a physician counterpart that is in the same field. For instance, the salary range for a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) working in California is $91,000 to $128,000. In contrast, an MD Psychiatrist typically earns between $130,000 and $198,000, doing clinical work that is similar (but not identical).

Related Exams and Resources:
Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Test Questions
Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Study Guide
Nursing Schools