Online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Programs

Last Updated/Verified: Aug 19, 2020

What Is an Online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program Like?

If you’re thinking about furthering your education by enrolling in an online psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) program, you’re making a smart move. Nurse practitioners are in high demand, and a specialty in the often underserved mental health field can make you a valuable asset to any health care organization. By choosing an online program, you’re allowing yourself the flexibility to learn on your own time. While all nurse practitioner programs will require some in-person training, most of your work will be completed at your own convenience. Faculty members who run online nurse practitioner programs are usually nurse practitioners themselves, and they understand the challenging and tiring schedules that nurses deal with on a regular basis. Your professors will likely be willing to work with you when you run into tough scheduling conflicts or need deadline adjustments due to your work schedule.

Choosing an Appropriate Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program

Your psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner degree options are determined by the prior nursing education you’ve completed. Luckily, there are multiple options for the most common degree types. The table below will show you what your best options are.

If I Currently Have… Option 1 Option 2
BSN BSN to MSN Programs BSN to DNP Programs
MSN Post-Master’s Certificate MSN to DNP Programs

To see programs at each degree level, click the buttons below:

The type of psychiatric-mental health NP role you wish to hold will also determine which degree type is right for you. Those wanting the highest level roles, for example, might wish to pursue the DNP pathway, while students who already have an MSN and want to enter the PMHNP field may wish to earn a post-master’s certificate. Thinking long-term on your professional goals will help you settle on the appropriate pathway.

If you still need help narrowing things down, check out the table below to see how your interests align with the different psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner degree programs available.

MSN Post-Master's Certificate DNP
My passion is working directly as an acute care nurse practitioner X X X
I already hold a graduate degree, but I wish to specialize in psychiatric practice X X
I feel called to teach and support nurses clinically at the university level X X
I want to advocate for the underserved population of individuals with mental health concerns and be a leader in my facility X X X
I have ideas for clinically relevant research projects to improve the lives of people with psychiatric disorders X
My passion is to create and improve national health policies and improve awareness of mental health issues X
I wish to understand population-based psychiatric health in order to improve healthcare outcomes across the nation X
I want to guide healthcare law and ethics for those with psychiatric health concerns X
At any degree level, it’s important to choose an accredited program that will be recognized by future employers. When a program is accredited by an organization such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), it has been approved to meet all standard requirements. Over the course of an accredited online psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner program, you’ll cover many topics, including how to assess patients, different methods of therapy, understanding state-specific laws regarding prescription medications, research methods, and more. Check out our guide to online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner programs below.
  1. Online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Program Admissions & Requirements by Degree Type
  2. Online PMHNP Program Classes and Curriculum
  3. Clinical Requirements and Certification

Online Psychiatric-Mental Health NP Program Admissions

When applying to PMHNP programs, you’ll find that programs fall into one of three categories: MSN, post-master’s certificate, and DNP. An MSN program is ideal for a nurse who has yet to enter graduate school. A post-master’s program is appropriate for a nurse who has an MSN but either doesn’t want to earn a doctorate, or is not ready to earn a doctorate. A DNP program can be appropriate both for a nurse who has yet to enter graduate school or has already completed their MSN. If you choose a DNP program and have no prior graduate school experience, be sure that the program offers a BSN to DNP track option.

MSN-Level Psychiatric-Mental Health NPPost-Master’s Certificate Psychiatric-Mental Health NPDNP-Level Psychiatric-Mental Health NP
Prior Education/GPABachelor’s degree in nursing or a related field with a GPA of at least 3.0MSN with a GPA of at least 3.0MSN with a GPA of at least 3.0
RN LicensureCurrent, unencumbered RN licenseCurrent, unencumbered RN licenseCurrent, unencumbered RN license. APRN is not typically required, but earning APRN certification may shorten the number of credits required to complete the program.
Professional ExperienceAt least a year of experience working in psychiatric nursingAt least a year of experience working in psychiatric nursingTwo or more years of experience working in psychiatric nursing
Written RequirementsPersonal statement, three letters of recommendationPersonal statement, three letters of recommendationPersonal statement, three letters of recommendation, may require written answers to interview questions

Online Psychiatric-Mental Health NP Curriculum & Classes

During your online psychiatric-mental health NP course of study, you’ll learn skills that will allow you to successfully treat patients in many facilities, including hospitals, inpatient care facilities, community health centers, in-home care, and more. If you chose the MSN path, you’ll likely spend a little over two years earning your degree, or longer if you take classes on a part-time basis. Many post-graduate certificate programs can be completed in a year and a half. Most students in a DNP program take about two-three years to earn their degree when going to school full-time, but may take up to six years to earn their degree if they’re going to school part-time. Psychiatric-mental health specialty MSN, post-master’s certificate, and DNP programs differ in both the number of course credits and the number of clinical hours required.

DegreeMSNPost-Master’s CertificateDNP
Average Credit Requirements503871

There are options for both BSN to DNP and MSN to DNP degrees. Courses for psychiatric MSN and post-master’s certificates can be similar, though post-master’s certificate programs will generally require fewer core courses. Students enrolled in the DNP pathway will also generally need to complete courses in:

  • Research
  • Ethics
  • Leadership
  • Policy

DNP programs (and some MSN programs) require PMHNP students to complete a final capstone project. This project centers around an issue or topic in psychiatric nursing which the student assesses utilizing the skills learned throughout the program. At all degree levels, some of the courses you’re likely to see over the course of your PMHNP curriculum include:

  • Health promotion and maintenance
  • Psychotropic medication management
  • Psychiatric mental health
  • Population health
  • Biostatistics
  • Evidence-based practice methods

Depending on the specifications of your program, you may have the option to choose electives that allow you to focus in a certain area. Some psychiatric-mental health NPs choose to focus on a specific population, such as children, adolescents, or geriatric patients. Others choose to focus on specific areas within mental health, such as working with abuse victims, working with schizophrenic patients, working with people who have substance abuse disorders, etc. If you’re interested in working in a specific area within the mental health field, talk with your program advisor about how you can tailor your education to meet your needs.

Psychiatric-Mental Health NP Clinical Requirements

Online NP programs work to make your clinical requirements doable for you, and that may mean completing your hours at several different healthcare facilities. Most NP programs require over 600 and up to 1100 clinical hours, regardless of prior educational/career experience. Your faculty will be able to work with you to help you find a way to get your clinical hours in with your busy schedule. As a PMHNP student, you will complete your clinical requirements under the guidance of an experienced psych-mental health NP, a medical doctor or psychiatrist, or similar. These hours may be completed in hospitals, community/public health centers, mental health facilities, and more. If you wish to specialize in an area of care (substance abuse, adolescents, etc.), completing your clinical hours in that area is a good way to gain valuable experience.