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What Are the Job Duties of a Psychiatric Nurse?

Psychiatric nurses are registered nurses who work in a mental health setting, usually in a psychiatric hospital. They assess patient functioning, record behavioral and physical health information, and deliver nursing care as directed by psychiatrists and psychologists. Advanced practice psychiatric or mental health nurse practitioners may have additional duties, including prescribing medication.

Job Duties

The job duties of a psychiatric nurse depend on the setting and upon the nurse's level of certification. Psychiatric nurses or mental health nurses work in hospitals, physicians' offices, clinics, or may visit patients at home. Their ranks include registered nurses (RNs) with associate's or bachelor's degrees and nurse practitioners with master's degrees.

Important Facts About Psychiatric Nurses

Median Salary (2019) $60,812
Professional Certification Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Certification available through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC)
Key Skills Social awareness, clear spoken and written communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, good physical health
Similar Occupations Registered nurses, nursing assistants, licensed practical nurses, medical technicians, social and human service assistants
Job Outlook (2016-2026) 15% growth (for all registered nurses

Sources: PayScale.com, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Hospital Setting

Nurses in mental hospitals usually work with psychiatrists, psychologists, advanced practice nurses, registered nurses, licensed practical nurses (LPNs), aides, and orderlies. This job involves record-keeping and team meetings to coordinate care. The psychiatric nurse comforts frightened or sad patients and answers patients' questions. Psychiatric nurses often administer medications.

Outreach Programs

With the movement toward de-institutionalization, many people with psychiatric issues live in the community: in group homes or their own apartments. Visiting psychiatric nurses call on patients who need help taking medications or who are at risk of decompensating (losing their ability to function normally). These nurses administer medications, assess functioning, and answer questions.

Clinic or Doctor's Office Setting

The psychiatric nurse working with one or two doctors in a small practice or clinic provides patient education. He or she takes patient histories and updates records. The psychiatric nurse dispenses medication prescribed by the doctor.

Advanced Level: Psychiatric or Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

This advanced registered nurse practitioner has a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree and specialized training. She or he may prescribe medications and practice independently from a doctor. A psychiatric nurse practitioner frequently has a private practice.

Some hospitals grant master's-level clinicians admitting privileges, which means that the mental health or psychiatric nurse practitioner can decide whether a person is in danger of harming themselves or others and admit the person to the hospital, usually with an M.D.'s signature. This may be with or without the person's consent.