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Common Psych Nursing Jobs and Settings

Career News September 23, 2013

Due to the broad scope of mental health problems and treatment options, psych nursing jobs are characterized by diversity. The registered nurse who qualifies as a provider of mental health care can choose from a wide variety of employment venues, subspecialties and career opportunities. Depending on the choices he or she makes, the psych nurse can tap into diverse skill sets. Helpful skills include managerial, teaching, administrative, observational and diagnostic talents, as well as creative problem solving.

Common Venues for Psych Nursing Jobs

Hospitals: This means both psychiatric and general hospitals. In either case, the psych nurse may work on an inpatient or outpatient basis. Some emergency rooms in general hospitals have psych nurses on hand to evaluate emergent patients who appear to have altered mental status.
Hospital outreach programs: Such programs employ psych nurses to visit patients in their private residences, in halfway houses and other kinds of group homes. The programs are expanding, with the current emphasis on integrating the mentally ill into the community.
Clinics: All sorts of private health care clinics – including those focused on family practice, pediatrics and gerontology – hire psych nurses to make mental health evaluations and provide follow-up counseling. Other clinical settings include community-run mental health centers.

•Nursing homes
•Substance abuse facilities (inpatient and outpatient)
•Marital and family counseling centers
Self-Employment: Psych nurses who get their master’s degree in nursing and undergo specialized training may become psychiatric nurse practitioners, working independently from doctors. They may even have admitting privileges with some hospitals.

Common Job Titles

Psych nurses employed in a hospital setting can choose from several different career options, depending on their skills, experience and level of training. Typical titles include psychiatric unit nurse, medications nurse and charge nurse. The charge nurse, as the name implies, has significant management responsibilities, unlike the unit nurse. The charge nurse oversees the unit’s staffing and scheduling needs and often has primary responsibility for coordinating patient treatment with psychiatrists, social workers and other healthcare providers.

Even an entry-level psychiatric unit nurse has a large measure of independence and responsibility. One of the first health care providers a psychiatric patient sees after admission, the unit nurse takes a complete history and observes the patient with a trained eye. The supervising psychiatrist relies on these initial data to make a formal diagnosis and determine the course of treatment. Assigned a caseload of several patients, the unit nurse implements their treatment, administers prescribed medication, oversees diet and hygiene and closely monitors patient progress. A psychiatric unit nurse may also participate in group therapy sessions with patients.

Many consulting psych nursing jobs play out in primary care or general hospital settings. Tasks include making the initial evaluation of altered mental status, advising primary care physicians about the severity of the patient’s psychiatric problems, referring the patient to a psychiatrist, coordinating with social workers and educating outpatients and family members about treatment regimens and prescribed medications. Psych nurse-consultants may also interface with politicians, to develop public policy concerning mental health issues.

The psych nurse practitioner may have an independent practice or work with a psychiatrist or psychologist. Such practitioners can make mental health diagnoses, draft treatment plans, conduct psychotherapy sessions and, in most states, prescribe medication.


Psych nurse jobs cover some specialized sub-groups of patient. Here’s a short list of examples.

Pediatric and adolescent care: Mental health issues in this sub-group include autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit disorders, disruptive behavior in school and suicidal tendencies (particularly among adolescents).
Geriatric care: This subspecialty includes patients suffering from Alzheimer’s and other age-related forms of dementia, as well as clinically depressed seniors (especially those with major physical health problems).
•Substance abusers and drug addicts
•Patients presenting with self-injurious behavior, like cutting, scratching or hair-pulling
•Patients with eating disorders (especially anorexia and bulimia)

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