As a specialized field within the nursing profession, psychiatric nursing involves some duties that overlap with those of other nursing disciplines. But the relationship with patients is more highly developed in psychiatric nursing. Most psych nurses cite that relationship, and the heightened people skills it presupposes as an essential motivating factor.
Psych nurses get their start with a nursing degree (as an associate or Bachelor of Science in Nursing) and go on to get licensed as a registered nurse. At that point, they can qualify for work in psychiatric hospitals and other mental health facilities, most of which offer on-the-job training. A resume reflecting continuing education in mental health care will, however, improve the odds of securing a psych nursing job. Continuing education includes specialized college courses and temporary rotations to hospital psych wards.
A master’s degree in psychiatric nursing is required to become a clinical nurse specialist in psychiatry or a psychiatric nurse practitioner. Nurses with such training often have the authority to establish a private practice. They may be able to prescribe medication. They may have hospital admitting privileges.
Throughout their careers, psych nurses remain highly focused on education. One of their key responsibilities is educating patients and their patients’ families about the specifics of the given mental illness, about coping strategies, medication regimens and side effects.
The duties of a psych nurse will vary somewhat, depending on where the patient is receiving treatment. Here are some typical venues:
•In-patient psychiatric ward of a general hospital
•Hospital emergency room (for psych evaluations of emergent care patients)
•Psychiatric hospital (inpatient and outpatient facilities)
•Community-run mental health centers
•The patient’s home, whether a halfway house or private residence (psychiatric home care)
•Substance abuse facility (inpatient and outpatient)
•Primary care clinic (to offer psych evaluation and follow-up counseling)
•Marital and family counseling center
Items on Most Psych Nurse Job Descriptions
Like most nurses, a psych nurse (unless holding an advanced degree and having a private practice) works in a collaborative atmosphere. He or she may be the first health care professional a patient sees. By taking a complete medical history (from either the patient himself or from loved ones) and by observing the patient with a trained eye, the psych nurse plays an important role in reaching the initial diagnosis.
After the supervising psychiatrist or psychologist makes a formal diagnosis and drafts a treatment plan, the psych nurse helps implement that plan, which may involve participating in group therapy sessions. A psych nurse will administer any medication outlined in that treatment plan and report back to the supervising physician on the patient’s overall progress.
Helping the patient meet his or her daily needs is another responsibility. In an inpatient facility, that may mean overseeing the patient’s diet and hygiene. In an outpatient setting, the psych nurse may teach the patient how to manage the stressful situations that pop up in everyday life. Or, the psych nurse may point the patient to local support groups for specific mental illnesses.
The psych nurse is far more than a cog in a larger health care wheel. He or she typically spends more time with patients than the supervising physician does. As a result, psych nurses are often in a better position to adjust treatment to a patient’s likely compliance level, to spot evidence of de-compensation (regression) in a timely fashion, to identify side effects of medication and to serve as the patient’s advocate. In the latter capacity, for example, a psych nurse may be the first to pick up on evidence of abuse at home or even in a treatment facility.