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Psych Nurse: Job Overview and Responsibilities

Job Descriptions July 14, 2013

Psychiatric nursing is a specialty within the broader specialty of nursing itself. To become a psych nurse, one must be a dedicated student, strive for high grades and be willing to constantly educate oneself as new therapies and treatments emerge. There are two types of psychiatric nurses, depending upon the level of education the individual is willing to work toward: psychiatric mental health registered nurses (PMHNs) and psychiatric mental health advanced practice registered nurses (PMH-APRNs).

Education for the Pscych Nurse and Advance Practice Psychiatric Nurse Positions

The PMHN generally requires a two-year associate’s degree in nursing or a three-year degree in nursing. As much as a four-year bachelor’s degree in nursing may be necessary. The longer one is willing to stay in school, the more specifically applicable courses they will be able to take as they pursue their RN degree. Students specialize by taking courses in psychiatric nursing. Graduates from all of these programs are eligible to take the RN licensing examination after graduation. After receiving their RN, they can go on to pursue a higher degree in advance practice psychiatric nursing.

An advance practice psych nurse (PMH-APRNs) often specializes in child and adolescent psychiatric, adult psychiatric and family psychiatry. Child and adolescent mental health nursing, gerontological-psychiatric nursing, forensics, eating disorders and substance use disorders are a few possibilities. Their educational program typically consists of basic science (pathophysiology), advanced health assessment, brain and behavioral correlates, advanced psycho-pharmacology and psycho-therapeutic techniques. This is followed by clinical rotations in outpatient mental health hospitals or residential care facilities. Advanced mental health nurses often diagnose and work with patients who have ADD, eating disorders, alcoholism or drug addiction.

A psych nurse’s education requires ongoing educational seminars and retesting of their clinical skills on a regular basis. Advanced masters and doctoral degrees are required for the individual to work in such challenging positions as that of the psychiatric primary-care provider, psychotherapist or university-level professor of psychiatric nursing. Advanced psychiatric nurses are also licensed to prescribe medication in all fifty states.

Typical Responsibilities of a Psychiatric Nurse

•Completes physical and mental health assessments
•Records all care information concisely, accurately and completely
•Works with patients’ families to help improve the patients’ lives and to help families deal with a mentally ill patient
•Administers prescribed medications
•Helps patients with their coping skills
•Controls drugs and medicines
•Observes and reports any and all changes in behaviors
•Administers and monitors treatment
•Helps develop care plans for patients
•Helps develop after-care programs for patients leaving the facilities
•Performs other position-related duties as assigned
•Makes appropriate referrals to other healthcare professionals and community resources for individuals and families
•Orders age-appropriate tests and other procedures that provide data for constructing individual treatment plans.
•Maintains a therapeutic relationship over time with individuals, groups and families in order to achieve client-specific outcome
•Concludes therapeutically the nurse-patient relationship and transitions the patient to other levels of care when appropriate
•Prescribes pharmacological agents for patients with mental health problems and psychiatric disorders based on individual characteristics
•Provides psycho-education to individuals, families and groups to promote knowledge, understanding and effective management of mental health problems and psychiatric disorders
•Adheres to all OSHA safety rules and regulations

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