What Does it Take to Become a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
Although nursing is widely known as one of the most demanding and taxing career paths you can choose from, it’s also described as an enriching and satisfying job experience by those who decide to pursue this career. Nursing is currently a career that is in very high demand, especially in the US, where there is a shortage of these healthcare professionals, with a lot of growth expected over the next decade. According to the World Health Organization, we will need around seven million new nurses to join the workforce over the next ten years, and the US is the country where most of these nurses are going to be needed.
Along with a shortage of registered nurses, the US is also going through a shortage of primary care physicians due to fewer medical students deciding to go into this area of healthcare. Because of this, advanced nursing professionals are stepping up into primary care, mental health, pediatric and adult-gerontology roles as nurse practitioners. Mental health nurse practitioners, in particular, are in high demand alongside family nurse practitioners, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic has had such a significant impact on the mental health of the population, with more people now seeking help and support for their psychiatric wellbeing. If you are interested in nursing and working with people who need mental health support, here are some of the main skills and qualities you will need to become a successful mental health nurse practitioner.
1 Good Communication Skills
The ability to communicate well with others is a huge part of the role of a mental health nurse practitioner. In this role, you will not only be communicating with the other healthcare professionals that are working as part of your patient care team but also directly with your patients to ensure that you have all the information that you need to provide an accurate diagnosis and the right type of treatment to make sure that your patients get the ongoing help that they need the most. As a nurse practitioner, you will be tasked with actively listening to your patients, diagnosing mental health conditions, or deciding when a patient should be passed on to a specialist for further care. You will need excellent communication skills to provide counseling and advice to patients and make sure that you can give clear and concise instructions.
2 Compassion and Empathy
In the role of a mental health nurse practitioner, you may often be the first mental healthcare provider that people will speak to when they are seeking help and support with their mental health and wellbeing. This role may often also involve working with patients who are experiencing serious distress and psychiatric concerns. A mental health nurse practitioner needs to be an individual who has a lot of compassion for others and can empathize and put themselves in the shoes of their patient no matter the situation. You might be working with patients who struggle to effectively communicate their needs or are experiencing mental health problems that are causing them severe anxiety and panic. Professionals working in this role need to be exceptionally empathetic, compassionate, and gentle with their patients who might be going through some of the toughest experiences of their lives.
3 Detail Oriented
When you take an RN to NP online at Wilkes University, as one example, you will learn that the role of a nurse practitioner requires paying even more attention to detail and being even more meticulous and observant compared to working as a registered nurse. This is because, in the role of a mental health nurse practitioner, it is your job to observe and examine the patient to provide them with a diagnosis and the best treatment option for their needs. Nurse practitioners have a lot of additional responsibility compared to registered nurses meaning that there is even more riding upon their ability to pay attention to detail and get it right. This is especially true in a mental health nurse role where the symptoms might not always be as clear compared to physical health problems. It’s important to pay closer attention to the patient’s self-reporting of symptoms that impact their day-to-day life to come to an accurate conclusion about their mental health and what kind of treatment might work best for them.
4 Non-Judgmental Attitude
Many people are anxious about seeking help for their mental health and wellbeing as they fear that they might be dismissed or not believed by the professionals they speak to. While the healthcare system is certainly improving regarding how mental health patients are treated, there is still quite a lot of stigma around mental health conditions throughout the world in general. Mental health nurse practitioners work on the front line of psychiatric healthcare. They are uniquely positioned to make these positive changes to their patients and mental healthcare in general. As a mental health nurse practitioner, it’s important always to be open-minded and approach your patients with a non-judgmental attitude.
5 Willingness to Learn
The role of any nurse practitioner is one where professionals are expected to continue learning new things throughout their careers. As a mental health nurse practitioner, you will need to keep up with the latest information in nursing and mental health research, the latest treatments and therapies, and the development of new mental health conditions – such as COVID Anxiety Syndrome, a type of anxiety or OCD that is plaguing more and more people recently after the pandemic. In this role, you will need to be willing and dedicated to learning new things and committed to staying up to date in the constantly developing world of mental health and psychiatric healthcare.
How to Become a Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
If you like the idea of an advanced nursing role where you can help others improve their mental health and wellbeing, the role of a mental health nurse practitioner might be an ideal fit for you. There are several steps that you will need to take to work in this advanced nursing role. These include:
Become a Registered Nurse
The first step towards becoming a mental health nurse practitioner is to qualify as a registered nurse. Bear in mind that you can do this by getting an associate degree in nursing; however, most nurse practitioner programs will require that you hold at least a bachelor’s of science in nursing (BSN), so it’s a wise idea to go straight into nursing with this qualification. In addition to easier entry into advanced nursing programs in the future, there are several further benefits of getting your BSN when getting into nursing, including better job prospects, higher demand, and better patient outcomes.
Get Mental Health Experience
Many mental health nurse practitioner training programs will require you to have some nursing experience in psychiatric or mental health settings before you are accepted to enroll. As a registered nurse, you can do this by working in a wide range of settings, including psychiatric wards, residential psychiatric programs, addiction support programs, and more. Along with this, you will find it useful to gain more experience in general nursing work, including in settings like the ER and urgent care to build the skills and knowledge you’ll need to work in the role of a nurse practitioner. Some nurses who want to move into a mental health nurse practitioner find it helpful to get extra-curricular experience in mental health, such as working for a mental health helpline.
Get an Advanced Degree
To work as a mental health nurse practitioner, you will need to achieve an advanced nursing degree such as a master’s degree in nursing. You can do this online with several bridge programs that are designed for registered nurses who want to build on the knowledge and skills that they have already developed to become a nurse practitioner or take a general master’s degree in nursing before going on to get a post-graduate certificate to qualify you to work as a mental health nurse practitioner.
Get the Appropriate License
Once you’ve earned the qualifications that you need to work as a mental health nurse practitioner, you will need to get appropriate licensing from your state. The requirements for getting a license to work as a mental health nurse practitioner will vary depending on the state that you plan to work in. The requirements will usually involve passing an advanced exam that is similar to the NCLEX exam to become a registered nurse.
Mental health nurse practitioners are becoming more and more important in psychiatric healthcare and the healthcare industry in general. As an increasing number of patients become more aware of mental health services and want help with their psychiatric and emotional health and well-being, professionals who have the right skills, qualities, and qualifications to provide patients with the support and care they need are in growing demand.