Inside the Best Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

Explore top programs for 2021, curriculum details, and financial aid while taking the first steps towards becoming a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).

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Renee Warmbrodt

- Bio

Renee Warmbrodt is a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner with extensive experience working with pediatrics in a range of settings. She graduated from Saint Louis University with her MSN and currently works with a pediatric urology group in St. Louis, MO. Prior to becoming a nurse practitioner, Renee worked several years with critically ill children as a PICU staff nurse. She also has experience educating, precepting, and mentoring nursing students.

last updated

Last Updated: 09/22/2021
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With mental illness affecting one in five Americans every year, more mental health professionals, including nurses, are needed to provide treatment. Online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs are helping to make that happen through their flexible study format. To help you and other prospective students find programs that have high standards, accommodating schedules, and won’t break the bank, we developed a list of accredited online PMHNP programs with the best combination of affordability, quality, and flexibility. Start your school search with our 2021 ranking of the best online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs.

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About the ranking

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Methodology for EduMed’s 2021 Best Online Programs

1. Create List of Eligible Schools and Programs

To be eligible for this ranking, schools were required to meet the following criteria based on government data provided by The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS).

  • Institutional accreditation from an organization recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  • At least one program in subject area offered partially or fully online.

2. Assign Weightings

After creating the list of eligible schools, EduMed data scientists assigned weights and ranked schools based on a mix of affordability, support services, and online program availability metrics. Online program availability and overall affordability metrics received the heaviest weightings.

Online Program Availability

  • Number of online programs in subject area reported by school to the U.S. Department of Education.

Affordability

  • Cost – Relative cost of attendance compared to peer schools on the list. Based on tuition and fees per academic year.
  • Students w/ Institutional Aid – Percentage of students who receive financial aid from the school itself.

Support Services

  • Academic Counseling – Existence of this service on campus or online.
  • Career Placement – Existence of this service on campus or online.

About Our Data

EduMed’s rankings use the latest official data available from The Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS). Most recent data pull: July 2021

# School Name Type Cost Online Programs More Details School Information Online Students Academic Counseling Career Placement Students w/Institutional Aid Median Earnings 10yrs After Entry Accreditation
1 Florida International UniversityMiami, FL Public $ 1

Students looking to become psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners can do so by attending Florida International University’s online Doctor of Nursing Practice program. This program stands out because it requires far fewer credits than many comparable DNP programs since incoming students already have extensive nursing experience and training. Applicants must already be licensed advanced practice registered nurses. However, applicants do not need to submit GRE test scores as a part of their application. The majority of classes can be completed online, but students must finish their clinical requirements in person.

Program Highlights:

DNP - Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

  • Credits: 36
  • Length: 6 semesters
  • Cost: $621.72/credit (in-state); $1,017.16/credit (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); CCNE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
76%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
2 Florida Atlantic UniversityBoca Raton, FL Public $ 1

The Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Post Graduate Certificate offered by Atlantic University is intended for incoming students who already have an MSN and a current registered nursing license. In addition to the 25 credits of coursework that can be completed mostly online, PMHNP students must also finish at least 600 hours of clinical practice. They meet this requirement by completing a series of practicum courses at approved sites as long as they are in a state where the student is licensed to practice. After graduating, students are eligible to sit for the PMHNP certification exam offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

Program Highlights:

Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Post Graduate Certificate

  • Credits: 25
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $371.82/credit (in-state); $1,026.81/credit (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); CCNE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
3 Northwestern State University of LouisianaNatchitoches, LA Public $$ 2

Northwestern State University of Louisiana’s College of Nursing offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate-level programs. Students interested in practicing as psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners can choose from two academic pathways depending on their prior nursing education. Those with a bachelor’s degree in nursing can enter the MSN - PMHNP program and complete their coursework either part-time or full-time. Students who already have a master’s degree in nursing can enroll in the Post-Master’s Certificate PMHNP program. The curriculum parallels the MSN- PMHNP program but is different for each student as it depends on prior nursing degree coursework. Students can potentially complete the Post-Master’s Certificate program in just four semesters.

Program Highlights:

MSN - Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

  • Credits: 44
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $2,590.00/semester (in-state); $7,984.00/credit (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); CCNE (program)

Post-Master’s Certificate - Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Across the Lifespan

  • Credits: Varies
  • Length: Varies
  • Cost: $2,590.00/semester (in-state); $7,984.00/credit (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); CCNE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
4 New Mexico State University-Main CampusLas Cruces, NM Public $$ 2

New Mexico State University students have two speeds to become Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners. Students looking to graduate in one year should enroll in the Post-master’s Graduate Certificate track. The curriculum is just 18 credits and taught mostly online. Graduates are eligible to take the national certification exam. To enter this program, students need an MSN degree. Students who seek a doctoral degree and only have a BSN can apply to the BSN to DNP program. The classes for this program are mostly online, but students spend one week on campus each year. There are also practicums for DNP students to obtain hands-on clinical experience.

Program Highlights:

Post-Masters Graduate Certificate - Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

  • Credits: 18
  • Length: 1 year
  • Cost: $411.50/credit
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: HLC (school); CCNE (program)

DNP - Psychiatric/Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

  • Credits: 74
  • Length: 3 to 4 years
  • Cost: $411.50/credit
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: HLC (school); CCNE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
5 The University of Texas Health Science Center at San AntonioSan Antonio, TX Public $$ 2

The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio has two CCNE-accredited psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner programs. The Post-graduate Certificate PMHNP program is designed for incoming students who already have an MSN. The precise curriculum they complete varies depending on their prior academic coursework. Most students earn around 28 credits and graduate in less than two years. The other option is the BSN to DNP track. No matter which option a student chooses, their learning is a combination of online and in-person instruction. In the DNP program, most of the online learning takes place synchronously.

Program Highlights:

Post-Graduate Certificate - Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

  • Credits: 28
  • Length: 5 semesters
  • Cost: $6,439.50/semester (in-state); 11,840.90 (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); CCNE (program)

DNP - Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner

  • Credits: Varies
  • Length: 3 years
  • Cost: $6,439.50/semester (in-state); 11,840.90 (out-of-state)
  • Mode: Partially online
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC (school); CCNE (program)
Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
6 McNeese State UniversityLake Charles, LA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
42%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
7 University at BuffaloBuffalo, NY Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
65%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
8 University of Alaska AnchorageAnchorage, AK Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
30%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
9 Stony Brook UniversityStony Brook, NY Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
70%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
10 Southeastern Louisiana UniversityHammond, LA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
56%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
11 University of IowaIowa City, IA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
76%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
12 Texas Tech University Health Sciences CenterLubbock, TX Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
13 University of ToledoToledo, OH Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
92%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
14 University of North DakotaGrand Forks, ND Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
59%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
15 University of Nevada-RenoReno, NV Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
44%
AccreditationNorthwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
16 Augusta UniversityAugusta, GA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
13%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
17 Georgia State UniversityAtlanta, GA Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
25%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
18 University of Colorado Colorado SpringsColorado Springs, CO Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
53%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
19 Georgia Southern UniversityStatesboro, GA Public $ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
No
Students w/
Institutional Aid
15%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
20 Indiana University-Purdue University-IndianapolisIndianapolis, IN Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
57%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
21 South Dakota State UniversityBrookings, SD Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
53%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
22 University of Southern MississippiHattiesburg, MS Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
73%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
23 Upstate Medical UniversitySyracuse, NY Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
0%
AccreditationMiddle States Commission on Higher Education
24 East Tennessee State UniversityJohnson City, TN Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
37%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
25 University of Southern IndianaEvansville, IN Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
62%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
26 Winona State UniversityWinona, MN Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
49%
AccreditationHigher Learning Commission
27 Texas State UniversitySan Marcos, TX Public $$ 1 Academic
Counseling
Yes
Career
Placement
Yes
Students w/
Institutional Aid
12%
AccreditationSouthern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges

PMHNP Nursing School Profiles

To complement our Best of 2021 rankings above, we’ve profiled two other accredited online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs that are also worth a look in your school search. We’ve laid out all the details, from admissions requirements to curriculum information and program costs.

Vanderbilt University

Vanderbilt-University

The psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (lifespan) program at Vanderbilt University allows students at different educational levels the training to provide holistic mental health treatments. Registered nurses with a master’s or bachelor’s degree can enroll in this program, as well as registered nurses with an associate’s degree or diploma, and those who are beginning their nursing education with no prior experience. As a result, students can get an education that is tailored to their previous experience.

No matter where they are educationally when starting the program, Vanderbilt University students take coursework that familiarizes them with the realities of working as a mental health nurse practitioner. The school’s curriculum covers psychopharmacology, psychotherapy, clinical reasoning, and pathophysiology. In addition, students participate in clinical education so they get the advanced hands-on training they need to work in a mental health environment. Students in this phase of the program may be placed in prison systems, inpatient psychiatric units, community mental health centers, or outpatient private practices.

In April 2019, students paid $1,556 per credit for tuition, as well as $1,500 for books, $3,162 for health insurance, $561 for activity fees, and $100 for transcript fees.

University of California, San Francisco

University-of-California-San-Francisco

The psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioner master’s degree program at the University of California, San Francisco’s School of Nursing trains students to provide mental health services. This includes treating adults or children, providing assessments, diagnosing patients, and helping patients manage their conditions. Students can use this training to go on to work for substance abuse centers, forensics organizations, and primary care clinics.

In order to prepare students for the challenges of working in a mental health setting, they are required to take coursework about symptom management, advanced clinical assessments, psychopharmacology, and lifespan development. In addition, students learn about the therapy that mental health patients may receive in individual, group, and family settings.

Students who already have a master’s degree in nursing may also be able to join the mental health sector by enrolling in the school’s post-master’s study option. Depending on their previous training, students can complete the program in four to six semesters.

In April 2019, the tuition and fees for this program were $28,911 for California residents and $41,156 for out-of-state students. The school offers stipends and scholarships specifically for PMHNP students.

Finding the Online Psychiatric NP Program for You

Nurses who are interested in entering the psychiatric area of the field should examine their professional and educational goals before enrolling in a program. In addition, they should consider what learning environment will work best. For example, students who like to work independently may prefer a program conducted mostly online, while those who prefer to have some classroom interaction with instructors and peers may perform better in a partially online program.

Online Learning Flexibility

  • Mostly online
    In mostly online programs, students will complete the majority of their coursework online, but may be required to complete certain parts of the program in person. For example, some schools allow students to complete classes online and then participate in the clinical part of the program at a health care facility. In other cases, students can do some of their coursework via the internet, but are required to come to campus periodically for practicums that reinforce their online learning.
  • Partially online
    Students who prefer to spend most of their time in a traditional classroom can enroll in partially online programs, where most of their courses are conducted on campus. In these cases, students may be able to take a few classes online, which can add convenience for those who are juggling their education with a full-time nursing job.

Types of Psychiatric-Mental Health NP Degrees

1. RN to MSN
RN to MSN degree programs are for nurses with a diploma or associate degree, as well as a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing. These programs are designed to teach students how to assess and treat patients with mental health issues, communicate effectively with patients and families, and promote mental health in their communities. In addition, students become familiar with the legal and ethical responsibilities associated with providing mental health treatment.

2. RN to DNP
RN to DNP programs allow registered nurses to prepare for leadership roles in a mental health setting. People with these degrees may become consultants, go into private practice, or work as educators. In order to provide this training, the curriculum combines coursework on mental health treatment with classes designed to develop leadership skills. Specific classes may include pharmacology, nursing decision making, health care informatics, epidemiology, and human pathophysiology.

In addition to program level and delivery, prospective PMHNP students should also consider how long the program takes to complete, how much it costs, and the credentials of the faculty members in a department. Also, students may have a preference on the size of the school they would like to attend.

Entrance Criteria & Prerequisites

Every school has its own specific entrance requirements. The following are some of the expectations that schools may have for applicants to psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner programs.

  • BSN or higher from an accredited program
  • Active RN license
  • One or more years of clinical experience
  • Clinical training in at least two psychotherapeutic treatment modules
  • Letters of recommendation
  • Personal statement describing career goals and interest in psychiatric nursing
  • A minimum 3.0 grade point average
  • A specific minimum score on the GRE
  • A personal interview
  • Evidence of immunizations and recent physical examination

Eye on the Curriculum

The curriculum in PMHNP programs is designed to give nurses the high-level clinical skills necessary to provide specialized care to patients. These programs include coursework that teaching students to develop patient care plans, promote mental health and education, and perform psychotherapy, crisis interventions, and consultations. In addition, these programs provide in-depth information about psychiatric nursing models, pharmacotherapies, and neuroscience. The following are examples of some of the classes involved in most programs.

Advanced pharmacotherapeutics

Students learn about the medications used to treat chronic and acute health issues and gain an understanding of when these drugs should be used. The class also teaches students how to understand the side effects of different medications and monitor the way patients respond to treatments.

Health assessment

Health assessment classes build on nurses’ former education in order to help them understand how assessments are conducted in a mental health context. Students also learn different evidenced-based assessment principles.

Mental health care for individuals and groups

This course trains students to care for people with mental health challenges in different age groups. The curriculum covers care from assessment to diagnosis to pharmacological interventions.

Neuroscience for mental health practitioners

This class explores the relationship between neuroscience and mental health conditions. Topics may include psychiatric disorders and their treatment, neuroanatomy, and diagnostics.

Health care law and policy

Nurses in this course learn the regulations and laws involved with working in both private and public psychiatric settings. This also includes how laws and policies impact health care delivery and outcomes.

Nursing theory

Students gain an understanding of major nursing theories and study the professionals who created them. In addition, the class may cover how seminal nursing theories are applied in day-to-day practice.

Nursing leadership

This course is designed to instill leadership skills in nursing professionals so they can effectively interact with peers, employees, and families, as well as their community at large. Specific course topics may include managerial ethics and conflict resolution.

Population-based nursing

Students in this course learn how mental health nursing is delivered in different populations and communities. The course may explore law, health maintenance, and disease prevention.

Nursing ethics

Students in this course learn the different ethical theories nurses are expected to use in their practice. Specific ethical dilemmas nurses face are also discussed.

Popular Psychiatric NP Subspecialties

Within the psychiatric realm of the nursing field, there are several subspecialties that professionals can focus on. As a result, students who train for PMHNP jobs should enroll in a program that not only teaches mental health nursing, but caters to their area of interest within the field. The following are common subspecialties that psychiatric nurses may pursue.

  • Addiction
    Nurses who focus on addiction may work with patients who are dependent on alcohol and drugs, as well as those with internet, gambling, food, or sex addictions. These professionals may work in detoxification centers, rehab clinics, or hospitals.
  • Forensics
    PMHNPs focusing on this subspecialty apply their nursing expertise to legal matters. After evaluating patients, these nurses may give their opinions in criminal, child custody, and juvenile justice cases. They can work for courts, hospitals, or correctional facilities.
  • Child/adolescent
    Professionals in this nursing subspecialty focus on the psychiatric disorders affecting children and adolescents, and how these issues not only affect the patient, but the entire family. Nurses who focus in this area may work with patients who have mood disorders, learning disabilities, and autism spectrum disorders.
  • Geriatric
    Psychiatric nurses who want to focus their practice on older generations may pursue the geriatric subspecialty. These professionals work with senior citizens who have depression, dementia, and addiction, as well as those who are struggling with loss and isolation.
  • Psychosomatic medicine
    PMHNPs who specialize in psychosomatic medicine focus on the relationship between mental and physical illnesses.

Paying for Your Online PMHNP Program

The cost of an online PMHNP program depends on the specific school that students attend. Students may be charged per semester or credit hour, and in some cases, are charged a lump sum for their entire program. The price range for the program is around $700 to $1,700 per credit, $3,800 to $16,400 per semester, and $20,000 to $44,600 for an entire program. Information about the cost of certain specific programs can be found in our listings above. And check out EduMed’s list of most affordable online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs to find accredited NP programs that won’t bury you in student debt.

Online PMHNP Courses & Financial Aid

Many students who enroll in PMHNP training schools are concerned about how they will pay for their education. Those who qualify may be able to obtain financial aid to help them pay tuition and fees, and there may be some standards students are expected to adhere to in order to receive these awards. The following are some of these stipulations.

1. Accreditation
Programs are designed to prepare students to get their certification, and in order to ensure that they’re getting the high-quality education they need, they should enroll in accredited programs. As a result, students can only qualify for financial aid for attending accredited schools.

2. Courses for credit
Students cannot apply financial aid awards to non-credit courses.

3. Minimum grade point average
In order to receive certain scholarships and grants, students may be expected to demonstrate academic excellence by maintaining a minimum grade point average.

4. Enrollment status
In some cases, financial aid awards are only available to students who are enrolled in a program on a full-time basis.

For more information about how to pay for a PMHNP education, check out EduMed’s full page on financial aid for medical support.

Other Ways to Pay

Students looking for ways to pay for their education have several options. The following are some examples of ways they can defray the cost of their PMHNP studies.

1. Scholarships
This type of aid may be available through professional associations that cater to the needs of health care professionals, and is also typically offered by the school a student is attending as well.

2. Loans
Graduate students can receive loans without demonstrating financial need. However, the amount that students can borrow depends on their education costs and the other aid they may be receiving.

3. Veterans benefits
The Yellow Ribbon GI Education Enhancement Program allows students who served in the military after 9/11 to receive funding for their degree program.

4. Employer tuition assistance
Organizations need highly-skilled workers and in some cases, may have tuition assistance programs available to encourage workers to advance their education.

5. Payment plans
Some schools allow students to enter a plan where they make monthly payments toward their education. The terms of the plan vary from school to school.

Certification: The PMH in PMHNP

After students complete their psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner degree program, the next step is to become nationally certified. In most cases, professionals are not able to obtain a state license unless they receive a PMHNP certification through the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

In order to receive the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certification, or PMHNP-BC, professionals must pass a 200-question examination that takes four hours to complete. To qualify for the exam, candidates must have an active nursing license and a psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner master’s, doctoral, or postgraduate degree.

10 Valuable Resources for Nursing Students

  1. APRN Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Practice
  2. ANA Certification Prep
  3. APNA Awards & Scholarships
  4. What Do Psychiatric and Mental Health Nurses Do?
  5. How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner
  6. Meeting the Needs of People with Mental Illness: Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
  7. Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Salary
  8. Continuing Education for the APRN-PMH
  9. Self Care Tip Sheet For Nurses
  10. A Night in the Life of a Mental Health Nurse