Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs

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


Renee Warmbrodt

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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.

Top-Rated Online Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs in 2020

With mental illness affecting one in five Americans every year, more mental health professionals, including nurses, are needed to help. Psychiatric nurse practitioner programs are the launching pad that professionals use to take their career to the next level. In order for prospective students to find the program that best suits their needs and goals, we have developed a list of the best schools around the country. Our “best in class” initiative provides information on the most affordable and comprehensive online psychiatric nurse practitioner programs, so people can choose a school with the high-quality education they need. The following are some of the schools that made our list—which is updated on a quarterly basis—and additional schools can be found below.

Eastern Kentucky University


Eastern Kentucky University’s master’s degree program, provided entirely online, prepares students to provide mental health care in settings like private practice, mental health clinics, and psychiatric hospitals. Students who enroll in this rigorous program are required to complete 46 credit hours that can be taken on a part- or full-time basis. In addition, the school offers eight-week terms and multiple class start dates, which allow busy nurses to conveniently schedule their studies around their work and other responsibilities.

As of spring 2019, Eastern Kentucky University’s tuition is $662 per credit hour. The school will accept up to 12 relevant credits to be transferred from other programs.

Vanderbilt University

University of California, San Francisco

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.

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