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Top BSN to PMHNP Programs Online

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Author: Quinn Dannies
Editor: Kari Scare

Dive into the degree paths available to aspiring BSN to PMHNP online students like you, the steps to certification, and answers to your most pressing questions.

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You’ve earned your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), become a licensed registered nurse (RN), and are now looking for more. As you plan the next steps in your career, consider becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP). This fulfilling role pays well and is in high demand nationwide. PMHNPs work in a range of clinical and non-clinical settings providing long-term, life-saving care.

Preparing to become a PMHNP at either the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) level has never been more accessible with many excellent schools offering BSN to PMHNP online programs. These programs offer quality academics and comprehensive clinical experiences in efficient and flexible formats. They also give you the skills needed to seek board certification and begin practicing psychiatric mental health care.

Going back to school is a major step, and it’s normal to feel a little nervous. This guide answers your major questions, walks you through the process of becoming a PMHNP, and explores some quality BSN to PMHNP online programs. Keep reading for information that ensures you start your program search on the right foot.

Inside Look at BSN to PMHNP Online Programs

There are plenty of options when it comes to pursuing your BSN to PMHNP online. So many options can be overwhelming, though, especially if you aren’t sure what to look for. Starting your BSN to PMHNP online program hunt by looking at a few examples of top-quality programs helps you know how to vet any potential program.

Bradley University

Bradley University offers a couple of BSN to PMHNP online options. Bradley students can opt for a 51-credit, eight-semester BSN to MSN PMHNP that can be completed in under three years. You can also choose to pursue a DNP through Bradley’s 74-credit, 11-semester BSN to DNP PMHNP, which takes about four years to complete.

Regardless of which track you choose, expect a well-rounded curriculum designed to prepare you to work with a diverse range of mental health patients across a variety of healthcare settings. Bradley’s curriculum emphasizes patient-centered care, collaborative approaches to care, and relationship-building skills. Its 100% online programs meet the needs of students with busy schedules that include a job and family responsibilities. Each course is taught by well-rounded, experienced clinicians who have worked in academic, clinical, and non-clinical settings.

Marymount University

The Online BSN to DNP PMHNP from Marymount University is an excellent option for students wanting to pursue a BSN to PMHNP online program while still building in-person relationships with peers and instructors. At Marymount, 100% of the coursework is online, but part of your residency takes place at Marymount’s Washington DC campus. This offers the convenience and flexibility of online learning alongside the social and networking benefits of in-person interaction.

The BSN to PMHNP online DNP at Marymount focuses heavily on in-person learning. This 66-credit program requires at least 1,250 clinical hours, some of which are completed during your on-campus residency. For the rest of those hours, Marymount helps coordinate with a local provider who can serve as your preceptor. During your studies, you develop strong leadership skills, organizational knowledge, and the practical skills required to provide compassionate, individualized care to patients.

WGU

Western Governors University (WGU) stands out for its unique, self-paced curriculum. At WGU, BSN to MSN PMHNP students complete courses one at a time. There are no deadlines, and you can take your final exams whenever you feel ready. This model offers a ton of flexibility for working students. Notably, too, WGU charges a flat $6,725 fee that covers as many classes as you can complete during a six-month term instead of charging per credit. This means that motivated, full-time students can save significantly on their degree costs if they work efficiently.

On average, BSN to PMHNP online students take about two and a half years to complete their studies. This includes 650 hours of clinical internship that can be completed in a clinical setting in your area, and WGU provides logistical support to help its students arrange suitable clinical sites. The support WGU offers students doesn’t end after graduation, either, since WGU maintains a robust alumni networking program designed to help connect graduates with career opportunities.

BSN to MSN vs. BSN to DNP: Compare PMHNP Degree Paths

When you decide to become a PMHNP, you get to choose your own adventure. Depending on your goals and background, you might opt to earn an MSN or DNP. Programs at both levels offer psychiatric mental health nursing concentrations, and you can pursue either track (or both) after earning your BSN. There are pros and cons for each option, which we break down below.

Admission Requirements

Admission requirements vary widely from school to school. In some cases, those requirements are the same for MSN and DNP programs. Broadly speaking, however, DNP programs are more selective in terms of GPA, work experience, and recommendations. Also note that licensing may be a factor to consider. Most MSN and DNP programs require that applicants have current RN licenses. However, some MSN programs offer options for students who have yet to earn their licenses. Typically, DNP programs do not accept unlicensed students under any circumstances.

Career & Earning Potential

One of the major differences between MSN and DNP programs is the career and earning potential. MSN nurses typically focus on providing primary care services in various healthcare settings. So, as an MSN PMHNP, you’d likely collaborate with patients and doctors to diagnose illnesses and develop treatment plans.

As a DNP, you’re more prepared to take on leadership roles and might find yourself stepping into management or teaching positions after graduation. With that greater responsibility comes greater pay. Across all nursing fields, DNP nurses DNP earn an average of $102,000 annually, while MSN nurses average $93,000.

Curriculum

There is some overlap between MSN and DNP nursing curriculums, especially within the PMHNP specialty. In either track, expect to develop advanced practice nursing skills. However, since MSN and DNP programs prepare you for different types of careers, MSN programs focus more heavily on diagnosis and treatment while DNP programs incorporate more big-picture topics like evidence-based practice or health policy.

Funding & Cost

This is a tricky one to unpack since there are so many variables at play affecting the cost of your degree and financial aid availability. At the most basic level, graduate nursing credits generally cost the same for MSN and DNP students. Since DNP programs require more credits, though, they end up costing more. Also, because MSN programs are shorter and less expensive overall, financial aid, grants, and employer tuition reimbursement get you a lot further. However, DNP students have greater access to fellowships, assistantships, and grants.

Start by setting a budget and focusing your research on MSN or DNP programs that are both affordable and high quality. Fortunately, there are plenty of online BSN to PMHNP programs that meet that criteria.

Length

No matter how you slice it, DNP degrees take significantly longer than MSNs. With a BSN in hand and studying full-time, expect to spend about two years earning your MSN. For a DNP, expect to spend four years completing coursework and clinicals. Also note that while many MSN programs are designed with working nurses in mind, most DNP programs assume you’ll commit time usually spent working to your studies.

Practical Training

Regardless of the track you choose, expect to spend a significant portion of your program completing clinical hours to gain hands-on experience. Typically, DNP programs require more clinical hours than MSN programs. Depending on your clinical location and its needs, you may have more opportunities to explore different roles as a DNP student.

Becoming a PMHNP: Steps to Certification & Licensure Requirements

Earning a PMHNP degree is a ton of work, and graduation doesn’t mean an end to your studies. There are a few more boxes to check before you can work as a PMHNP.So, as you consider timing and logistics for your future career, keep these three mandatory post-graduation hurdles in mind.

Step 1: Pursue National Board Certification

As part of applying for your state APRN license, you need to certify as an NP with either the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) or the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). These national nursing boards verify future PMHNPs’ education records and administer the rigorous PMHNP exam that demonstrates your competency in all aspects of psychiatric mental health care.

Because the PMHNP exam is both difficult and extremely important, start studying early. Your graduate coursework should prepare you well for this final challenge, but it’s important to take advantage of university exam prep resources, practice tests, and any other study materials to help you get ready.

Step 2: Earn Your APRN State Licensure

Without an APRN license, you cannot work as a PMHNP.So, as soon as possible after graduation, earn your APRN license through your state’s nursing board. This process varies from state to state, but the basic requirements include having an RN license, graduating from an accredited NP program, and gaining national board certification (more on that in a minute).

Because state licensure is so important, don’t wait until after classes are over to think about it. Become familiar with your state’s licensure requirements before you research programs. Your state board likely has a list of approved programs, a minimum number of clinical hours, and other helpful information. With these requirements in mind, you can select a program that covers all your bases.

Step 3: Enter the Workforce or Consider a Residency/Fellowship

Once you earn your APRN license, you can start applying for jobs. PHMNPs work in a variety of settings including private practice, hospitals, and community health centers. So, you have plenty of options. Many clinical sites hire students after graduation, allowing you to smoothly transition into full-time work in the same place you completed your clinical requirements.

If you struggle to pass your PMHNP exam or feel like you aren’t ready for full-time work, consider applying to residency programs. These programs are typically paid, full-time positions with a fixed duration.In general, they offer more opportunities for training and mentorship. Many are open to PMHNP program graduates working toward their APRN licensure.

Answering Your Questions About BSN to PMHNP Programs Online

If you’ve made it this far and are still feeling a bit disoriented, that’s okay. There’s a lot to cover when it comes to pursuing your BSN to PMHNP online. So, before you start searching for programs, consider the answers to a few common questions many prospective PMHNP students have about online BSN to PMHNP programs.

Are there PMHNP certificate programs in addition to degree programs?

Many schools, like the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, offer online PMHNP graduate certificates. However, these certificate programs are generally only available to current graduate students or nurses with master’s degrees. So, one way or another, you must go to grad school. If you’re interested in earning your MSN or DNP in another concentration, a PMHNP certificate prepares you for licensure and helps you diversify your credentials.

Are online PMHNP programs accredited and why does it matter?

A legitimate online PMHNP program holds multiple levels of accreditation. First, the school should be accredited by a regional or national accrediting body. Second, the school’s nursing program should be accredited by either the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

Accreditation ensures that you’re attending a reputable program that will prepare you for licensure and hold weight with future employers. Besides the peace of mind that comes with attending an accredited program, many state nursing boards will not consider you for licensure if your program is not accredited.

How can I determine which online PMHNP programs are best?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. The best program is an accredited program that matches your goals, learning style, and budget. Before you start researching, consider how much time you have available to study, whether you’d like fully online or in-person classes, how you’d like to complete your clinical rotations, and how you plan to pay for your degree. If you’re trying to squeeze your degree in between work and family obligations, you might focus on part-time programs or those with flexible scheduling. If you want to attend some classes in person, focus on hybrid programs that are close to home. Once you have a clear idea of your needs, it’s easy to figure out which program is best for you.

Is there anything an FNP can do that a PMHNP cannot?

Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and PMHNPs share many responsibilities. Both prescribe medication, order tests, and develop care plans. FNPs, however, have more superficial involvement with mental health care while PMHNPs have more in-depth knowledge of mental illness and treatments. As a result, unlike FNPs, PMHNPs are more involved in long-term care for mental health patients and can offer psychotherapy services.

What is the salary of the average psychiatric nurse practitioner?

Nationwide, the average base salary for PMHNPs is about $135,000, and top-earning PMHNPs can make upwards of $200,000 per year. However, average earnings can vary significantly depending on your location and experience level. Get a feel for the post-graduation earnings potential in your area by scoping out local PMHNP job postings.

What is the shortest PMHNP program available online?

The length of your PMHNP program depends on your credentials coming into the program. For example, if you already have your MSN and only need a PMHNP certificate, you can be in and out in under a year. If you’re making the move from BSN to PMHNP, plan on at least two years of full-time study. If efficiency is your top priority, focus on accelerated NP programs. These programs are more intense but get you your diploma much quicker.