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Best Online Psych NP Programs in California

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Author: James Mielke

If you want to expand your clinical skills and enhance your earning potential, an online psych PMHNP program in California is a great choice. Read on to learn about this growing and vital field.

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If you’re an experienced RN in California, you’ve likely considered the many ways you can advance your career including by securing your nurse practitioner (NP) certification. Whether you have a BSN or an advanced nursing degree, you know that completing an online psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) program in California can open career doors, enhance your pay, and help address the state’s growing mental health crisis.

Online PMHNP programs in California uniquely position you to gain access to a growing field and high wages. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, California’s NP job market is projected to grow by nearly 56% by 2030. Moreover, NPs in the state earn about $24,000 more than RNs. If these numbers have piqued your interest, you’ve come to the right place.

Throughout this page, we spotlight three standout programs, dive into the attributes of online PMHNP programs in California, and detail the various pathways to securing your certification. We’ll also take a close look at NP employment and salary data throughout the Golden State to help you feel confident in your decision. Read on to learn more about this field and determine if it’s truly right for you.

Finding the right online PMHNP programs in California is essential as you work toward certification. In the section below, we spotlight three standout programs that combine quality instruction with the flexibility that working students need. Read on to jumpstart your program search today.

Chamberlain University

Established in 1889, Chamberlain University is a private, for-profit institution that focuses on delivering quality healthcare education and training. Among the school’s standout programs is an online PMHNP program accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. This 100% online program is a practical choice for busy RNs interested in expanding clinical skills and career options.

Throughout this online NP program, students complete a blend of online courses and in-person clinical experiences. Required courses cover topics such as advanced pathophysiology, psychopharmacology for the PMHNP, psychiatric assessment for the PMHNP, and a degree-culminating capstone practicum. Students complete 625 clinical hours before graduation.

Applicants to this online NP program must hold a minimum 3.0 GPA for full admission. Prospective students need a bachelor’s degree or higher with an unrestricted RN license. Applicants also must complete a background check before admission.

UC Davis

With a history dating back to 1905, the University of California, Davis, is a public institution that serves more than 40,000 students. Among the school’s standout programs is an online PMHNP certificate program that students can complete in just 12 months.

PMHNP certificate students must enroll full-time and complete the majority of coursework online through both synchronous and asynchronous delivery. Course requirements include psychopharmacology across the lifespan, clinical reasoning and psychopathology, PMHNP clinical decision-making, and a clinical residency each semester.

Prospective students must meet UC Davis requirements for graduate admission and hold an active and unrestricted RN license. Alongside a completed application, students must include three letters of recommendation, official transcripts, and a current resume.

West Coast University

Founded in Los Angeles in 1909, West Coast University is a private, for-profit institution that is home to multiple healthcare-oriented programs. Among the school’s nursing programs is a PMHNP program that allows students to choose between online and on-campus classes.

Online learners can complete this 158-credit program in as few as 32 months. Coursework varies from foundational NP classes to specialized PMHNP coursework. Core classes include topics such as ethics in healthcare, theoretical foundations of nursing practice, and principles of leadership for healthcare organizations. Before graduation, students gain extensive hands-on clinical training at approved healthcare sites.

Prospective students must meet all admission requirements and hold a BSN from an accredited institution. Applicants must also hold a 3.0 cumulative GPA and an unrestricted RN license. PMHNP students are required to have a minimum of six months of clinical experience before beginning this program.

Qualities of a Top Online Psychiatric NP Program in California

When determining which online PMHNP programs in California could be right for you, it’s vital to thoroughly account for their quality, but also how well they align with your academic, clinical, and professional goals. Read on as we highlight two characteristics of programs designed to help you meet Californians’ unique needs.

Focus on Diversity and Cultural Competence

Owing to the state’s diverse population and geography, standout online PMHNP programs in California prioritize cultural competence and diversity. As a result, some of the state’s best programs utilize a curriculum that focuses on the unique needs of patients from varying cultural, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds.

Online psychiatric NP graduates not only boast the clinical skills to provide competent care but also lean on culturally sensitive training that allows them to spot potential biases while communicating compassionately with patients from various backgrounds.

Integration of Holistic Care

California has a strong focus on holistic health and wellness practices. As a result, it’s common for the best online PMHNP programs in California to cover how emotional, mental, physical, and spiritual wellness can influence patient care. While courses vary among programs, it’s not uncommon for California psych NP programs to lean on both traditional NP topics and alternative therapies such as nutrition and naturopathic remedies.

Degree Paths to Becoming a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner

It’s worth examining the various pathways toward psychiatric nurse practitioner certification. From advanced certificates to master’s degrees and degree-completion programs, be sure to find a program that aligns with your academic background, professional experience, and career goals. Read on to see how you can become a psychiatric nurse practitioner through online PMHNP programs in California.


One common pathway to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner in California is completing a master’s program. Typically requiring a BSN for admission, these programs provide a comprehensive curriculum that includes both foundational theory and extensive clinical experiences.

Coursework varies among programs, but common classes include topics such as psychopharmacology, advanced physiology, healthcare informatics, and professional roles for the NP. Before graduation, you’ll complete hundreds of hours of clinical work at an approved healthcare site.

Advanced Certificate

For working RNs already holding a master’s or doctor of nursing practice (DNP) degree, completing an advanced certificate is a way to develop additional skills and secure your psychiatric nurse practitioner certification. Because you’ve already completed extensive nursing training, some programs only take about 12 months, including the one at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Like other nursing programs, you’ll complete theoretical coursework in the virtual classroom while gaining hands-on clinical experience at approved clinical sites. Standard classes include psychopharmacology across the lifespan, psychotherapeutic interventions, and clinical reasoning and psychopathology.

Post-BS to DNP

Alongside a master’s and advanced certificate, a post-bachelor’s to DNP program offers a clear pathway toward the highest nursing degree. Standout programs provide a seamless transition from your bachelor’s in nursing degree to a doctoral nursing degree.

Throughout these programs, you’ll complete advanced nursing coursework while developing the research, clinical, and leadership skills elemental to this degree. As you work through this terminal degree, clinical experiences offer hands-on opportunities to prepare you for advanced practice roles. Common courses include research for advanced nursing practice, psychiatric-mental health theory, and human diversity and psychosocial issues in healthcare.

A Closer Look at California PMHNP Career & Earning Potential

If expanding your nursing career options and earning potential sounds like a logical next step for you, pursuing psychiatric nurse practitioner certification is a solid choice. This growing field not only offers access to thousands of job openings each year in California, but it can also dramatically increase your pay.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners in California earn a median annual salary of more than $158,000. When compared to the $133,340 average wage for California RNs, a raise of more than $24,000 makes clear the financial motivation to dive into advanced practice. Experienced and specialized nurse practitioners in the state can earn more than $220,000 each year.

However, earning potential is just one benefit of securing your psychiatric NP certification in California. NPs in the Golden State can expect nearly 10,000 new jobs between 2020 and 2030. Additionally, the healthcare job market sees an average of 2,120 annual job openings yearly. What results is a job market in need of nurse practitioners to help meet the healthcare needs of the most populous state.

Take a moment to review the California NP employment and salary data highlighted below. In addition to comparing state and national numbers, you can examine city-specific data to see how much NPs earn throughout the state.

New Jobs
Job Growth RateAvg. Annual Openings
United StatesNurse Practitioners220,300114,90052.2%26,000
CaliforniaNurse Practitioners17,3009,60055.5%2,120

Source: Projections Central

AreaOccupation10th PercentileMedian90th Percentile
U.S.Nurse Practitioners$87,340$121,610$165,240
CaliforniaNurse Practitioners$103,890$157,160$220,460
Bakersfield, CANurse Practitioners$115,980$132,780$192,940
Chico, CANurse Practitioners$104,240$155,220$170,310
El Centro, CANurse Practitioners$112,470$159,220$179,330
Fresno, CANurse Practitioners$105,340$155,960$188,740
Hanford-Corcoran, CANurse Practitioners$96,430$143,890$165,240
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, CANurse Practitioners$103,890$155,380$203,820
Madera, CANurse Practitioners$130,580$158,110$170,990
Merced, CANurse Practitioners$83,200$132,360$165,540
Modesto, CANurse Practitioners$94,220$152,100$197,650
Napa, CANurse Practitioners$143,270$206,130$223,050
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CANurse Practitioners$105,280$152,930$197,200
Redding, CANurse Practitioners$100,910$134,020$182,800
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CANurse Practitioners$95,700$137,840$185,780
Sacramento–Roseville–Arden-Arcade, CANurse Practitioners$110,610$150,820$220,460
Salinas, CANurse Practitioners$125,120$155,740$199,410
San Diego-Carlsbad, CANurse Practitioners$104,180$157,150$192,400
San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CANurse Practitioners$134,740$192,720$230,030
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CANurse Practitioners$144,150$210,970$232,800
San Luis Obispo-Paso Robles-Arroyo Grande, CANurse Practitioners$111,750$155,580$190,470
Santa Cruz-Watsonville, CANurse Practitioners$106,490$152,680$199,160
Santa Maria-Santa Barbara, CANurse Practitioners$119,560$134,670$170,210
Santa Rosa, CANurse Practitioners$93,100$143,860$207,360
Stockton-Lodi, CANurse Practitioners$100,470$138,960$178,250
Vallejo-Fairfield, CANurse Practitioners$107,380$172,840$239,200
Visalia-Porterville, CANurse Practitioners$82,770$136,140$181,160
Yuba City, CANurse Practitioners$129,290$158,200$220,060

Answering Your Questions About Online Psych NP Programs in California

If you’re considering whether an online psych NP program in California suits you, you likely still have a few questions. That’s where we come in. Read on as we address some of our readers’ most pressing concerns.

Are there accelerated psychiatric nurse practitioner programs?

Because psychiatric nurse practitioner programs are typically earmarked for working RNs, it’s common for these programs to be offered as accelerated options — especially online programs. Whether you’re completing an advanced certificate or BSN to DNP program, your classes may be online but your clinicals will be in person.

How do I become a psychiatric nurse practitioner in California?

There are multiple pathways to becoming a psychiatric nurse practitioner and many options for online PMHNP programs in California. To secure your PMHNP certification, students complete an advanced certificate, master’s, or DNP program. Students fulfill both coursework and clinical requirements before securing their certification through the California Board of Registered Nursing.

Is it possible to become a PMHNP without a bachelor’s degree?

While you do complete bachelor’s in nursing–level work in your journey toward PMHNP certification, you don’t necessarily need a bachelor’s degree to get started. RN to MSN and RN to DNP programs allow students to complete their bachelor’s degree requirements as part of a broader academic experience. Terminal DNP and advanced certificate programs require students to hold a bachelor’s degree.

What is the shortest PMHNP program in California?

Your timeline to PMHNP certification varies based on multiple factors, including program structure, status as a full-time or part-time student, and clinical requirements. Additionally, enrolling in an accelerated program allows you to graduate more quickly. When seeking out the right online PMHNP programs in California, be sure to find a program that aligns with your scheduling needs.

Who accredits online PMHNP programs in California?

Online PMHNP programs are not only certified by the California Board of Registered Nursing but also are accredited by groups such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. Accreditation can have a direct impact on both your academic experience and professional certification, so ensure that all online PMHNP programs in California that you consider are accredited.