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Best DNP Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Programs Online

From dual degree programs to common classes and challenges, use this guide to learn everything you need to know about earning your PMHNP DNP online.

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A doctor in a white coat is attentively listening to a patient during a consultation. The background features large windows with greenery and blurred outdoor scenery visible through them.

As a nurse by training and passion, you look for reasons: Why is my patient exhibiting this symptom? What is the cause of this elevated blood test result? When did this condition present, and how can we treat it?

But perhaps you need a reminder to reflect on your own reasons. You’re a skilled nurse, and you love your job, but you’re also looking to advance to the highest levels in your field while specializing in psychiatric care. What are YOUR reasons? Do you want to teach your peers, leading the way in mental health nursing practice? Are you excited by convincing research indicating that well-educated nurse practitioners are experiencing high demand and earning potential? Or do you simply want to amplify your voice as an NP by securing your terminal degree?

All of these reasons, and so many more — see Baylor University’s list of 24 Reasons to Get a DNP in 2024 — suggest one outcome: securing your Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) as a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP). Whatever your reasons, this guide is here to help. Consider it your map of online PMHNP DNP programs — insight into best schools, learning outcomes, what to expect in the online classroom, and more. Your goal is within reach; keep reading to turn your own compelling reasons into a meaningful reality.

A Deep Dive into Online PMHNP DNP Programs

Let’s begin at the beginning: Which online PMHNP DNP programs should you consider, and what do they offer? While the three school spotlights below are just a sampling of options, they represent a range of costs and curricula. Use these as a jumping-off point to develop your own list of potential future online PMHNP DNP programs.

University of Minnesota

The University of Minnesota Online offers a hybrid option, making it one of many outstanding online PMHNP DNP programs that combines the best of remote learning with in-person networking opportunities and skills enhancement. Here’s what to expect from this 80-credit PMHNP DNP:

Curriculum Details: During your three years of full-time study, you’ll be required to come to the Twin Cities campus for a four-day session (Tuesday through Friday) each semester. During these on-sites, you’ll complete core courses, specialty courses, enhancement programming, and meetings with your advisor.

Beginning in the second year, you’ll be on campus four to five additional times per semester for one to two days each time. You’ll also complete 1,000 hours at clinical sites arranged by the school.

Learning Outcomes: At the conclusion of your program, you’ll be eligible to take the certifying exam through the American Nurses Credentialing Center to become a PMHNP.

Cost: $1,053 per credit (resident and nonresident)

Accreditation: CCNE

University of Pittsburgh

While you’ll find online PMHNP DNP programs available to nurses at a variety of levels, the University of Pittsburgh offers this PMHNP MSN to DNP concentration. You’ll earn your doctoral degree with 36 to 45 credits of online study.

Curriculum Details: This online program is only available to applicants with a master’s degree in nursing. You’ll learn clinical expertise as well as organizational, economic, and leadership skills. The program focuses on the practical design of delivering care.

Some coursework is delivered synchronously. See the sample full-time curriculum for details.

Learning Outcomes: This program spans approximately five semesters; summer semesters are available. The University of Pittsburgh’s admissions process includes competitive selection based in part on GPA (minimum 3.0), a personal essay based on one of seven questions, completion of an experience survey, and your resume or CV. Doctoral students must also meet the admission criteria for the PhD program.

Cost: $1,231 per credit (part-time) or $15,145 (full-time, per term). See the tuition guidelines for more information.

Accreditation: CCNE

Walden University

Are you specifically looking for online PMHNP DNP programs that meet you where you are in your nursing career? Walden University has a doctoral degree for you, whether you have a BSN or MSN. RNs with a bachelor’s degree can earn a DNP – Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialization after 95 credits; RNs with a master’s degree complete the same DNP degree, but in 85 credits of study.

Curriculum Details: Walden offers its Practicum Pledge, meaning you’ll have a dedicated field placement team partnering with you to match you with a convenient site and preceptor for your required practicum.

Learning Outcomes: At the conclusion of your program, you’ll be eligible to sit for the certifying exam through the American Nurses Credentialing Center to become a PMHNP DNP.

Cost: $905 per quarter credit or $41,775 to $124,155 for your degree, depending on how long you take to complete your coursework and if you’re beginning with a BSN or MSN. See these tuition details for specifics.

Accreditation: CCNE

Kinds of Online PMHNP DNP Degrees

Online PMHNP DNP programs, like every other nursing degree, come in a wide range of options. Whether you got to where you are in your career through an accelerated nurse practitioner program, a direct entry post-master’s degree certificate, or an RN to PMHNP bridge program, you’ll find that there’s a DNP program that fits your background and your goals. Below are some of the common types you’ll find. Keep in mind, regardless of the specific online PMHNP DNP programs you’re looking for, you’ll no doubt discover that some options are more affordable than others.

BSN to DNP Bridge

If you’re a registered nurse who holds a BSN and you’re ready to take that next step to achieve the highest level of nursing practice, a bridge program is ideal for you. Most programs, like the BSN to DNP bridge at Baylor University, require a minimum of one year of full-time nursing experience. You’ll also need to meet other minimum requirements.

In terms of time to degree completion, BSN holders typically take about four years to earn their doctoral degrees, often skipping the master’s degree program entirely. This is compared to RNs who already hold a master’s degree, who can usually complete their terminal degree in one-and-a-half to two years.

Dual DNP/Master of Public Health (MPH)

Practicing registered nurses with a master’s degree may want a more wide-ranging terminal degree option; for those students, a dual PMHNP/DNP and MPH is an appealing option, such as this program from Johns Hopkins University. These dual degrees are often administered in a hybrid format; the Johns Hopkins offering, which follows an executive session format, can be completed in six semesters. Specific to this program, you’ll have three on-site immersions of roughly four days each during the first year and one on-site symposium event lasting one day the second year, combined with online and virtual learning experiences.

These programs also frequently have a project requirement. Find past examples from Johns Hopkins DNP candidates to give you an idea of scope and variety.

Dual FNP/PMHNP Degree

Maybe you’re a nurse practitioner interested in a multi-faceted doctoral degree, but a DNP/MPH isn’t appealing. Instead, you may be interested in a dual family nurse practitioner (FNP) and PMHNP doctoral option, such as this program from The University of Arizona Online. The outcome is an FNP doctoral degree, but you’ll also earn a certificate in PMHNP. The addition of a certificate may require an extra semester. However, the result is a diverse education that qualifies you to treat patients across their life spans, with special insight into their behavioral and mental health.

Closer Look at the DNP Psychiatric NP Curriculum & Core Skills

If you’re interested in what it takes to become a nurse practitioner — particularly one with a doctoral degree — you’ll want to know about common courses you’ll take and skills you’ll learn in a typical online PMHNP DNP programs. Curriculum requirements differ by school, but many courses are common across multiple programs. Browse the following course descriptions for key insights into these DNP classes and the skills you’ll acquire by taking them.

Assessing, Managing Psychiatric Disorders in Advance Practice PMH Nursing

Psychiatric disorders can be perplexing, so you’ll need foundational knowledge to understand the spectrum of disorders and resources to make assessments. This course offers a detailed overview of common psychiatric disorders.

Core Skills:

Assessment techniques, tactics for patient communication

Epidemiology and Population Health

The science of population health offers many insights into disease prevention. In this class — a version of which is offered in Marymount University’s online BSN to DNP PMHNP program — you’ll learn to analyze the determinants of health problems. The goal of this course is for students to gain an understanding of strategies to reduce the incidence and prevalence of disease.

Core Skills:

Analytical skills, strategic approach to public health

DNP NP Role Practicum

Real-world decision-making is a core competency for future PMHNPs. Your practicum, which is typically a requirement for doctoral students and can often be completed at your place of employment if you work in an applicable healthcare setting, allows you to use the knowledge you’ve gained in your online DNP program in a practical, supervised setting. Completion of your practicum is often the final step in your doctoral degree program.

Core Skills:

Tactical decision-making, interpersonal communication

Psychopathology and Diagnostic Reasoning

As a PMHNP, you’ll need to make critical mental health evaluations that encompass a host of symptoms and test results. This course — a version of which is taught in Walden University’s online NP program — teaches you how to make effective diagnoses and communicate treatment plans to your patients.

Core Skills:

Psychiatric assessment, treatment planning

Psychotherapeutic Interventions with Individuals, Families, and Groups

Learning tactical ways to treat and prevent mental health disorders across the lifespan is a core outcome of online PMHNP DNP programs. This course title — much like the Psychotherapeutic Theories, Frameworks, and Modalities course at Liberty University Online — teaches these concepts. You’ll apply evidence-based theories to case studies, suggesting treatment techniques and assessing outcomes.

Core Skills:

Deep knowledge of disorders and treatments, research

Public Policy in Healthcare

As a nurse practitioner, you’ll need a clear understanding of the principles of public policy in healthcare. You’ll apply these principles to practice in courses like this one — or the similarly named Health Care Policy for Advocacy in Health Care from Samuel Merritt University’s Online DNP program. You’ll leave this class with a range of action, advocacy, and leadership skills that you’ll use daily in your practice.

Core Skills:

Leadership, evaluation, application of policy to practical work

Challenges & Benefits of Earning an Online PMHNP DNP

Now that you’ve explored programs, skills, and courses, it’s time to examine some pros and potential cons of online PMHNP DNP programs. Below, we go beyond the “typical” cost challenges inherent to doctoral programs. Instead, we’ll prepare you with an understanding of some of the more unexpected challenges and benefits, so that you’re well-armed for the journey ahead. (Still worried about how to pay for your degree? We’ve got you covered there, too: explore these scholarships and financial aid resources).

Challenge: Balancing Clinical Rotations with Other Responsibilities

Completing your PMHNP DNP is possible online, but all accredited programs still require a clinical component in your education. This part, unlike other aspects of your program, cannot be completed in a remote format. You’ll need to plan accordingly for this in-person portion of your education, asking for patience from your family/friends and possibly even your co-workers as you attempt to balance your commitments. Time management will be critical, so you may want to research time-saving tips such as blocking time or downloading helpful apps.

Challenge: Building Professional Connections & Mentorship Opportunities

Because of the nature of online classrooms, networking isn’t quite as natural as with in-person classrooms. However, many online DNP programs facilitate mentorship and networking opportunities. In most cases, your doctoral classes will be small and led by working nurse practitioners, similar to the classes you’ll find in the Hawai’i Pacific University PMHNP DNP program. This helps you make connections and learn from professionals who can guide you in the future.

Challenge: Technological Competence & Connectivity

Most of the online PMHNP DNP programs spotlighted in this guide are hybrid in nature, meaning at least some portion of your curriculum is completed online. If you find yourself in a remote environment with little cell coverage or if you lack tech skills, this may present an obstacle to your success. However, most universities offer tech support and can help you troubleshoot technological challenges.

Benefit: Enhanced Proficiency with Digital Tools

Because you’ll be earning your degree in an online environment, you’ll be well-positioned to adapt your technological prowess to your professional environment. While others are scrambling to acclimate, you’ll be among early adopters based on your digital know-how.

Benefit: Integration of Clinical Experiences (and Time Management Skills) into Coursework

Online learning environments are known as optimal formats for working professionals with busy lives. While you’ll be able to apply the skills learned in class to your profession, this is a two-way street: You’ll also be able to take the knowledge you learn on the job and integrate it into your coursework. You’ll have ample fodder for case studies and real-world scenarios based on your day-to-day clinical work.

Benefit: Need for Proactive & Intentional Networking

Online students — especially those seeking their terminal degree — have abundant tools at their disposal for creating engaging learning environments and lasting relationships. Many schools create opportunities for networking, including cohort models that mean you’ll work with the same students and faculty throughout your program. And many hybrid programs — such as the University of Maryland DNP PMHNP — offer a combination of in-person learning with online coursework to facilitate more intentional networking opportunities.