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Top RN to MSN PMHNP Programs Online

Unlock your potential with our RN to PMHNP online program guide. We’ll break down available programs, paths to becoming a PMHNP, associated challenges, and solutions to overcome them.

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Author: Ellery Weil
Editor: Mikalee Byerman

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A person sits on a couch, attentively facing a medical professional in a white coat who is writing on a clipboard. The focus is on their hands and the clipboard, with sunlight streaming in from a window—symbolizing the journey from RN to PMHNP.

You love nursing, but you’re ready for more — whether it’s more money, a specialization that provides more in-depth knowledge, more responsibilities and autonomy, or all of the above. Becoming a nurse practitioner is a common next step that promises an income well into the six-figure range. And if treating patients with mental health or behavioral challenges interests you, one specialization to consider is a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP).

There’s a good chance you’re extremely busy with your current RN role, and for that challenge, we have a straightforward solution: you can study to go from RN to PMHNP online. Online programs provide flexibility to fit in with your schedule, whether that means a professional nursing career, personal responsibilities, or both. Online programs can also help save you the trouble and financial expense of relocating to your school’s campus — and if cost is a factor, there are some highly affordable online NP programs as well as PMHNP programs.

Ready to browse some schools offering convenient RN to PMHNP online programs and to learn about the challenges and benefits of this lucrative career choice? Let’s get set for a deep dive into going from RN to PMHNP online.

As you begin researching RN to PMHNP online programs, you may not know where you start. That’s why we’ve spotlighted a few high-quality programs below. While the best program for you will depend on a lot of personal factors, take a look at these three options to give you an idea of what to expect from your future school and program.

Sacred Heart University

Our first RN to PMHNP online spotlight is a 42-credit MSN in Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner at Sacred Heart University, a private Catholic university. This 2.5-year, fully online degree is designed to prepare you to sit for your certification exam from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) to become a PMHNP. You’ll have the option to study full time or part time while completing courses in healthcare policy, nursing ethics, and more, as well as completing 540 hours of in-person practical experiences through a mandatory residency program.

Prospective students should hold a BSN from an accredited institution and an unencumbered RN license to be considered for admission. You should also have an undergraduate GPA of 3.0 or higher. You may transfer up to nine credits from a previous MSN program, and tuition is offered at a flat rate of $955 per credit for all students, regardless of your location.

Spring Arbor University

Spring Arbor University is a private Christian school offering another RN to PMHNP online program, this one with the option to complete a BSN in the beginning of the program for RNs with an associate degree or a bachelor’s degree that is in a different field than nursing. Upon graduating from this four-year, 82-credit RN to MSN-PMHNP program, you will hold both a BSN and MSN degree, and you will be prepared to take your PMHNP-BC™ — the national PMHNP certification exam. The program is mostly online with one three-day campus visit required per year and 570 clinical hours in a facility in your local community.

Prospective students should have a 3.0 undergraduate GPA or higher and a valid current nursing license from your state of employment. Prospective students must hold a bachelor’s degree or other relevant college-level education to be considered, and students who already hold a BSN are particularly encouraged to apply.

Walden University

The RN to PMHNP online degree program at Walden University is accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and has three tracks: a BSN to MSN, an RN to MSN, and a BSN to DNP/PhD in Nursing. Whichever you choose based on your educational background and goals, you will be able to select from open start dates each quarter for maximum flexibility.

Virtual simulations at Walden will allow you to learn more about interacting with patients, performing mental health assessments, making diagnoses, and planning treatment. You can also participate in the unique virtual Walden Grand Rounds several times throughout each quarter.

The MSN can be completed in as little as two years and costs around $44,115 after scholarship savings. Once enrolled, you’ll be helped by Walden faculty to find an onsite placement to earn your required clinical experience. Like the other programs spotlighted, you’ll be preparing to sit for the ANCC PMHNP certification board exam.

Degree Spotlight: RN to MSN Psychiatric Mental Health NP Online

Once you’ve decided you’re interested in applying for an RN to PMHNP online program, you might be interested in learning what to expect — both during the application process and once you’ve chosen a school. Here are a few specifics to consider:

Admission Requirements

Every program will have its own admissions requirements, so be sure to check in advance to ensure your best chances of acceptance. Generally speaking, you’ll be expected to hold a valid nursing license to be considered for acceptance, and you may need a minimum GPA from your previous studies — often a 3.0 or higher. Some schools will also require a statement of purpose and one or more letters of recommendation, so be sure to reach out to potential recommenders in advance.

Career Benefits

Becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is a major career step in and of itself, often resulting in a lot of responsibility — especially as you’ll be working with a particularly vulnerable group of patients. Earning your qualifications through an RN to PMHNP online program will also be beneficial in that you’ll be able to continue working as a nurse while you study, and the curriculum is geared for nurses like yourself, so it will build off the knowledge base you already have.

Cost & Funding

Any higher education program, including an RN to PMHNP online program, is likely to be a significant financial commitment. Costs will vary greatly depending on the school you choose; to help you continue your research, here’s another resource featuring standout online PMHNP programs. But to help reduce your out-of-pocket investment, you can apply for financial aid and scholarships specific to nurse practitioner students, in addition to federal student loans. You should also remember that studying online saves you relocation costs and makes it easier to work while you study.


The coursework in an online RN to PMHNP will typically involve traditional lecture courses taken online and practical clinical experiences that you can complete in your local area. For your lecture courses, your program may have synchronous or asynchronous classes, which will typically be followed by end-of-term exams. If you have a strong preference between synchronous and asynchronous classes, be sure to check your program website for insight into class format before you enroll.

Alternate Paths for RNs to Become a PMHNP

If you don’t think earning an MSN is necessarily a good fit for you, there are alternative paths to help you become a PMHNP — as some of our spotlight programs already addressed. Below, find two other pathways to this career.


If you currently hold an MSN or have already taken the key steps to becoming a nurse practitioner at the postgraduate level, you might be a good candidate for a PMHNP certificate program. These programs are not degree-granting and instead are designed for postgraduate-qualified nurses looking to shift gears towards psychiatric mental health nursing practice. Thomas Jefferson University offers one such post-graduate certificate program. The curriculum generally assumes advanced nursing knowledge and can be completed in significantly less time — and for less money, with many needing fewer than 20 credits to complete — than an MSN degree program.


Looking to go even further than an MSN in your nursing education? Consider pursuing a Doctor of Nursing Practice, or DNP. This degree is one of three possible terminal degrees in nursing, alongside a PhD or a DNS. Given that most RN to PMHNP online programs are MSN degree-granting programs, a DNP program will offer an even more in-depth education in the PMHNP field. These degrees, offered at schools like Regis College, are practical rather than research-focused doctorates like a PhD. Because of their advanced nature, they’ll require greater time investment (and have potentially higher costs) than an MSN program.

Challenges and Solutions in RN to PMHNP Online Programs

Even the most prepared students can face challenges in a demanding postgraduate program — and that’s okay! To help you start your program as confidently as possible, we’ve addressed a few of the most common challenges — and their solutions — that you might face while you study:

Intense Bridge Curriculum

The good news: Your RN to PMHNP bridge program is designed for experienced nurses just like you. The bad news: That means an intense curriculum that assumes a lot of prior nursing knowledge and experience. Like those you’ll find in similar RN to MSN bridge programs, these expectations can be intense. To avoid feeling overwhelmed, be sure to preview the syllabi for your courses to know what will be expected from you in each class. And remember, if you find yourself overwhelmed with the demands of the curriculum, you can research options for a part-time study plan to ease your time burden each week. Whatever path you choose, review our guide to online bridge programs for expert advice and insight into how to address the demands of your intense bridge curriculum.

Limited Direct Interaction with Peers and Professors

While studying online from the comfort of your home can be convenient, it can also be lonely — especially because you won’t have as much direct interaction or opportunities for conversation with your instructors and fellow students as you would in a face-to-face program. Luckily, most schools offering online programs are very aware of these concerns and offer video socials for class cohorts, virtual office hours with professors, and more. If that’s still not as much “face time” as you’d like, don’t be afraid to get proactive: Consider starting a virtual study group with your classmates to share tips and ideas.

Technology and Connectivity Issues

Online classes are great — until there’s an IT issue. Internet troubles and computer malfunctions can wreak havoc in an online course. This is a problem universities that offer distance learning have dealt with for years, which is why it’s important to make sure you have the recommended computer, software programs, and internet connectivity your program will specify. Also, you know the “technology fee” your school charges? This grants you access to their tech support team, who are experts at dealing with these types of issues; so don’t hesitate to reach out to them if necessary!

Transition to Advanced Practice Role

However you slice it, becoming a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner is a big adjustment, even if you’re already an experienced nurse. You’ll be taking on more responsibility, and you may be dealing with patients who are struggling with their mental health for the first time. This is why the practical clinical portion of your degree is so vital. This aspect of the degree, which will likely consist of hundreds of hours of on-the-ground work, will give you real-world experience in the role that you will inhabit once you finish your degree; this means you’ll have in-depth knowledge about what to expect and how to do your job effectively.