One of the most rewarding healthcare careers you can embark upon is that of a psychiatric nurse practitioner or mental health nurse. It will give you the chance to make a difference in the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in the country, and you’ll never struggle to find work or earn a decent living. There are lots of opportunities to specialize and progress – but what are the steps you need to take to get there in the first place?

You’ll need to qualify as an RN

Before you can move into mental health, you’ll need to acquire generic professional nursing skills. This means obtaining a degree like Master of Science in Nursing, which normally takes two to three years, depending on how much time you can commit to study. It will require you to obtain a certain level of clinical experience, so you’ll need to spend time working on a ward. After graduating, you’ll need to take the NCLEX-RN exam and acquire a license to practice as a registered nurse.

You’ll need to gain a Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing Certificate

Once you’re practicing as an RN, you’ll have the option of obtaining a certificate in Psychiatric Mental Health Nursing. To do this, you’ll need to be able to demonstrate your competence in an exam. It helps to have some experience working with mentally ill people, so many people choose to volunteer with relevant charities before taking the exam. After getting your certificate, you can work at a basic level for up to five years, gaining valuable knowledge that will help you with the next stage of qualification.

You’ll need to take a master’s degree with a psychiatric specialty

If you want to take your career in mental health nursing further, you’ll need to obtain an MSN with a specialty in psychiatric mental health care. Again, this will require both study and clinical hours, but if you’ve already found employment in the psychiatric sector, then you may be able to count hours worked there towards the requirement. Speak to your supervisor to clarify your options. Once you have your MSN, you can immediately apply for certification as a fully qualified psych NP, or you can go on to take a DNP if you want to work at a higher level within the sector.

You’ll need to keep up your skills

Although every state does it slightly differently, staying licensed as a psychiatric nurse practitioner will require you to undertake a certain number of hours of additional education in your specialty every year. This will make sure that your skills stay sharp. You will also need to renew your license at regular intervals.

Getting through all of this may sound like a lot of effort, but you’ll learn a lot of really interesting things in the process and you can also earn as you go. Once you’re fully qualified, you’ll be in a very strong career position, and you’ll have something that most people long for: the chance to make a living while doing good in the world.