The need for psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners, or psych NPs, is great. But the percentage of NPs who focus on psychiatric care is nominal, even though it’s one of the top-earning NP specialties.
According to 2019 data from the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly one in five U.S. adults lives with mental illness. And MentalHealth.gov reports only 44% of adults and less than 20% of children and adolescents get the treatment they need.
A 2019 survey by the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), however, says less than 2% of NPs hold certification in psychiatric and mental health care for families.
Individuals interested in an in-demand, well-paying career that can help close the mental health care gap should consider learning more about the psych NP salary and job outlook. Becoming a psych NP requires a degree in nursing at a master’s level or higher — such as an online Master of Science in Nursing.
The Role of a Psych NP
As nurse practitioners, psych NPs help meet medical demands by providing an additional option for health care, especially in rural areas and other locations that face physician shortages. NPs can offer many of the same services as physicians at a lower cost, including prescribing medication.
Nurse practitioners who specialize in psychiatric-mental health, or psych NPs, are also called PMHNPs. They assess, diagnose and treat patients’ mental health needs, working with individuals, families, groups and the community.
Psych NPs and other nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs). Anyone interested in becoming an APRN must have a registered nursing (RN) license and then earn at least a master’s degree in nursing (MSN).
Psych NPs typically must also have certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). Earning the status of Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (PMHNP-BC) requires passing an exam that evaluates entry-level clinical knowledge and skills. Additionally, certification must be renewed every five years.
Psych NP Salary
A 2019 survey from the AANP shows that full-time psych NPs have a median total income — including base salary, productivity bonuses and incentive payments — of $131,500.
The compensation website PayScale reports the average psych NP salary in February 2021 was $109,910, with the lowest 10% of earners receiving $88,000 or less and the highest 10% receiving $142,000 or more. When adding profit sharing and bonus payments to these base salaries, average total annual earnings reached as much as $159,000.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) provides salary information for APRNs, which include nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists and nurse midwives. The BLS reports the 2019 median pay for all occupations in this category was $115,800, with NPs specifically earning median annual pay of $109,820.
Psych NP Salary vs. Other Medical Professional Salaries
Psych NPs earn higher annual salaries than NPs in most other specialties. A 2019 MedPage Today survey ranking of NP salaries by specialty lists psych NPs’ average salary at $139,976, putting it above the average salary for all NPs, which is $115,512. In fact, the report showed psych NPs’ average salaries to be above 19 of the 20 other listed NP specialties. The only specialty with a higher average salary was anesthesiology, at $166,969.
Psych NP Salary by Industry and Location
As with all nurse practitioners, psych NPs’ salaries vary by experience, work environment and location. PayScale reports that psych NPs with less than a year of experience earned around $102,000 annually on average, and that salary increased to more than $115,00 after 20 or more years of experience.
Following are the top-paying industries for NPs regardless of specialty as of May 2019, according to the BLS.
- Community food, housing, emergency and other relief services — $139,140
- Residential facilities (intellectual and developmental disability, mental health and substance abuse) — $123,900
- Grant-making and giving services organizations — $123,760
- Religious organizations — $118,530
- Outpatient care centers — $113,190
The highest-paying states for NPs were:
- California — $138,660
- Washington — $126,920
- Hawaii — $124,000
- New Jersey — $123,810
- Minnesota — $122,850
Psych NP Job Outlook
The BLS says the job outlook for APRNs, including NPs, is much greater than the overall job outlook for all careers. It projects a 45% increase in jobs from 2019 to 2029, while the estimated average growth for jobs across all sectors is 4%.
Among the APRN occupations, the outlook for NPs is particularly strong, with a projected 52% jump in demand from 2019 to 2029. That translates to about 110,700 additional jobs. NPs specializing in psychiatric care and substance abuse are expected to see a 17% increase in the number of jobs overall, with a 26% increase in private practice.
Why Psych NPs Are in Demand
It’s no surprise that psych NPs in particular — and NPs overall — are in such high demand. The need for all APRN professionals is poised to jump as the U.S. population ages and requires more care to prevent and treat medical conditions. Additionally, the AANP says nearly 80 million people live in Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs), or places where there are more than 3,500 patients for a single primary care provider — and rural areas are especially in need.
The American Psychiatric Nurses Association reports that 56 million adults in the United States struggle with mental illness or a substance abuse disorder. And the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated mental health concerns, due to factors such as isolation, unemployment and changing responsibilities at home. But when people seek mental health care, the average delay between the start of symptoms and when they receive treatment is 11 years, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
Psych NPs are a much-needed additional resource for patients. When someone in an HPSA has symptoms of depression, for example, and is looking for medical help, a psych NP can be the difference between long-term suffering and timely treatment.
Be a Leader in Addressing Mental Health Care Needs
If you’re ready to help lead the effort to address the nation’s mental health care needs, explore the University of North Dakota’s online Master of Science in Nursing program and its Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner concentration. The curriculum combines 100 years of nursing education excellence with the convenience of online learning — focusing on advanced nursing skills that will help you plan, manage and coordinate life-changing care.
Discover today how a University of North Dakota online Master of Science in Nursing degree can help you pursue your professional goals.
RegisteredNurseRN.com, Nurse Practitioner NP, Salary Education Certification Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2019, Nurse Practitioners