What Does a PMHNP Do?

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A PMHNP meets with a patient.While mental and physical health are often treated separately by the medical community, an increase in awareness has begun to change that approach. That awareness holds the view that the mind and body are inextricably linked when it comes to overall well-being. In line with this thinking, what psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) do for healthcare organizations is invaluable for bridging this gap.

Conditions such as depression and schizophrenia have been linked to a multitude of chronic physical illnesses, including diabetes, arthritis, cancer and heart disease. Additionally, studies have shown that improving mental health helps improve physical health as well. Earning a Master of Science in Nursing in Psychiatric-Mental Health trains nurses to fill the crucial need for practitioners in the field while fighting a lingering stigma and prejudice surrounding mental health issues.

That stigma can include discriminatory attitudes from others and self-stigma that causes sufferers to experience shame and poor self-esteem. These stigmas can also directly impact friends and family who support those with mental illness. More than half of people with mental illness don’t receive help, often because they are worried about being treated differently or even losing their jobs because of their condition, according to community-based nonprofit Mental Health American. Psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) work with primary care and specialty providers to provide holistic treatment for patients with psychiatric disorders.

PMHNP Job Description

Through outpatient and residential care, PMHNPs treat a broad range of issues such as anxiety, depression, ADHD, psychosis and eating disorders while providing emergency psychiatric services as necessary.

To diagnose a patient’s problem and determine the proper course of action, PMHNPs screen for physical illness and risk factors that may signal mental disorders. This screening may involve observation, interviews and investigation of family history for potential neurological and/or developmental issues.

PMHNPs lead individual and group therapy sessions, and, when state law allows, write prescriptions for medications. PMHNPs are also responsible for case management, reporting patient progress in collaboration with doctors and other members of the medical team, and educating families and caregivers about mental illness.

Where Do PMHNPs Work?

What PMHNPs do depends on where they work and their specialty. They practice in a variety of locations, including hospitals, mental health centers, schools, outpatient and emergency clinics, assisted living facilities, government agencies and addiction treatment centers. Those in telemedicine settings or private practice may also work from home or their own offices. As a result, patient populations could include children or teens exposed to traumatic events or suffering from anxiety disorders, adults struggling with addiction and substance abuse, patients in need of urgent treatment, elderly people with dementia and soldiers experiencing PTSD or combat stress.

PMHNPs represent the second-largest group of behavioral health professionals in the United States. They often specialize in serving different types of patients, and the different environments they work in may correspond with unique duties in addition to the PMHNP’s core responsibilities.

When treating children and adolescents in schools, for instance, the focus could be on early intervention and a range of psychotherapeutic skills such as providing individual, family and group therapy. In contrast, a PMHNP in a hospital or mental health treatment center might be called upon to provide emergency psychiatric treatment. PMHNPs who work with the elderly may help individuals and families deal with end-of-life care and grief.

PMHNPs Are Part of a Team

PMHNPs are trained to work with social workers, other nurses, community managers, psychiatrists and physicians to find a treatment plan that meets a patient’s needs. A study that appeared in The Journal for Nurse Practitioners showed that the integration of PMNHPs into an urban primary care clinic resulted in improved depression and diabetes metrics, which adds to the increasing evidence that coordinated care between PMHNPs and other healthcare professionals results in better patient outcomes.

Behavioral health integration (BHI), defined as behavioral health professionals working in tandem with other medical providers, is now a common and productive approach for treating people with mental health conditions. Like psychiatrists, PMHNPs can evaluate, diagnose and prescribe medication, which creates opportunities for healthcare organizations to incorporate PMHNPs into comprehensive strategies for patients that decrease wait times and extend access to services.

One of these strategies is the Psychiatric Collaborative Care Model (CoCM). This approach pairs a primary practitioner, a behavioral healthcare manager, and a psychiatric consultant such as a PMHNP to form a three-person care team. The objective is to strengthen treatment for many conditions, such as a well-being strategy for cancer patients or helping with depression or anxiety that can result from other health problems.

Become a Patient Advocate with a Master of Science in Nursing

There is nothing more important to overall health than mental health. Mental health has a powerful influence over social and emotional well-being, and poor mental health increases the risk of many types of physical illness. Duquesne University’s online Master of Science in Nursing and the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner specialization can help you develop the skills to assess, diagnose and provide treatment options to patients with mental disorders.

Demand for nurses is increasing, and earning your MSN degree allows you to expand your knowledge of nursing practice and patient care. Learn how Duquesne University can help you gain more autonomy in your career and prepare you to become a patient advocate as a PMHNP.

Recommended Readings

Why Get a DNP? Benefits of an Online Nursing Degree

Nine Leadership Qualities in Nursing

Childhood Trauma: Understanding How Trauma Impacts Mental Health and Wellness


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