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Understanding What a Psychiatric RN Does


Updated July 21, 2009

What Is a Psychiatric RN - Overview:

Psychiatric nurses, sometimes referred to as psychiatric RNs, are a critical part of the mental health treatment team. They are most often found in hospital-affiliated or residential treatment facilities, but may be employed at virtually any mental health center. Here is a brief description of the many roles that psychiatric RNs can play in phobia treatment.

Education and Training:

Psychiatric RNs are trained in nursing. A two-year nursing degree and licensure as an RN are minimum requirements to assess clients’ nursing needs, develop a plan of care, and work with other mental health professionals.

However, many psychiatric RNs pursue advanced training. A four-year bachelor’s in Nursing degree is the preferred credential in many facilities. These RNs may be responsible for medications, act as case managers, and work directly with clients.

Some psychiatric RNs go on to earn masters or doctoral degrees. Many of these highly-trained RNs become administrators, program directors or teachers.


By definition, psychiatric RNs tend to favor the medical model, in which mental illness is believed to be caused by physiological factors. However, individual practitioners may vary widely in their personal approaches. Eclectic therapy, which draws from a variety of schools of psychology, is extremely common.

In many facilities, psychiatric RNs must wear many hats. The nurse may be in charge of medication management, serve as a case manager or liaison, and provide hands-on care similar to that provided by mental health techs.


Although it is generally not required, specialized training is available. Many psychiatric RNs specialize in geriatric psychology, children and adolescents, or even forensic psychiatry.

It is not unusual for a psychiatric RN’s area of specialization to change throughout his career. On-the-job experience allows many nurses to explore various fields of special interest, while continuing education and training open new doorways to additional possibilities.


American Psychiatric Nurses Association. “About Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurses.” Retrieved July 19, 2009 from http://www.apna.org/i4a/pages/index.cfm?pageid=3292

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