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How to Become a Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner? (Answered by an NP)
Written By: Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
The need for pediatric mental health nurse practitioners is excellent. There has been an increase in the number of pediatric patients seeking mental health treatment—despite the lack of specialists to meet the needs of these patients. So, do you have a desire or passion for caring for the pediatric population's mental, emotional, and behavioral health? If so, becoming a mental health nurse practitioner may be a perfect fit for you!
Below, I will answer the question, how to become a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner? I will also provide information regarding the steps to becoming a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner, the pros and cons of the job, and the salary.
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What Does A Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Do?
What does a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner do? Below you will find a list of five important duties of a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner.
1. Utilize various screening tools:
You must know multiple screening tools to diagnose various mental health disorders in pediatrics, including understanding which screening tool is appropriate and how to interpret the results. This may include ADHD, depression, and autism, among many others.
2. Diagnose mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders in pediatric patients:
Through screening tools and assessments, you will diagnose mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders in pediatric patients.
3. Develop treatment plans for pediatric mental health, behavioral and developmental disorders:
As a pediatric mental health NP, once you have diagnosed the patient, you will develop a treatment plan—often including the patient and family in some of these decisions. This treatment plan may consist of therapy or counseling along with medication.
4. Communicate well with the patient and family:
When working with pediatric patients, communication is vital with them and their family, especially if they are young. As a pediatric mental health NP, you will spend a lot of time communicating with the patient and their family regarding diagnoses and treatment plans.
5. Routine follow-ups to evaluate the effectiveness of the treatment plan:
The pediatric mental health NP will also schedule routine follow-ups with their patients to ensure the treatment plan is working. During these follow-ups, alterations to the plan may be made, including medication changes, whether adding, stopping, titrating a medication, or adding another resource to meet the patient's needs better.
What Skills And Abilities Are Needed To Work As A Pediatric Mental Health NP?
Many skills are needed to work as a pediatric mental health NP. Below you will find a list of essential skills to be a pediatric mental health NP.
1. Knowledge of mental health diagnoses in pediatric patients:
You must know the mental health diagnoses that can affect a child, including signs and symptoms and appropriate treatment plans. You must also be able to educate the patient and family about the diagnosis and treatment plan, including medications.
2. Knowledge of medications, including side effects:
You must know medications that are appropriate to treat the mental health problems in the pediatric patient, including side effects. It is also not uncommon to alter the treatment plan based on the patient’s response to a medication. Therefore, you must know how to change or add medications to best benefit the patient appropriately.
3. Knowledge of compatibility of medications:
As stated above, you may have to prescribe multiple medications for a patient to treat them appropriately, so you must know how to ensure safe compatibility between medications. This is often done through an online resource such as Up-to-Date or Epocrates.
Working as a team is essential to the pediatric mental health Ps day. This team typically consists of the nurse, pediatric mental health NP, and even a physician. If the team does not work well together, mistakes can be made, or poor patient care may be provided.
5. Strong communication skills:
To go along with teamwork, the pediatric mental health NP must have strong communication skills. Communication is essential between the pediatric mental health NP, the care team, and the patient and their family. If communication is poor between the pediatric mental health NP, patient, and their family, the outcome for the patient may not be as good due to a lack of understanding or even trust.
6. Comfort around children:
When working as a pediatric mental health NP you must be comfortable interacting with children and adolescents. This is the basis of your career choice, and you must be able to gain the trust of your patients and their family members.
7. Knowledge of other resources:
You must have knowledge of other resources in the community that may benefit your patient. This can include therapists, rehab or substance abuse centers, and support groups.
8. Professional Development:
You must desire to grow professionally to maintain a successful pediatric mental health nurse practitioner career. This includes completing continuing education credits through conferences, online seminars, and other resources. You can also achieve professional development through setting annual goals for yourself and pushing yourself always to be better.
Where Do Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners Work?
The work setting for a pediatric mental health NP can vary but may include inpatient and outpatient settings. The pediatric mental health NP may deliver care in the inpatient setting for patients admitted for a mental health concern. This setting could include a hospital, treatment facility, or privately owned organization.
The pediatric mental health NP may also work in the outpatient setting, and this may include working in a clinic, treatment center, or school setting.
Another unique setting that has been utilized more in the last several years is telehealth. A pediatric mental health NP providing care via telehealth may also have the opportunity to work from home or a clinic based on their organization.
Lastly, it is not uncommon for the pediatric mental health NP to work simultaneously in both the outpatient and inpatient settings.
What Is The Typical Work Schedule For A Pediatric Mental Health NP?
The typical work schedule for a pediatric mental health NP will vary based on the setting worked.
If the pediatric mental health NP works in a clinic setting, most likely, their hours will be daytime hours from approximately 8 am or 9 am to 5 pm. There is also the possibility of a Saturday clinic and taking on-call hours for emergencies.
However, if the pediatric mental health NP works in the inpatient setting or for a rehab/treatment facility, their hours may vary more based on the organization. For example, the pediatric mental health NP in the inpatient setting may have to work every 3rd weekend and an occasional holiday. Their day may also start earlier or end later in the evening.
What Is The Difference Between Pediatric Mental Health NP And Pediatric Mental Health Nurse?
Scope of practice influences what the pediatric mental health RN and NP can do—leading to the most significant difference between these two nursing careers.
The education requirements are different for the RN and NP. The pediatric mental health RN requires an undergraduate degree such as a BSN; however, the pediatric mental health NP requires a graduate degree such as an MSN or DNP.
The certification and licensure requirements are also different between the RN and NP. The RN must pass the NCLEX before they can practice as a nurse and the renewal of the RN license occurs every two years. The pediatric mental health NP must take the Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practioner Exam before obtaining licensure. Their license needs to be renewed every five years while maintaining good status with their RN license.
As previously stated, their scope of practice is different. The role of the pediatric mental health NP will vary based on the setting worked. For example, in the inpatient setting, the RN will ensure the safety of their patients, administer medications, and perform routine assessments. They will also communicate regularly and work closely with the care team, including the NP, to ensure their patients receive the appropriate care. In the outpatient setting, the pediatric mental health RN will check the patients in, answer questions and educate the patient and family as needed. They, too, work closely alongside the NP to ensure appropriate care is given.
The pediatric mental health NP has a greater scope of practice than the RN. Regardless of the setting, the pediatric mental health NP will diagnose and treat pediatric patients with mental health diagnoses. This is done through completing screening tools when indicated, assessments, and developing treatment plans which may include therapy and medications. They will also schedule routine follow-ups to ensure the patient improves and alter the treatment plan when needed. The pediatric mental health NP will also spend a lot of time educating the patient and their family about the diagnosis and treatment plan.
Top 5 Pros Of Becoming A Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Becoming a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner is a rewarding career path. Below you will find a list of five pros of being a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner.
1. Excellent job outlook:
The job outlook for pediatric mental health nurse practitioners is great. There is a lack of pediatric mental health providers throughout the United States, and NPs can help fill this void.
2. Work with children and adolescents:
Pediatric mental health NPs work solely with children and adolescents—allowing the NP to work with a specific population they are passionate about.
3. Competitive Salary:
The average salary for a pediatric mental health NP is very competitive compared to other NP specialties.
4. Job Satisfaction:
Job satisfaction is high for pediatric mental health NPs. This is most likely due to the opportunity to care for a specific age group, competitive pay, and reasonable hours. Many pediatric NPs also improve their patient’s mental health and well-being after meeting with them only a few times, leading to marked job satisfaction.
5. Good Hours and flexibility:
Lastly, pediatric mental health NPs typically have good hours with flexibility—and telehealth may further positively impact the flexibility the pediatric mental health NP has.
Top 5 Cons Of Becoming A Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner
Just like any job, there may be aspects that are considered cons. Below, you will find a list of five cons of being a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner.
1. Emotionally Stressful:
Working as a pediatric mental health NP may be emotionally stressful. This may be due to challenging diagnoses, challenging families or patients, and mental exhaustion.
Working as a pediatric mental health NP can sometimes be challenging. This can be due to challenges communicating with the patient and family, caring for complex diagnoses, or even trouble finding the right treatment plan for the patient.
For some people, working with the pediatric population is not what they want to do; instead want more variety throughout their day.
4. May have to work holidays and/or weekends:
While overall the hours are favorable, depending on where you work—weekends and holidays may be required.
5. Resistance to treatment plans:
Resistance to treatment plans can happen in any specialty, but when talking about pediatric mental health, some patients and families may be more reluctant to take medications, seek therapy, or other treatment recommendations. Therefore, treating patients appropriately may be frustrating or difficult if your plan is hit with resistance.
How Long Does It Take To Become A Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
How long does it take to become a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner? On average, it will take between 6 to 8 years before attending graduate school, not including years of experience as a nurse.
You must first have your BSN degree before applying to graduate school. A traditional BSN program takes four years to complete but may take longer if you attend part-time. You may also choose to complete your associate's degree in nursing (ADN) and then an RN-BSN. Remember that it does not matter the path you desire as long as you get your BSN.
After completing your BSN, you must attend a graduate school which may lead to either a science in nursing (MSN) or doctorate of nursing practice (DNP) degree. Completing your MSN takes 2-3 years on average, and a DNP takes 3-4 years. It is not required to have a DNP to practice, but if you desire to pursue a terminal degree or teach, it may be a good option. You can complete your MSN first, practice as a pediatric mental health NP for a couple of years and then return to complete your DNP—which will take approximately 1-2 years.
It is not required, but I strongly encourage a minimum of two years of experience before you become a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner. The knowledge, skills, and experience working as a mental health RN will only positively impact your pediatric mental health NP career.
How Much Does It Cost To Become A Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
The first cost is completing your BSN, which costs between $40,000 to more than $200,000. This is an extensive range and can be influenced by multiple factors, such as the school you attend. Paying in-state tuition for a public university/college will cost less than paying out-of-state tuition for a public university/college or attending a private university/college.
Other factors that may influence cost are if you attend part-time or full-time, receive a scholarship, and the cost of living in your city. Lastly, completing your ADN and attending an RN-BSN program may also influence the price.
Once you graduate with your BSN, you must complete a graduate program before becoming a pediatric mental health NP. The average cost of completing your MSN is $81,810 to $185,280. You may also pursue your DNP with an average cost of $26,490 to $254,260. The factors that influence the cost of your BSN will also affect the cost of your graduate program. You can also choose to complete your MSN initially, gain experience and then return for your DNP later.
There are a few other costs to consider when becoming a pediatric mental health NP. These costs include board prep courses, the fee to sit for the board certification exam, and licensing fees. If you attend a fellowship program after graduation, that is an additional cost.
What Is The Step-By-Step Process Of Becoming A Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
How exactly do you become a pediatric mental health NP? Below I will provide the steps necessary to become a pediatric mental health NP.
1. Get your BSN:
The first step to pursuing your pediatric mental health NP career is to get your BSN. The route you take to achieve this does not matter—as long as you graduate with a BSN degree.
2. Pass NCLEX and obtain a state RN license:
Once you graduate with your BSN, you must pass the NCLEX exam and get your RN license. These are requirements to apply to graduate school.
3. Gain Experience in behavioral/mental health:
This step is not required, but I highly encourage a few years of experience as a mental health nurse before applying to graduate school. The skills and knowledge you will learn as an RN will be invaluable to your career as an NP.
4. Apply to an accredited psychiatric mental health NP program:
Once you have graduated with your BSN and obtained your RN license, you can apply to an accredited psychiatric mental health NP program. Be mindful of any pre-requisites that may be needed.
5. Graduate from accredited psychiatric mental health NP program:
Once accepted to the program, you must graduate before starting your career as a pediatric mental health NP.
6. Pass board certification exam and obtain APRN license:
After graduation from your accredited program, you must pass the board certification exam and get an APRN license.
7. Attend pediatric mental health NP fellowship:
This step is optional but strongly encouraged if you desire to work with pediatrics. Completing a fellowship program demonstrates your competency and commitment to pediatric mental health.
8. Apply for pediatric mental health nurse practitioner jobs:
Applying for pediatric mental health NP jobs can start before graduation from an accredited NP or fellowship program—but if you have not done so, now is the time.
9. Start working as a pediatric mental health NP:
Enjoy your career as a pediatric mental health NP!
10. Pursue DNP:
If you have not already, you can return to school at any time during your NP career to complete your DNP. This step is not required, but if you have any desire to teach, you will need a terminal degree such as a DNP.
Top Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Programs
There are no nurse practitioner programs dedicated solely to pediatric mental health. However, there is a Psychiatric Mental Health NP program that can prepare the NP to provide psychiatric services to patients of all ages. Below I will discuss two Psychiatric Mental Health NP Programs.
The Vanderbilt School of Nursing offers a Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner program that prepares you to care for patients of all ages. The program includes didactic and clinical learning experiences to allow students to build a solid foundation for a career in psychiatric-mental health.
UNMC offers a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) program that covers the lifespan allowing the graduate to provide psychiatric-mental health care to all ages. The program includes didactic and clinic experiences preparing the NP student to care for patients with all mental health diagnoses, including ADHD, dementia, and mood disorders.
Recommended Certifications To Enhance Your Job Role As A Pediatric Mental Health NP
Certifications are a great tool to build on your knowledge and demonstrate your competency and expertise in a specific area. There are various certifications for mental health NPs, and below, you will find information for a certification specific to the pediatric mental health NP.
The PMHS is a certification for the pediatric mental health NP to demonstrate knowledge and competency in delivering care to pediatric mental and behavioral health patients. This certification is not only for NPs but also for clinical nurse specialists. There are specific requirements, including an active APRN license and a minimum of 2,000 hours of pediatric developmental, behavioral and mental health clinical experience in the past five years (while holding an active APRN license). It is important to note that this certification does not replace the NP's primary certification for licensure to practice.
List Of Fellowships And Residency Programs For Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
Fellowship and residency programs provide opportunities to build on knowledge gained during your graduate program to better prepare you for your career as an NP in your chosen specialty. Fortunately, there are numerous fellowship programs for pediatric mental health NP to select from to develop further and expand their knowledge.
Nationwide Children’s Hospital offers the Barbara Truman Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Post-Graduate Program. This program is 12 months long and is designed to build on the knowledge of NPs who desire to care for pediatric patients with complex behavioral health disorders.
UC San Diego offers a Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Post-Graduate Child-Adolescent Psychiatric (CAP) Fellowship program. This program is 12 months long and includes didactic and clinical opportunities to prepare better the pediatric mental health NP to care for pediatric patients with mental health disorders.
Continuing Education Requirements For Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
To continue working as a pediatric mental health NP, you must complete continuing education units (CEUs) to maintain licensure—including CEUs for your RN license, NP license, and any certifications you have.
The state you are licensed in determines the CEU requirements needed to maintain your RN and APRN license—and yes, in most states, you must remain in good standing with your RN and APRN license. Your RN license typically needs to be renewed every two years, and some of those CEUs can be applied to your APRN license renewal every five years. Each state has specifics regarding the type and number of CEUs needed for your licenses, typically including a specified number of pharmacology and opioid prescribing CEUs. For detailed information regarding license renewal, visit your state board of nursing.
There are also CEUs needed to maintain any certifications you may have. For example, suppose you are a Pediatric Primary Care Health Specialist. In that case, you must recertify every three years and complete 45 contact hours of developmental/behavioral/mental health, including 15 hours of pediatric psychopharmacology.
What Is The Starting Salary Of A Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
The starting pediatric mental health nurse practitioner salary is $82,110 a year. This number is an average and can be influenced by years of experience as a nurse in behavioral health, the city and state you work in, and the organization.
| Per Hour||$39.48 |
| Per Month||$6,840 |
| Per Year||$82,110 |
What Is The Average Salary Of A Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?
What is the average salary of a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner? The average pediatric mental health nurse practitioner salary is $121,965. As stated, this number is an average determined by multiple factors. Years of experience as a nurse and pediatric mental health NP can influence your salary along with the city and state you work for, the organization you work for, and the primary setting you provide care.
| Per Hour||$58.64 |
| Per Month||$10,160 |
| Per Year||$121,965 |
What Is The Average Salary Of A Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner In Your State?
Now that you know the average salary of a pediatric mental health NP, you may be wondering what the average salary is in your state of licensure. Below you will find the average salary for each state in the United States.
| State || Average Salary |
| Hourly || Monthly || Annual |
| Alabama || $50.88 || $8,820 || $105,820 |
| Alaska || $56.54 || $9,800 || $117,600 |
| Arizona || $59.57 || $10,330 || $123,900 |
| Arkansas || $53.19 || $9,220 || $110,640 |
| California || $75.42 || $13,070 || $156,880 |
| Colorado || $55.92 || $9,690 || $116,320 |
| Connecticut || $59.84 || $10,370 || $124,460 |
| Delaware || $57.74 || $10,010 || $120,090 |
| Florida || $52.08 || $9,030 || $108,320 |
| Georgia || $54.42 || $9,430 || $113,200 |
| Hawaii || $63.33 || $10,980 || $131,730 |
| Idaho || $52.30 || $9,070 || $108,790 |
| Illinois || $59.85 || $10,370 || $124,480 |
| Indiana || $56.38 || $9,770 || $117,260 |
| Iowa || $60.29 || $10,450 || $125,410 |
| Kansas || $54.00 || $9,360 || $112,320 |
| Kentucky || $52.70 || $9,130 || $109,610 |
| Louisiana || $55.96 || $9,700 || $116,400 |
| Maine || $57.81 || $10,020 || $120,240 |
| Maryland || $57.48 || $9,960 || $119,550 |
| Massachusetts || $64.35 || $11,150 || $133,850 |
| Michigan || $54.03 || $9,370 || $112,390 |
| Minnesota || $63.09 || $10,940 || $131,230 |
| Mississippi || $55.51 || $9,620 || $115,470 |
| Missouri || $51.41 || $8,910 || $106,930 |
| Montana || $57.48 || $9,960 || $119,560 |
| Nebraska || $55.97 || $9,700 || $116,420 |
| Nevada || $61.44 || $10,650 || $127,790 |
| New Hampshire || $59.97 || $10,400 || $124,740 |
| New Jersey || $68.06 || $11,800 || $141,570 |
| New Mexico || $58.86 || $10,200 || $122,420 |
| New York || $66.53 || $11,530 || $138,390 |
| North Carolina || $56.00 || $9,710 || $116,480 |
| North Dakota || $56.00 || $9,710 || $116,470 |
| Ohio || $55.88 || $9,690 || $116,230 |
| Oklahoma || $57.95 || $10,040 || $120,530 |
| Oregon || $63.68 || $11,040 || $132,450 |
| Pennsylvania || $58.25 || $10,100 || $121,160 |
| Rhode Island || $62.97 || $10,910 || $130,970 |
| South Carolina || $51.09 || $8,860 || $106,270 |
| South Dakota || $55.79 || $9,670 || $116,050 |
| Tennessee || $47.25 || $8,190 || $98,280 |
| Texas || $58.56 || $10,150 || $121,810 |
| Utah || $56.09 || $9,720 || $116,670 |
| Vermont || $55.90 || $9,690 || $116,280 |
| Virginia || $55.79 || $9,670 || $116,050 |
| Washington || $65.00 || $11,270 || $135,190 |
| West Virginia || $52.03 || $9,020 || $108,230 |
| Wisconsin || $58.12 || $10,070 || $120,880 |
| Wyoming || $56.89 || $9,860 || $118,340 |
Job Outlook For Pediatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioners
Over 20 million
children and adolescents in the United States have a mental health disorder; however, not all are diagnosed. That is a large portion of our youth suffering from a mental or behavioral health disorder. And, when looking at youth between the ages of 3-17, 1 in 5 children
have a mental, emotional, behavioral, or developmental disorder.
Unfortunately, there are not enough providers throughout the United States to meet the needs of these patients. And, there are not enough providers that specialize in mental health to treat pediatric patients. Therefore, the demand for pediatric mental health nurse practitioners is significant. The pediatric mental health NP has the knowledge and expertise in diagnosing, treating, and educating patients and families on mental, behavioral, and developmental disorders.
Useful Organizations And Associations
Organizations and Associations can provide support and networking opportunities for all healthcare practitioners, including nurse practitioners. Below, I discuss two associations directed toward psychiatric-mental health nurses and nurse practitioners.
The American Psychiatric Nurses Association is an association for psychiatric-mental health nurses, including pediatric mental health nurse practitioners, to find support and resources to better care for their patients. These resources include continuing education, online sessions, conferences, and other programs. There are also networking opportunities to build your professional group and learn from your peers.
The Association of Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses is an organization for psychiatric-mental health NPs. This organization is an excellent support to pediatric mental health nurse practitioners to further develop their knowledge and career. This Association offers resources such as continuing education, networking opportunities, and groups to join, such as the Rural Practice Group.
Finally, Is Pediatric Mental Health Nursing The Right NP Specialty For You?
Can you now answer how to become a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner? Above, I provided information on the steps to becoming a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner, the pros and cons of the career, and salary information. Becoming a pediatric mental health nurse practitioner is a rewarding, sometimes stressful, career choice for an NP that will leave you feeling like you have genuinely impacted your patients' lives.
Kasee Wiesen DNP, APRN, FNP-C
Kasee Wiesen is a practicing family nurse practitioner. Her nursing background includes emergency medicine, pediatrics and peri-op. Education is a passion of Kasee’s, and she has taught BSN, RN-BSN and DNP students, and has enjoyed every moment of it!