10 Reasons Why the PMHNP Field Won’t be Saturated Anytime Soon
Written By: Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC
The psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner (PMHNP) field is here to stay. What are the reasons why the PMHNP field won’t be saturated anytime soon? Despite the ongoing pandemic and its impact on the healthcare industry, the demand for PMHNPs is expected to continue growing. Are you at all surprised? Look at the state of the world right now and the way we are all glued to our phones. Of course, we're needing a bit of mental healthcare.
Reasons that the PMHNP field is sticking around include the rising demand for mental health services, the cost of care, healthcare reform, job satisfaction, and more. In this article, I will explore 10 reasons why the PMHNP field won’t be saturated anytime soon.
IS PMHNP SATURATED?
No NP field is likely to be saturated and that includes the PMHNP field. If you look at this article from Regis College the PMHNP field is currently facing a shortage
of qualified professionals. Furthermore, healthcare is a supply-and-demand market. As you might be able to guess, the growing demand for mental health services will also increase the demand for PMHNPs.
Being a PMHNP is an attractive position for many reasons. These benefits draw professionals to the field. The growing need for mental health services that can be met by PMHNPs is partially due to the aging baby boomer population, the advancement of telehealth, progressive healthcare reform efforts, and increased awareness of mental health issues.
We all love when our patients are more aware of their health. This means that they are better equipped to seek care and take care of themselves when they need to. This awareness also leads to increased demand as patients become more aware of their need for mental health services.
So, because of these factors, along with some others, the answer is no. The PMHNP field is not saturated.
WHY THE PMHNP FIELD WON’T BE SATURATED ANYTIME SOON?
If you are already in or thinking about entering the PMHNP field, then you probably want some reassurance that your skills are needed now and are going to be needed for years to come. The following are the 10 reasons why the PMHNP field won’t be saturated anytime soon.
REASON #1: Demand The demand for mental healthcare is high and is expected to continue to rise
. This article shows that almost 50% of psychologists report that there is an increased demand for the treatment of depression and substance use disorder. According to the CDC
, more than one in five American adults deal with mental illness.
Since mental illness is a fast-growing worldwide epidemic there is an ongoing and increasing need for mental healthcare, so the PMHNP field won’t be saturated anytime soon. Mental illness is not just limited to the individual. It has widespread effects on relationships, families, society, and cultures. Its effects can be felt across generations.
Here enters COVID-19. The effects of which we will be feeling as a global community for decades to come as it has wreaked havoc on society's collective and individual mental health. Death of loved ones, isolation, job loss, and more has left people with worsening mental health and in dire need of services. Fear, costs, and physical barriers to healthcare due to shutdowns have left people with even further reduced access. COVID-19 and the growing demand for mental health services are other reasons that the PMHNP field won’t be saturated anytime soon.
REASON #2: Shortage of Mental Healthcare Providers
The current shortage of mental health professionals in the United States, including psychiatrists, psychologists, and social workers amplifies the problem of people having access to mental health care. This is not limited to one patient group as it impacts Americans across the lifespan, genders, geographical regions, and socioeconomic statuses.
According to one study, the projected workforce of psychiatrists in the United States is poor with the country predicted to be short by 14,280 to 31,109 psychiatrists
in the coming years. The lack of access leaves people undiagnosed and with mental health unmanaged.
Compound this with an aging workforce and the centralization of providers in urban areas and we've got a real problem on our hands. It can be hard enough to build up the personal motivation to seek out mental health care. As someone with generalized anxiety disorder, subclinical PTSD, and a history of mild depression, I can speak to this firsthand.
I come from a privileged background. I work in healthcare and have more knowledge than the average person about mental health issues. I am also a huge proponent of mental health therapy and increasing access. Yet there have even been times for me when the waitlist to be seen has deterred me from going at all. When I put myself in the shoes of someone with less access, and fewer resources, and who may be experiencing more stigma related to mental health, I can see how waiting to be seen can lead to them not being seen at all.
PMHNPs can help fill the gap in mental health care providers by being a cost-effective and thoroughly trained alternative to physicians. With less time in school, they can also be trained and put into the workforce sooner. PMHNPs can provide therapy, medication prescription and management, and coordination of care. The need for PMHNPs will continue to grow.
REASON #3: The Telehealth Boom
Chances are, that since COVID started, you have either provided telehealth as a nurse practitioner or received care as a patient through telehealth. This technology is increasing access to care across the world including the US. When it comes to mental health services though, telehealth was around before COVID. Unlike other specialties, as a PMHNP you won't need to assess your patients in person. This means that you can have a much bigger market to work with.
I have seen a mental health counselor on and off since I was 16. I have had the same therapist for the past 5 years and she switched to telehealth through Thriveworks way before COVID happened. Remember when I said it increases access GLOBALLY? When I moved abroad, this was even more of a benefit because I could continue to see the same provider. I was able to avoid rehashing my life story to a new person and could stay with someone I already had a trusting relationship with.
Telehealth is one of the reasons why the PMHNP field won’t be saturated anytime soon. Couple the demand for mental health services with telehealth's ability to reach people in rural and underserved areas and you've got yourself a steady stream of patients. Not to mention the value you will get from knowing that you are reaching people who need your services the most.
Finally, telehealth is sticking around because it has changed the forefront of mental health care by allowing people to remain in a safe space such as their home or their car while they receive services. I can’t even tell you how many times when I am visiting family I take my therapy sessions during a walk or in the car so that I know I have privacy. When you think about people who don’t have cars and live outside of cities, you can see how this helps them get the care they need.
REASON #4: Scope of Practice
One reason why the PMHNP field won't be saturated anytime soon is the scope of practice. The scope of practice for PMHNPs is generally the same as it is for other NP specialties. Having the autonomy to diagnose and treat means that you will be able to provide the full spectrum of care to your patients. This makes PMHNPs uniquely suited to meet patient demands and is one of the factors contributing to the job security of this type of NP.
Like many NP roles, the scope of practice for PMHNPs is expanding in many states
, which is also increasing the demand and attractiveness of this role. Being able to practice independently means that PMHNPs will have more freedom to care for patients in the way that they want, opportunities for professional growth, and will be able to reach patients in areas where there are fewer physicians, such as rural areas.
My mother loves that she sees a PMHNP for her care. She says that it's some of the most patient-centered mental health care that she's ever received. She feels listened to and loves that her provider can meet all of her needs including refilling medication.
REASON #5: Collaboration
Healthcare is most successful and comprehensive when providers collaborate and lean on each other's strengths. As a PMHNP you will find this to be a key part of your job. Whether you are a doctor, a PMHNP, a mental health counselor, a nurse, or a case manager, you are going to need to work together to provide your patients with the best possible care. By collaborating across specialties and scopes of practice, patients will be well cared for and are more likely to have all their health needs met.
So, while you may need to refer your patients to another healthcare provider, this also means that other providers may need to send their patients to you.
When I was working as a women’s health NP, I loved having PMHNP friends to refer my patients to. I knew we approached patient care from a similar perspective, and that my patients would be able to establish a trusting relationship with someone on the team quicker than a stranger.
REASON #6: Aging Baby Boomer Generation
We all know that the aging population is placing a strain on the American healthcare system. When it comes to mental health disorders, this is no different. Psychiatric mental health disorders are one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality among non-communicable diseases. As people age they also tend to have increasing rates of mental health issues including but not limited to anxiety and depression.
The higher population coupled with an increasing rate of mental health problems, as well as the myriad of medical issues that people encounter as they age means that the PMHNP field won't be saturated anytime soon. Older adults require careful management as they suffer greater rates of cognitive disorders like dementia that can mask or mimic symptoms of mental health disorders. They are also often on multiple medications and thus will require careful medication management if prescribed psychiatric medications. PMHNPs are trained to provide this care and can receive specialized training in caring for older adults.
Older adults often have their families involved in their care as well. As NPs, PMHNPs are trained to provide not only patient-centered care but also family-centered care. They know how to listen to and educate the whole family and help them work through challenging situations.
REASON #7: Increase in Mental Health Awareness
If you have social media presence, you are likely familiar with how people have been more forthcoming in these spaces about their struggles with mental health. The increasing online presence can create a safe platform for people to express themselves and seek support from the community. Additionally, more and more information is being posted on blogs, online forums, and organization websites such as the Mayo Clinic
where people can find easy-to-understand information.
Normalizing mental health struggles is beneficial to everyone. It lowers the threshold for people seeking care because they know they are not alone, they may recognize the signs and symptoms, and the stigma associated with mental health conditions
can decrease. All of this means that more and more people are seeking care for their mental health. What does this mean for PMHNPs? Well, it means that the demand is likely to increase and the PMHNP field won't be saturated anytime soon.
REASON #8: Changing Policies
Healthcare policy may not be something that is on your face every day in the clinic, but that doesn't mean it's not playing a role in who you see and how you treat your patients. I didn't have much interest in healthcare policy for a while. However, like most things that feel at a distance, once it was made more personal to me, I became more interested in it.
When it comes to mental health services in America, this means the expansion of services. Most notably this occurred with the Affordable Care Act (ACA)
. The ACA played a significant role in improving mental health insurance coverage for Americans. Before the ACA many patients were left without coverage for their mental health care. These patients are faced with intimidating costs of care, which is likely to be needed continuously, patients who don't have coverage are more likely to avoid seeking care.
The ACA expanded mental health care coverage in many ways
, one of which was that mental health diagnoses didn't count as pre-existing conduction that barred patients from being covered by their plan. This contributed to an increase in patients seeking care for their mental health diagnoses. It also expanded substance use disorder coverage by Medicaid. Changing policies like the ACA directly impact the number of patients that need care from PMHNPs.
REASON #9: Higher Education Standards
Like all nurse practitioners, PMHNP school is tough and thorough so it prepares practitioners to provide comprehensive mental health care to their patients. Like other NP roles, a master's degree in nursing is the minimum requirement to become a PMHNP. Some states are requiring an even higher level of education for PMHNPs, such as the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
The higher education standard may put off some people, but if you're anything like me, you and potential employers and patients will be reassured by this. With higher education standards, people have faith that PMHNPs will be able to provide quality care. These higher education standards can be attractive to potential students and employers and may contribute to the increasing demand for PMHNPs.
REASON #10: High Level of Job Satisfaction
As an NP, I know what it is like to enjoy your job, but in past careers, I also knew what it was like to hate a job. Many things will make a person miserable in their job such as inability to climb the ladder, long hours, bad environments, etc. In general, you can assume that you will experience high job satisfaction as a PMHNP. I say this because this is what I have heard from my PMHNP friends and what I experienced myself as an NP.
As a PMHNP you will gain satisfaction from working directly with your patients and seeing their progress over months and even years. You will be able to branch off into other areas like research if you desire. NPs of all specialties have good work-life balance and this is no different for PMHNPs. Plus, it's one of the only NP specialties where you may have the option to work fully remotely!
The high level of job satisfaction is one reason why the PMHNP field won’t be saturated anytime soon.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
Have I answered for you why the PMHNP field won’t be saturated anytime soon? If not, here's a quick recap! Whether it's the growing demand for mental healthcare, increased awareness of mental health problems, or the aging population, one certain thing is that the PMHNP field is here to stay.
As a PMHNP you will be at the forefront of your patient's healthcare, helping them to improve their quality of life and being one of their most trusted providers. These 10 reasons why the PMHNP field won’t be saturated anytime soon presented here should show you that your career as a PMHNP is not only secure but also fulfilling.
Lauren Jacobson MS, RN, WHNP-BC
Lauren Jacobson is a registered nurse and women’s health nurse practitioner who is passionate about global health and gender-based violence prevention. She is Editor and an Advisory Board Member for the Global Nursing Caucus and volunteers with Physicians for Human Rights as a medical evaluator for asylum seekers.