Post-Master's Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Graduate Certificate Programs - Campus and Online Post-MSN Programs
Updated: October 15, 2022
Registered Nurses (RNs) who have completed their graduate training and meet other eligibility criteria, and APRNs who have earned licensure in an area other than psychiatric-mental health advanced practice nursing, can become licensed and/or certified Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (PMHNPs) by completing a PMHNP graduate certificate program. These non-degree programs, which are offered by colleges, universities, and schools of nursing that are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), offer specialization training in the principles and practices of clinical psychiatric-mental health nursing. This training, which includes didactic coursework and supervised clinical hours, is designed to prepare students for the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (PMHNP-BC) professional credential administered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) and for state licensure as a PMHNP.
Eligibility for PMHNP graduate certificate programs requires a minimum of a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree from a CCNE or ACEN-accredited institution. RNs and Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs) who hold a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) can also apply to PMHNP post-graduate certificate programs. Thus, RNs who already hold a graduate degree in nursing do not have to spend the two, three, or more years it would take to earn a second graduate degree with a PMHNP specialization. Instead, they can complete a PMHNP graduate certificate in one to years and be ready to enter the field of psychiatric-mental health nursing.
Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing Explained
Psychiatric-mental health nursing is one of the six primary areas of specialization for nurse practitioners (NPs). It involves assessing and treating patients who present with behavioral and psychological health issues and caring for patients of all ages who have complex episodic and chronic psychiatric and physical health needs. Like other NPs, PMHNPs are qualified to perform differential diagnoses; design, implement, and monitor patient care plans and protocols; and prescribe medications subject to the prescriptive authority granted to APRNs in their state. In addition, PMHNPs are trained to assess mental illness and behavioral disorders, administer psychotherapy, and deploy other psychiatric treatments across the continuum of care. This includes working in hospitals and medical centers, residential and outpatient clinics, psychiatric and mental health treatment facilities, and private medical practices; coordinating the care of patients with physicians and other allied health professionals; and helping to educate patients and their families about mental and physical health diagnoses and treatments.
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Identifying and Classifying Post-Master’s PMHNP Graduate Certificate Programs
An NP graduate certificate program that provides advanced professional training in psychiatric-mental health nursing, has CCNE or ACEN accreditation, and prepares students for certification and/or licensure in the PMHNP specialization can be classified as PMHNP graduate certificate program. This includes programs that accept master’s trained RNs regardless of their current area of specialization, as well as programs that require RNs to be trained in an APRN specialization. In general, there are three types of PMHNP graduate certificate programs that differ based on their admissions requirements:
- Post-MSN PMHNP programs that accept RNs who have MSN or DNP degree in any specialization
- Post-MSN PMHNP programs that require RNs to hold an MSN or DNP degree with an NP/APRN specialty
- Post-MSN PMHNP certificate programs that require applicants to have MSN or DNP training in a specific APRNs specialty, such as Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) or Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner (AGPCNP)
When researching programs, students should review admissions requirements carefully before applying. Students who have already completed a degree in an APRN specialty typically have more program options as they can apply to any program for which they are eligible (read below for more information on the gap analysis process). On the other hand, students who have an MSN in nursing administration, education, or are practicing clinical nurse leaders usually must apply to a program that does not require an APRN license for admission. Other admissions requirements for PMHNP certificate programs, which are commonly designated as graduate, post-graduate, post-master’s, or post-MSN certificate programs, may include one or more years of full-time professional experience as a RN.
PMHNP Graduate Certificate Coursework
The coursework required by PMHNP graduate certificate programs is generally comprised of two or three graduate-level didactic courses in which students learn about the role of the PMHNP and the theoretical foundations of psychiatric-mental health nursing, and two or three clinical courses or practicums in which students apply what they have learned in the didactic courses to the clinical practice of psychiatric-mental health nursing under the guidance of a qualified preceptor. In addition, programs may require students to complete one or more of the general advanced-practice nursing courses needed to establish eligibility for PMHNP-BC certification, subject to a gap analysis. These courses include advanced pharmacology, advanced pathophysiology, and advanced patient assessments, sometimes referred at as the “Three P’s.” A gap analysis is a process by which a program administrator reviews a student’s transcripts, determines the specific courses needed by that student to establish eligibility for licensure and/or certification, and determines a plan of study for that student. Therefore, students are typically not required to repeat courses or clinical hours in specific settings (or with specific patient populations) if they already completed those during their MSN or DNP program.
Thus, in addition to the fact that PMHNP graduate certificate curricula vary by school and by program, the actual coursework and the number of clinical hours each student is required to complete may vary pending the results of a gap analysis. PMHNP certificate programs typically include coursework in psychotherapeutics, psychopathology, psychopharmacology, and neurobiology, and supervised clinical practice experience in psychiatric-mental health, usually totaling a minimum of 500 hours. Examples of courses commonly offered as part of a PMHNP graduate certificate curriculum include:
- Psychopathological Disorders Across the Lifespan – The etiology and epidemiology of psychopathological disorders in adults and children.
- Clinical Psychiatric Diagnostics and Management of Children – Differential diagnosis and interventions for children with psychiatric symptoms and conditions.
- Clinical Psychiatric Diagnostics and Management of Adults – Differential diagnosis and interventions for adults with psychiatric symptoms and conditions.
- Neurobiology and Psychopharmacology – The neurobiological and physiological basis of mental illness, and the pharmacokinetics and pharmacodynamics of drugs used in the treatment and management of psychiatric disorders.
- Systems Interventions for Individuals and Groups – Theories and practices for the psychotherapeutic treatment of individuals and groups.
- Role of the PMHNP in Promoting Health – The standards and regulations that define scope of practice and prescriptive authority for PMHNPs, and an exploration of contemporary issues in psychiatric-mental health nursing.
Online Post-Master’s PMHNP Graduate Certificate Programs
NP graduate certificate programs are generally designed to accommodate a range of student populations, including early- and mid-career students who intend to continue working while attending classes and completing clinicals. Offering a program’s required coursework online or through a mix of online and campus-based instruction is one way that schools accomplish this objective while also expanding the reach of an PMHNP certificate program to out-of-state students and in-state students who do not live within commuting range of the school’s campus.
There are several ways that nursing schools are leveraging advances in online teaching tools and technologies. A number of schools offer online PMHNP graduate certificate programs that provide all or most of their required didactic coursework via learning management systems (LMSs), which is a general term for internet-based instructional platforms that support the streaming of live and pre-recorded lectures and teaching modules, allow students to participate in discussion groups and virtual class sessions, provide supplemental course materials and library resources, and facilitate interaction between students and instructors. Students in these programs can access a school’s LMS from home or work through a high-speed internet connection and thus are not required to reside near a school’s campus or even in the same state as the school offering the program.
Some online PMHNP graduate certificate programs offer all of their coursework online, while others require students to attend a limited number of campus visits for orientations, seminars, and hands-on workshops and labs. These campus visits, commonly referred to as immersion sessions or on-campus intensives (OCIs), can be a valuable addition to an online program, particularly for students who want the opportunity to meet face-to-face with instructors and classmates, although they do require travel, which may be inconvenient for some students. Most programs that require campus visits make an effort to schedule these sessions at convenient times such as on weekends or during summer sessions, and most campus visits are relatively short in duration (typically three to seven days).
Programs that utilize online instruction but that require students to attend more than three campus sessions per year are classified as hybrid or blended online programs by GraduateCertificates.com. Some hybrid/blended programs hold weekly, biweekly or monthly class meetings on campus, while others may offer entire courses online but hold three or four-week residencies during which students complete one or two required courses, and there are a number of other hybrid/blended format variations. While these programs generally offer more flexibility and convenience than traditional, campus-based programs, they may not be a practical option for students who do not live or work within commuting distance of a school’s campus.
There are two primary modes of online instruction that potential applicants to online and hybrid PMHNP graduate certificate programs may want to be aware of when researching programs. These are synchronous and asynchronous instruction. If a program utilizes synchronous online instruction it means that classes meet at scheduled times during which students are required to be logged on to a program’s LMS. Asynchronous instruction, in contrast, has no real-time component and encompasses learning and instructional activities that can be accessed, streamed, and completed at a student’s convenience, such as pre-recorded lectures. Asynchronous instruction may offer more scheduling flexibility than synchronous instruction, but it requires a greater amount of self-motivation and self-discipline. While less flexible in format than asynchronous instruction, synchronous instruction may be preferable for students who feel they benefit from a more structured online learning experience.
Finally, regardless of whether a program is offered on-campus, online, or in a hybrid format, students must complete clinical hours at a local agency under the guidance of a qualified preceptor who has been approved by the program. Each program handles the placement process differently; therefore, students should reach out to a program administrator for more information before applying. This is especially important for students who are looking at online programs offered by out-of-state schools, which may have some additional restrictions*.
Examples of Online Post-MSN PMHNP Certificate Programs
The schools listed below currently offer online PMHNP graduate certificate programs that provide a representative overview of the types of online programs currently available.
The University of Cincinnati offers an online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) Post-Master’s certificate program through its College of Nursing. Most of the program’s didactic instruction is offered online. However, students are required to attend an on-boarding orientation session at the start of the program that is held at the UC College of Nursing campus. The program’s curriculum is comprised of six courses and 504 clinical hours, subject to a gap analysis. Applicants to the program must have an MSN degree in any specialization that includes coursework in advanced pharmacology, pathophysiology, and patient assessment, plus one year of full-time clinical nursing experience. To further explore the program, visit the UC College of Nursing at nursing.uc.edu.
The University of Arizona offers an online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) graduate certificate through its College of Nursing. The four-semester, 29-credit program includes 540 supervised clinical hours and a required campus-based orientation session. RNs who hold an MSN or DNP degree in any specialization are eligible for the program, which includes courses in advanced pharmacology/pharmacotherapeutics, advanced physiology/pathophysiology, and advanced patient assessment for students who have not yet completed training in these areas. To further explore the program, visit the University of Arizona College of Nursing at www.nursing.arizona.edu.
Frontier Nursing University offers an online Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Post-Graduate Certificate program that is designed for students who have already completed graduate training in an APRN specialization. The program is part-time and requires student to complete six courses and 540 supervised clinical hours. Students in the program can graduate in six terms or 18 months and are required to attend a campus-based orientation session. To further explore the program, visit the Frontier Nursing University at frontier.edu.
More Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Graduate Certificate Programs
*Online PMHNP certificate programs may not accept applicants from all 50 states. In addition, licensing requirements for NPs, including PMHNPs, vary by state. It is thus advisable for students to examine program admissions policies carefully prior to submitting an application and to review their state’s licensing requirements to ensure that a program’s curriculum will provide the training needed to meets those requirements. Students should also speak with admissions advisors or program administrators for more information about state restrictions, licensing requirements, the gap analysis process, and the clinical placement process before applying.