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What is this career?

Description: Psychiatric RNs work with patients, families and communities to assess mental health needs, develop and implement nursing care plans, and advocate for mental health issues in the public health arena. Mental health nurses may practice in a number of different venues: in a general hospital emergency rooms, or acute in-patient units; in a specialized psychiatric hospital; in a community mental health clinic. Psychiatric nurses may work as RNs on a therapeutic team or expand their practice as a Masterís prepared Advanced Practice Nurse /Clinical Specialist who sees and treats patients in an autonomous role.

Job Outlook: Nursing as a whole will be one of the top 10 fastest growing professions in the U.S. in the next decade, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Nursing positions in the mental health field remain uncertain, however, as the quest for parity in treatment funding continues.

Opportunities: Psychiatric nursing offers a unique practice component: the therapeutic use of self, a chance to utilize all of your people skills. You will also have a chance to work with patients from all age groups and those who may have other medical problems.

Challenges: There are challenges for psychiatric nurses at both the macro (community) and micro (patient) level. On the macro level, funding for psychiatric care remains an issue. While the Mental Health Parity Act requires that insurers in general provide coverage for psychiatric issues at the same level as medical issues, there remains a significant discrepancy in the amount of dollars available for treatment and the treatment needs of the mentally ill. Psychiatric nurses may find it stressful when patients cannot afford the care needed. On the micro level, RNs may have to accept that treatment for mental health is an ongoing process; as is true with any chronic illness, full recovery may never be possible and the goal of therapy may be supportive rather than curative.