Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Lifespan)

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the role of the Family Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner?

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP) graduates of the Vanderbilt University School of Nursing (VUSN) program are prepared to provide individual, group and family counseling and psychopharmaceutical management as prescribed by law in their respective states. Most states require certification from the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) as a PMHNP collaborating psychiatrist for prescriptive practice. All nursing practices, including prescriptive practice, are regulated by state laws. Therefore, licensing and scope of practice varies state by state. Some states only recognize the nurse practitioner credential for any prescriptive practice, while many states may recognize Clinical Nurse Specialists in Psychiatric-Mental Health Nursing, have ANCC certification, and have taken graduate courses in pharmacology, pathophysiology and physical health assessment for prescriptive practice. To learn about the specific laws and regulatory codes for prescriptive practice in your area, contact your state's Board of Nursing.


Graduates who practice in Community Mental Health Clinics most often provide psychopharmaceutical medicine management with brief counseling for clients.


Graduates in hospital based and multidisciplinary private practices typically provide more extensive counseling and usually have prescriptive practice.


Graduates with more entrepreneurial interests have created a variety of roles such as private practice, consultation within small or large medical centers, or collaborative practices with primary care providers. Their success depends on their ability to network within their community, understand the specific laws of their state, and forge creative practice opportunities.


Who can apply for the Vanderbilt PMHNP Program?

The Vanderbilt PMHNP program is a flexible program that offers multiple entry options to the prospective student:


  • Students Without Nursing Degrees. Students who do not have a nursing degree and have no prior nursing background may enter into the PreSpecialty Program with a PMHNP concentration. The PreSpecialty Program requires completion of a baccalaureate or higher degree prior to entry and certain prerequisites. It is ideal for individuals with undergraduate (and even graduate) degrees in psychology, counseling, social work, or health education to pursue an advanced practice nursing role and certification. It is a two-year, 6-semester program. The first year consists of generalist nursing courses. The second year consists of advanced practice CORE NP and Family Psychiatric-Mental Health specialty courses.

        Program of studies and timeline for this option

  • Students with RNs (ASN or Diploma). Students who are RNs with an Associate Degree or a Diploma in Nursing may enter into the RN PreSpecialty Program with a PMHNP concentration. The RN PreSpecialty Program requires at least 78 semester hours of college courses and certain prerequisites. It is a two-year, 5-semester program. The first year provides generalist nursing courses. The second year consists of advanced practice CORE NP and Family Psychiatric-Mental Health specialty courses.

        Program of studies and timeline for this option

  • Students who are BSN-Prepared Nurses. Students who are BSN-prepared nurses may enter into our program as Direct Entry students. They are also eligible to participate in the modified distance format. They will visit the campus only 3 times per semester for a period of 4-5 days usually scheduled over a weekend and do their remaining coursework using video-streaming, distributed learning methods and CD-ROM lectures. This is ideal for students who wish to maintain their current residence and employment. We do, however, encourage students with little or no experience in the nursing or the mental health field, and with little or no psychiatric experience to relocate in order to get the full benefits of our on-site clinical placements and qualified preceptors. This is a one-year, 3-semester program.

        Program of studies and timelines (full-time and part-time) for this option

  • Students with MSNs. A Post-Master’s Certificate in PMHNP is available to students who already possess an Advanced Nursing degree. There are three different post-master's options:
    1. Students with an MSN in education or management, or a clinical area without CORE Nurse Practitioner courses will need the 34 credit curriculum;
    2. Students with an MSN in a clinical area with CORE Nurse Practitioner courses will need the 21 credit curriculum;
    3. Students with an MSN in Psychiatric Nursing who are ANCC certified as a CS in Adult or Child-Adolescent Mental Health Nursing will need the 27 credit curriculum. (We have many students who enter our program under these post-master's options. For example, an increasing number of Family Nurse Practitioners are returning for their PMHNP Post-Masters to increase their knowledge and their preparedness to work with the psychiatric population). The Post-Master’s program is a one-year, 3-semester program. It is also available in the Modified Distance Format.
        Program of studies and timeline for the three post-master options.

Does Vanderbilt School of Nursing accept transfer credit?

Vanderbilt School of Nursing allows matriculated students to transfer up to six semester credits of equivalent graduate level coursework from another accredited university to be applied toward the MSN at Vanderbilt. The procedure for an applicant to have credit considered for transfer is to send a cover letter requesting approval for transfer of the two courses, along with the application for admission materials and the course catalog descriptions and the course syllabi to Dean Linda Norman, DNS, RN.

What is the Modified Format of the VUSN PMHNP Distance Program?

The specialty year of the PMHNP program is designed to serve on-site students and students who live at a distance. All students attend "block classes" on-site at Vanderbilt School of Nursing eight times over a one-year period. These block classes may last from 3 to 5 day periods, totaling 32-34 days of on-site classes. Students must also attend a 3-day orientation. In between these eight "block class" periods, on-site students attend weekly classes on campus, and distance-option students access classes by using Blackboard platform for synchronous or asynchronous access to lectures and web based learning activities. This format allows us to deliver more than 50 percent of the content "live" on campus.


For whom is the Modified Distance Format designed?

The Modified Distance Format is now in its 15th year. It is designed for nurses who have recent practice experience in the mental health field who can not relocate to Nashville to pursue an MSN/PMHNP.


Students participating in the modified distance format must identify the clinical placement site(s) and preceptor(s) in collaboration with the PMHNP Program Director. The clinical sites must be approved by the PMHNP Program Director and Clinical Placement Office. Approval is based on the following three criteria: the site and preceptor can provide experiences to meet course objectives of the program; the site and preceptor are duly licensed by the state and appropriate credentialing bodies; the site and preceptor are willing to contract with VUSN to precept the student.

Students have successfully completed our PMHNP program from rural areas of Tennessee, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. The key to a student's success in the distance format is a clinical placement with a qualified preceptor who is supportive and willing to mentor the student. In most cases, the student has developed a professional relationship with the precepting psychiatrist prior to entering the program.


The modified distance format is most successful for students who have a preceptor or advanced practice psych NP at a mental health agency who have prescriptive privileges and who are willing to precept students in their home locale.

We encourage newly graduated BSN nurses with no nursing experience in the Mental Health field, to relocate to Nashville. The Vanderbilt PMHNP program has a wide variety of clinical placement sites for child/adolescent, adult and gero-psych settings and excellent PMHNPs and psychiatrists to precept on-site students.


We also advise students who participate in the modified distance format to either work part-time and attend school full-time, or vice versa. We strongly recommend that students do not attempt full time school and work. The few students who have successfully completed full time school and work used flex time or accrued compensatory time to continue to work full-time. Some have used a Baylor plan (weekend shifts).


The modified distance option is designed for students who are already licensed and practicing in the U.S. We have no current plans to offer this curriculum for international sites. The legal contracting, laws governing license and clinical practice, and liability issues are too complex for international sites.


What housing options are there for students participating in the modified distance format so they meet residency requirements?

The Admissions Office has a listing of hotels within the Vanderbilt School of Nursing vicinity. Students usually "buddy" to share low cost hotel rooms. Some students stay with local Nashville PMHNP students. Needless to say there is usually a great deal of class camaraderie and bonding. These friendships develop into long-term professional and personal relationships.


How many clinical hours are required to be ANCC certified as a PMHNP?

ANCC requires 500 supervised clinical hours within an MSN-PMHNP program to be eligible to take the PMHNP exam. Our PMHNP program requires 620 clinical hours and prepares graduates to perform holistic assessments, diagnose and treat common psychiatric disorders based on DSM-IV and NANDA, provide individual, group family therapy and to prescribe psychotropic medications.


Is PMHNP certification currently available? What are its requirements? Where would I find more information about it?

The Vanderbilt PMHNP program prepares students to sit for the new ANCC (American Nurses Credentialing Center) Family Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Exam. The VUSN PMHNP program continues to include supervised psychotherapy in individual group and family therapy. The latest revision of this exam will open August 6th, 2013.


The ANCC developed the credentialing exam for the PMHNP in December 2000. Educational preparation to sit for the exam requires an MSN program for advanced practice psychiatric nurses that must include content in advanced health assessment (physical assessment), advanced pharmacology and advanced pathophysiology. Our PMHNP program meets all of these requirements. Visit the ANCC website for further details at


The American Psychiatric Nurses Association (APNA) has the most comprehensive information for clinicians of all levels. Visit their website at You may also want to review the following journals: Journal of the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, Journal of Psychosocial Nursing and Mental Health Services (for clinically based articles), and Archives of Psychiatric Nursing (for research focused articles).


Does Vanderbilt School of Nursing offer a combined program to obtain both a PMHNP and an FNP title?

The Vanderbilt PMHNP program prepares graduates to diagnose and treat common psychiatric disorders (including prescriptive practice and psychotherapy), as well as perform screening historical and physical exams to diagnose/identify major medical problems. However, PMHNPs are not prepared to treat and prescribe for primary care (medical) problems, patients are referred for treatment.


For students who want to treat primary care problems, a Post-Master’s degree in the Family Nurse Practitioner or Adult-Gerontology Primary Care Nurse Practitioner program can be completed over another year (3 semesters) of approximately 21 credit hours. The School of Nursing has seen increasing enrollment of Family Nurse Practitioners who are returning for a post-master’s degree in PMHNP. This option particularly appeals to those who have worked in Community Mental Health Centers for their prescriptive role and have recognized their limited knowledge/preparation to work with this psychiatric population.


Do PMHNP graduates have difficulty finding employment in the psychiatric community?

On the contrary, Vanderbilt School of Nursing receives more calls and requests from prospective employers than we have graduates to fill the positions. Recent graduates are practicing in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and in all areas of the state of Tennessee.


Our graduates consistently report that they are well prepared for their entry positions as PMHNPs – and their employers agree.


The growth and reputation of Vanderbilt's PMHNP program is based on the success our graduates. They are recognized by employers and other mental health professionals as well-trained in evidence-based practice and capable of implementing innovative practice models.