Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Lifespan)

Frequently Asked Questions


What is the role of the Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Lifespan)?

Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Lifespan) (PMHNP) graduates 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). All nursing practices, including prescriptive practice, are regulated by state laws. Therefore, licensing and scope of practice varies by state. Some only recognize the nurse practitioner credential for any prescriptive practice. Other 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.


Do I have to be a nurse to enter the specialty?

No. You can enter this specialty as a BNS or MSN or if you have a bachelor’s degree or higher in a field other than nursing. If you have a bachelor’s degree or higher in a field other than nursing, you can complete a one year full-time baccalaureate equivalent program ( PreSpecialty Year - Clinical Experiences ), progress to and then progress to the Psychiatric-Mental Health specialty. 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.

If you have a BSN or MSN, you enter directly into the specialty course work. All students, regardless of entry type, graduate with a MSN degree or post-master’s certificate.


How many students are accepted into this specialty each year?

We encourage you to apply to the specialty that meets your career interest rather than focus on the number of spaces available. We strongly recommended that you complete your application by the October 15th early action date to have a greater probability of being admitted. The number of students offered admission can vary each year based on many factors. Typically, we admit approximately 50 students into PMHNP specialty.


Do I need RN work experience?

No. You can enter the specialty without RN work experience.


Does the school accept transfer credit?

Matriculated students can transfer up to six semester credits of equivalent graduate level coursework from another accredited university to be applied toward the MSN. You must complete this petition and return, along with the course syllabus, to Sara Donahoe. Courses completed elsewhere must have been taken within the last five years. The decision is based on equivalent content (for required courses), credit allotment, and satisfactory completion of the courses. 

Can I work full-time and go to school full-time?
We strongly recommend that students do not attempt full-time school and full-time 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).


Can I do the modified distance learning format for this specialty?

If you do not have a prior nursing background, you must first complete your PreSpecialty Year on campus in Nashville before progressing to the master’s portion of your education. We encourage newly graduated BSN nurses with no nursing experience in the Mental Health field, to relocate to Nashville. This specialty provides 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. The modified distance format is most successful for students who have a preceptor or advanced practice psychiatric nurse practitioner at a mental health agency who have prescriptive privileges and who are willing to precept students in their home locale.


Does the PMHNP specialty interview applicants?

No interviews will be conducted.


What is the modified distance learning format?

Modified distance learning specifically means that you will do a portion of your course work online via taped lectures and web conferencing to integrate the material. A portion of your work requires on-campus learning in blocks of time (including weekends), followed by seminar and online discussions. Where possible, you can do your clinical practicum experience in your home area. You will be in continuous contact with your professors throughout the program and in between sessions.


Can I take this specialty part-time?

Yes, however you are required to follow a pre-determined program of studies. Length of time to complete the entire program varies depending on your background prior to VUSN enrollment. If you are not a nurse, the first year is only offered full-time.  You can request to change to part-time for the specialty components of your MSN. (part-time curriculum plans)


What housing options are there for students participating in the modified distance format?

Our Admissions Office has a listing of hotels near the VUSN campus and many students choose to share hotel rooms to lower costs. Some students stay with local classmates.


What is the specialty portion of the curriculum like?

All full-time students, those living in the middle Tennessee area and those living outside the Middle Tennessee area, attend "block classes" on the Vanderbilt School of Nursing campus. These block classes may last from three- to five-day periods, totaling 32-34 days of on-site classes. Students must also attend a three-day orientation. In between these eight "block class" periods, students living in the Middle Tennessee area attend weekly classes on campus, and those living outside the Middle Tennessee area access online lectures and web based learning activities. You will be in continuous contact with your professors throughout the program and in between sessions.


How many times do I need to visit campus?

Eight times over a one-year period.


What are the clinical requirements for this specialty?

There are 620 clinical hours required.


How do you match me with clinical preceptors?

The key to a student’s success in the distance format is a clinical placement with a qualified preceptor who is supporting and willing to mentor the student.  We view clinical placements as a required and integral part of your education.  Faculty work diligently with the clinical site to match you with appropriate preceptors so you can learn from clinical mentors and start applying your new skills and knowledge. We make every reasonable effort to accommodate a student’s placement request.  Your specialty director will provide more information to assist you.


Is travel required as part of my clinical placements?

Travel is often a requirement of the specialty, as we strive to give the student a vast array of clinical experiences to enrich the student experience (block schedule).


What will my credentials and certifications be?

Graduation from this MSN specialty prepares you to take the national certification exams, offered by the American Nurses Credentialing Center. Passage of the exam is required in most states to obtain a license as an advanced practice nurse.


What is the VUSN student pass rate on the certification exams?

Everyone will be well prepared for the certification exams as our students typically score well above national averages on these exams. View the VUSN First Time Pass Rates by Specialty.


Will I earn my nursing license?

If you enter without a nursing degree, you will take the NCLEX to obtain your Tennessee RN license after your first year of study.


Is there a post-master’s option?

Yes. There is a Post-Master’s Certificate in PMHNP is available to students who already possess an Advanced Nursing degree. We have many students who enter our specialty 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 preparedness to work with the psychiatric population. It is strongly recommended that you apply to the Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program and complete the post-master’s certificate as part of your DNP program of studies. There are four different post-master's options:

  • Students with an MSN in education or management, or a clinical area without CORE Nurse Practitioner courses will need the 34 credit curriculum;
  • Students with an MSN in a clinical area with CORE Nurse Practitioner courses will need the 21 credit curriculum;
  • Students with an MSN in Psychiatric Nursing who are ANCC certified as a CNS in Adult or Child-Adolescent Mental Health Nursing will need the 27 credit curriculum;
  • Students with an MSN in Psychiatric Nursing with a specialization in adults and have a current ANCC certification will need a course focused on children/adolescents and a clinical practicum that is specific to children/adolescents in order to qualify for the new Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Lifespan) certification exam.


Does Vanderbilt offer a Psychiatric-Mental Health/Family Nurse Practitioner combined specialty?

Our specialty 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, Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (Lifespan)s are not prepared to treat and prescribe for primary care (medical) problems and therefore refer these patients 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 specialty can be completed over another year (3 semesters) of approximately 21 credit hours. We have 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.


Will I be able to get a job upon graduation?

Our Psychiatric-Mental Health graduates are in high-demand.  They are recognized by employers and other mental health professionals as well-trained in evidence-based practice and capable of implementing innovative practice models. Recent graduates are currently practicing in various states across the nation.


Can I earn a DNP degree?

Yes!  Our both the MSN and Post-master’s certificate programs are designed for you to seamlessly transition to our DNP program.  After successful completion of one semester of the specialty year curriculum, you complete an abbreviated application to indicate your interest in progressing to the DNP program; no additional application fee is required. Either you can progress directly into the DNP program or you can take a gap year to work as an APRN before starting the DNP program. The advantage of earning the MSN degree before the DNP degree is that you will be able to work as an APRN during your DNP program. The DNP program is designed for APRNs who are working full or part time. See DNP program details.