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Psychiatric Unit Nurse: Job Description, Duties and Requirements

Psychiatric unit nurses care for patients with illness or disease that has led them to temporary or long-term hospitalization. They are responsible for direct care of a set of patients, facilitating their recovery through social interaction and traditional therapies.

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Psychiatric Unit Nurse Job Description

Psychiatric unit nurses are registered nurses (RNs) or advanced practice nurses (APNs) who specialize in the institutional care of patients with mental disorders. They work in psychiatric care units at large hospitals and medical centers, usually with patients who are staying in the unit for short term-evaluation or intensive treatment before being returned to their homes for long-term care. They share the same occupational focus and duties as other RNs or APNs, but their work with patients with various mental and behavioral conditions requires them to place focus on patient interaction, as their companionship with their patients is in many ways their primary mode of practice.

PayScale.com reported that the median annual salary for psychiatric RNs was $53,397 in July 2014. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that job opportunities are expected to be excellent for registered nurses in general, with a projected 19% increase from 2012 to 2022 (www.bls.gov).

Psychiatric Unit Nurse Duties

Psychiatric unit nurses are usually assigned a caseload of patients and provide direct care to their patients, which includes facilitating social and emotional needs, supervising medication schedules and evaluating patient progress. These nurses may also collaborate with a variety of interdisciplinary professionals to determine and provide the best possible care for their patients. Educating the patients' family about them the conditions and how to create a supportive environment for the patients to return to for long-term care and recovery are also common duties.

As many patients are hospitalized because they are a danger to themselves and others, nurses are responsible for maintaining a safe environment through the use of monitoring devices and restraining techniques where deemed necessary. Psychiatric unit nurses provide social support for patients by creating and encouraging patients to take advantage of opportunities such as support groups, social activities and other therapeutic measures, as well as participating with patients where appropriate.

Psychiatric Unit Nurse Requirements

The BLS notes that psychiatric unit nurses are subject to similar requirements as other RNs or APNs. They must complete a nursing program, such as the Associate of Applied Science (AAS) in Nursing, Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), through an accredited college, university or hospital. All of these will allow students to begin a career as a registered nurse, but due to the nature of the specialization, most psychiatric units require RNs to possess a BSN.

Many schools offer accelerated BSN programs for graduates of ADN and diploma programs. Graduates of nursing programs are then required to complete the National Council Licensure Examination, a national qualifying exam, to receive the required licensure as a registered nurse.

In addition to basic educational and licensing requirements, there are several voluntary certifications that psychiatric units may prefer or require from candidates. A Basic Life Support (BLS) certification in basic life saving and stabilization techniques is often a requirement for hire as a psychiatric unit nurse.

Courses are offered in many hospitals or online through the American Heart Association. Employers may also prefer certification in psychosocial health nursing. The American Nurses Credentialing Center offers a registered nurse-board certified (RN-BC) credential in this psychiatric and mental health nursing.

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