Home Medical Services Key characteristics required by PMHNPs

Key characteristics required by PMHNPs

by Juan D. Vanpelt

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The United States has experienced a dramatic increase in the need for effective mental healthcare in nearly all populations. From children to the elderly, many people around the country are struggling with mental health needs. Luckily, there is a dedicated group of professionals with a passion for providing the very best care they can to patients with all manner of needs. Psychiatric/mental health nursing is a growing field that is already one of the most powerful groups of care providers in the industry. Whether you need help with chronic depression or are experiencing spikes in anxiety, these psychiatric nurses and nurse practitioners can help address your needs and get you on the road to recovery.

In this article, we’ll explore the characteristics that give psychiatric nurses the boost they need to better help their patients throughout their treatment journeys.

What are psychiatric nurses?

Psychiatric/mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs) are among the most crucial mental healthcare providers in the United States. As of 2019, they were the second-largest group providing mental healthcare in the country. They are responsible for assessing, diagnosing, treating and monitoring certain mental health conditions. In many states, PMHNPs are even allowed to prescribe medication, ensuring that their clients receive comprehensive care without requiring coordination between multiple psychiatric providers. PMHNPs are often responsible for:

  • Conducting evaluations and intake screenings
  • Collaborating with interdisciplinary care teams
  • Educating communities, families and individual patients
  • Addressing mental health crises
  • Promoting overall health
  • Providing case management
  • Creating, monitoring and administering treatment plans

If you want to become a psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner, the good news is that there are some reputable PMHNP online programs available through trustworthy providers such as Wilkes University. In the past, remote learning was considered a ‘lesser’ option than traditional, in-person studies; however, today’s academic institutions have embraced online learning in a big way. Enrolling in an online MSN-PMHNP program is an excellent way to advance your career if you are a student with responsibilities, needs or preferences that make it difficult for you to attend in-person classes on campus every day. Students study topics such as advanced pharmacology, advanced pathophysiology, diagnostic reasoning, advanced health assessment and health perspectives of culturally diverse, rural and underserved populations.

Below, we review some of the skills and characteristics you need to master in order to provide excellent care as a PMHNP:

Active listening and de-escalation techniques

Caring for patients one-on-one can lead to some emotional moments. Sometimes, patients won’t react well to the news, and sometimes, their mental health status simply won’t allow them to sit calmly and non-aggressively through an interaction. Regardless of the specific reason they are agitated, patients sometimes need someone experienced with de-escalation in their corner. If you can successfully calm a patient down and provide them with the care they need and deserve despite their emotional regulation struggles, you are on track to be an incredible provider. But how can you get to that point?

Active listening is a surprisingly important part of interacting with patients and helping them regulate their emotions. It is all about relationship building and developing trust and understanding between providers and their patients. It is a style of listening and responding that tells people they are being heard. They aren’t just talking at a brick wall, in other words, but their needs and concerns are being understood and are being taken into consideration. Active listening is a key component of de-escalation techniques. PMHNPs who understand how to listen to their patients and address their expressed needs and concerns are much more effective at calming them down than those who do not.

Analytical skills and patient observation

Patient care is not always straightforward, especially when it comes to psychiatric needs. Sometimes, patients have a hard time communicating effectively via traditional means, for example. Care providers must be able to analyze not just their body language and nonverbal cues but also things like their vital signs and test results to determine their care needs. Excellent analytical skills are a must-have for effective PMHNPs. Without the ability to accurately pinpoint patient needs and whether patients can overtly express them, professionals will find it difficult to provide the kind of detailed and responsive care that promotes recovery and good health.

Whether they need to observe patient behavior firsthand or instead analyze test results and other data and draw conclusions about the most effective care options, analytical skills should be among the first skills that aspiring professionals acquire.

Interpersonal communication and patient rapport

One of the most important things healthcare providers like PMHNPs can do is build lasting relationships with their patients. There are a few different reasons for this. First, being a patient can be scary. You probably already have something unusual happening if you are seeking care and might be overwhelmed before you ever even arrive at the doctor’s office or hospital. Once you’re there, however, it’s time to share sometimes extremely intimate details of your body with people who are, effectively, complete strangers.

PMHNPs can encourage patients to share their health needs fully and truthfully by practicing excellent interpersonal communication. Putting the people they care for at ease allows PMHNPs to dig a little deeper into their symptoms without making an already stressful situation harder. They can also use their communication skills to build rapport with their patients. Solid relationships between patients and care providers are crucial in healthcare, and interpersonal communication skills make it easier than ever to provide the kind of feedback and care that patients need to get better and lead healthier lives.

Problem-solving and meeting care needs

If there’s one piece of advance that PMHNPs share with newcomers, it’s to be prepared for anything. No day will be exactly the same as the one before it, and sometimes interactions with individual patients might vary widely from one visit to the next depending upon their mental health needs. One of the most important skills that PMHNPs can cultivate is problem-solving.

Sometimes, mental health needs are tricky. What works for one patient might not work for another. In fact, sometimes what works for one patient will actively worsen another’s mental state, even when they suffer from the same disorder. For that reason, mental healthcare professionals, in particular, must be able to read the room and adapt accordingly.

Problem-solving skills make it easier for PMHNPs to get to the root of a patient’s struggles and find effective solutions that work for their specific needs. Professionals who are adept at problem-solving might be able to direct patients with depression to therapeutic activities best suited to their individual interests and health needs. For some, painting might provide peace of mind. For others, horse riding or dancing might be the best way to draw them out of their shell. Whatever the magic solution might be, PMHNPs who can problem-solve are better able to find it.

Teamwork and effective care teams

Patient care is not a one-professional-fits-all experience. In the past, patients tended to receive care for most healthcare needs from a family doctor. Unless they needed a specialist, they saw that same care provider for everything from dealing with the common cold to treating depression. As healthcare has advanced, it has become much more common for patients to have a number of care providers working together to make the most effective decisions for their health.

Teamwork allows PMHNPs to interact with their patients’ extended care teams. This, in turn, helps ensure that they receive comprehensive care that takes all of their other health needs into account. Someone with a heart condition might not be able to take certain antidepressants, for example, and care teams with both cardiologists and PMHNPs can identify conflicts and problem-solve to find the best solution. Effective collaboration is crucial to the recovery process, and psychiatric nurse practitioners must learn how to work even with strong personalities that might not complement their own.

Empathy and providing patient-centered and patient-directed care

Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s position and walk a mile in their shoes. It allows us to sympathize with people who have experienced things we have never encountered. Someone with empathy will be able to sympathize with someone who has lost a child even when they have never personally lost a child. PMHNPs must have plenty of empathy when working with patients struggling with mental health needs. You might not always understand how something affects your patient because you have no frame of reference, but having practiced empathy skills means that you can pinpoint their needs and provide effective care anyway.

The most important elements of mental health care revolve around patient-centered and patient-directed care. Patients have the right to decide what kind of care solutions they want to pursue and receive care tailored to their specific needs. Empathy makes it easier for PMHNPs to understand why their patients are pushing for a specific healthcare solution and how their decision impacts their home and professional lives. With this understanding in mind, healthcare professionals can give their patients more informed and effective care that caters to their cultural and social needs.

Objectivity and improving patient access to quality care

Something that prevents many patients from seeking the care they need is the fear of judgment. Effective PMHNPs understand that their job is to provide the best help they can without imposing their own morals, beliefs and opinions in the process. Someone struggling with a sexually transmitted disease, for example, might put off seeing a provider for fear of being judged about their sexual activity. The same can be said of patients struggling with their mental health.

The symptoms of both long- and short-term mental health disorders can be embarrassing. Hypersexuality, for example, might leave patients ashamed of their history and hesitant to be truthful. PMHNPs who can listen without judgment and provide the care their patients need without lectures or condemnation increase their likelihood of returning should future health problems arise. Not only does this kind of care impact specific patients, but it also helps normalize seeking medical care in related communities. Once patients know that they can reach out to professionals and be treated with dignity and respect, they will be infinitely more likely to stay up-to-date on their own care as well as encourage those around them to speak to professionals as needed.

The bottom line

When you decide to devote your career to helping other people heal and thrive, you are choosing to put others first and improve the lives of countless individuals. Are you interested in becoming a PMHNP? You could make a big difference in the lives of your patients, their families and their communities. From providing patients with ongoing care to assessing potential needs and addressing mental health crises, PMHNPs are some of the most important providers in the country. Use the information we have collected in this article to guide your search for further information, and you’ll find the perfect career and education trajectory to help you get started.

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