Demand for Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioners (Psych NPs) in Virginia

The need for trained behavioral health providers is great in the US and in Virginia.

The Milbank Quarterly reports that as many as 70% of primary care visits stem from psychosocial issues and that many primary care providers are not well-equipped or comfortable diagnosing and managing behavioral health conditions or prescribing psychotropic medicines. Nationally, 2/3 of primary care providers report difficulty securing needed psychiatric services for patients. While primary care providers prescribe the majority of anti-depressants in the US, their patients receive less than recommended doses and fewer psychotherapy visits.

In Virginia, 2/3 of localities are federally-designated as mental health professional shortage areas, and 34% of Virginians live in those communities. And, Virginia’s nonprofit hospitals identify access to behavioral health services as a critical service gap in their Community Health Needs Assessments.

To make matters worse, there is a tremendous shortage of behavioral health professionals in the Commonwealth, particularly psychiatric-mental health nurse practitioners (Psych NPs) and psychiatrists, those specially trained and licensed to prescribe and manage psychotropic medications, critical to treat many mental health conditions. And, nearly 2/3 of Psych NPs and Psychiatrists nationwide are age 50 or older.

The small number of Psych NPs is particularly compelling. There are only 217 Psych NPs practicing in Virginia; 57% of Virginia localities have no Psych NPs. Psych NPs are concentrated in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Hampton Roads, with other pockets where Virginia’s Psych NP training programs are located (Charlottesville, Radford, Winchester).

Developed by Community Health Solutions for the Virginia Health Care Foundation using license data from the Virginia Department of Health Professions (July 2020)

Psych NPs who have also practiced as NPs in other specialty areas are particularly valuable in this era of integrating the delivery of behavioral health services with primary medical care. Their training as both medical and behavioral health providers make them ideal for helping bridge the many cultural differences between medical and behavioral health professionals.

Click here for stories highlighting the work of several Virginia Psych NPs.

Employment
The Psych NP specialty is in demand. There are employment opportunities in all sectors (primary care medical practices, university counseling centers, hospitals, Veterans’ Administration, substance abuse programs, public mental health agencies, residential treatment) and in all areas of the state. In February 2021, there were 94 Psych NP job postings in Virginia on Indeed.com (compared to 35 in August 2017).

The salary for Psych NP jobs in Virginia posted on Indeed.com averages $120,364.

Training
Six Virginia Schools of Nursing have post-Masters Psych NP certificate programs.  It only takes existing NPs 12 – 24 months to earn their post-master’s Psych NP Certificate, while maintaining employment.

Scholarships

The Virginia Health Care Foundation offers full-scholarships for nurse practitioners wishing to earn a post-Master’s Psychiatric-Mental Health Nurse Practitioner Certificate. Interested in VHCF’s Psych NP scholarship? Click here.

Questions?  Contact the VHCF Program Manager at PsychNP@vhcf.org.