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Registered Psychiatric Nurse (R.P.N.)


Just because your body is perfectly healthy, you could still get sick. Our minds are just as susceptible to disease, illness, and fatigue as our bodies, and it is often stress, overwork, emotional overload and genetics that can cause someone to end up in a psychiatric hospital.

The nurses who work with patients who have mental illnesses are specially trained. Registered psychiatric nurses are educated in traditional nursing practices, like intravenous medication, vital sign detection, first aid and CPR, as well as learning about keeping patients clean, happy, and fed. But they are also trained to work with people who live with varying kinds of mental illness, from short-term depression or a minor breakdown to lifelong battles with schizophrenia, addictions, or degenerative diseases.

Working with doctors, psychiatrists, and patients' families, RPNs work to create environments which will enable the patients to develop healthy minds. They work in psychiatric hospitals, prisons, group homes, and regular hospitals. They may assess new patients, and help develop treatments which will get them back on their feet, or they may work with the same patient for years on end, doing their best to encourage independent living. They dispense medication, provide counseling, and run recreation programs to encourage relaxation, growth, and healthy mental practices. They work to keep their patients comfortable, and may give massages, sponge baths, or dress wounds.

Often, a registered psychiatric nurse will specialize working with children, or the elderly. With children, they help them deal with obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorders, and grief, while with the elderly, they also work with people suffering from depression, anxiety attacks, dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Psychiatric nurses are exposed to many different types of work. They dabble in psychology, social work, and first aid, as well as public relations. Often, they are the people who communicate with doctors and family members on behalf of the patient. The relationships that develop can be moving; while the nurses must remain professional, they often can't help but get a little emotionally involved in the lives of their patients.
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  Interests and Skills  
Psychiatric nurses need to be flexible, as well as physically and emotionally stable. They should be mature, with a good sense of humor, a strong set of morals, and a desire to help others. In this profession it is neccesary to be organized and patient. Psychiatric nurses must be good communicators and able to connect with people suffering from mental illness. They must be empathetic, and able to motivate and inspire others. This position requires the ability to make good decisions, even under stress. Finally, they must be open to all types of health issues, and understanding and supportive of all the people they encounter.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Assess new patients
  • Develop treatments for clients, including medication and practical therapies
  • Dispense medication
  • Monitor patient reactions to treatments
  • Observe and report behavioral changes
  • Facilitate group therapy sessions
  • Host information nights for families and community members
  • Meet regularly with doctors, social workers, and other therapists to discuss client progress
  • Perform duties of a registered nurse
  • The typical day for a registered psychiatric nurse involves working with patients, meeting with their families, and consulting with doctors, assistants, social workers and other therapists. The nurse may monitor medication and other therapies' effectiveness, they may develop new therapies and methods of treatment, and they may hold group sessions for patients. The registered psychiatric nurse will meet a number of interesting people, and will work with all kinds, from disturbed children to well-respected psychologists. Registered psychiatric nurses do not travel much, and spend much of their time indoors.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Registered psychiatric nurses work in any place where there may be people living with mental illness. They may work with offenders in prisons or rehabilitation centers. They may be on staff with halfway houses and group homes, nursing homes, addiction centers, and in psychiatric hospitals. They are also on staff at regular hospitals, doctor's offices, and mental health clinics. They may have a private practice, and do home care visits.
  • They are usually employed by the government, and can work long, tiring hours. The job is stressful, and will involve overnight, weekend, and holiday shifts if the nurse works in hospitals, prisons, or nursing homes. Registered psychiatric nurses work alongside a group of health care professionals, including doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists, and other nurses.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Registered psychiatric nurses can specialize in child, adolescent, or adult care. They are.employed in a variety of settings including hospitals, nursing homes, extended-care facilities, rehabilitation centers, doctors' offices, clinics, companies and private homes.

If they want to leave health care, nurses can get into teaching or counseling.

  Educational Paths  
Registered psychiatric nurses need to have a bachelor's degree or a diploma in psychiatric nursing. Students should ensure they have a good background in social work and psychology along with their general nursing courses. The university route is longer, but is recommended, as promotions come most readily to nurses with the degree.

Upon completing school, registered psychiatric nurses must pass a set of exams before being recognized as RPNs.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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