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Herzing University

Jessica Neddersen

What is the Difference Between an FNP and a PMHNP?

These degrees carry varying responsibilities that can ultimately lead to different career paths. Here are the key differences that you should know between FNPs and PMHNPs.

Many nurses looking to elevate their careers decide to pursue a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree, which gives them an opportunity to attain leadership roles and help fill the demand for advanced practice nurses. They could become nurse educators, administrators or nurse practitioners, among many other roles.

The need for more MSN-trained nurses has been well documented, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicting a 45% growth rate for nurse practitioners from 2022-2032.* For individuals seeking to become a nurse practitioner, Herzing University offers multiple master’s degree concentrations, including Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) and Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP).

While there are a lot of similarities between these two careers, they are not the same. These degrees carry varying responsibilities that can ultimately lead to different career paths. Here are the key differences that you should know between FNPs and PMHNPs:

1. Responsibilities

FNPs provide care across a patient’s entire lifespan, and they can work in a variety of specialties. Some of the key responsibilities for an FNP may include prescribing medications, ordering and performing tests, developing care plans and performing physical exams. While they take care of the patient’s physical health, FNPs might also handle some aspects of mental health. FNPs can provide limited care plans and even prescribe some medications, but they are limited in their scope for mental health care. FNPs will collaborate with other healthcare professionals who provide patients’ long-term mental health treatment and psychotherapy.

Like FNPs, PMHNPs will provide care and treatment for patients from pediatrics to geriatrics, but their specialty lies in treating and promoting awareness of mental health conditions. PMHNPs will prescribe medication, treatment and/or therapy for mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, substance abuse, dementia and many other conditions. Unlike FNP, PMHNPs can provide long-term treatment and offer psychotherapy.

2. Work Environments

FNPs work in traditional healthcare settings such as physician’s offices, hospitals, outpatient care centers and sometimes schools and universities. They are valuable to medical practices, both public and private, since they can work with a diverse patient demographic.

PMHNPs can work in traditional healthcare settings but their practice can also take them into other environments. PMHNPs might work in prisons, community clinics and mental health clinics in addition to hospitals and doctor’s offices. At Herzing, PMHNPs also receive additional training to prepare them for the evolving role in telehealth so they can provide remote patient care, which is needed because many people in the United States are unable to visit mental healthcare providers in person.

3. Education

Careers as an FNP and PMHNP both require an MSN degree. At Herzing, both programs are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) and are offered with 100% online coursework. Clinical hours are required for both degree programs, however, Herzing has a team of advisors dedicated to helping students secure their preceptor and clinical as part of our Clinical Placement Pledge. Clinical experiences are a key component of both programs as they enable students to practice the hands-on skills needed to become a nurse practitioner.

Herzing offers several pathways to earning an FNP degree.

A BSN to FNP program can be completed in as little as 20 months for RNs who already hold a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN). For RNs without a BSN, Herzing offers an RN to MSN-FNP pathway, which can be completed in as little as 24 months. Individuals who wish to get a BSN before proceeding to their MSN should weigh the benefits of the RN to BSN to MSN pathway to see if it is a good option for them.

Once you’ve completed an FNP program, you will need to get your license for the state in which you wish to work. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, so be sure to research the certifications needed for your state.

Herzing’s PMHNP program and pathways take about the same time to complete as the FNP degree. For RNs who already have a BSN, the BSN to PMHNP pathway can be completed in as little as 24 months. The RN to MSN-PMHNP pathway program, which is designed for RNs with an associate degree, can be completed in as few as 24 months.

After completing a PMHNP program, graduates will be eligible to sit for the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC) certification exam and become a Board Certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC).

Which program is right for you?

If you are certain that getting your MSN is the next step for you, but you’re not sure which degree is the best fit, here are some final points to consider:

  • If you are interested in giving a voice to patients who are often misunderstood and raise awareness for lesser-known health issues, being a PMHNP might be right for you. Every day is different, and you will work with patients who might be experiencing physical as well as mental health problems. A passion for mental health is a plus.
  • If you are interested in working in a field with broader options, you might consider getting your FNP. You will work hands-on with patients, often as a primary source of care, to provide them with holistic, quality care for all of their needs. You could choose a specific specialty, and you’ll also have options to choose your unique career path.

Both careers are highly rewarding and help fill the demand in the healthcare industry. You can make a difference by earning your degree today!

Learn More About Our MSN Programs


* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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