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A Day in the Life of a Psychiatric Nurse

All nurses are superheroes. We learned that during the pandemic, but it holds true even when Covid is less of a threat.

Psychiatric nurses, in particular, are a special kind of hero. They have to be both a medical nurse and emotional rock to their patients.

If you’ve been considering switching specialties or are in nursing school and are picking your nursing field, read the guide to a psychiatric nurse’s day in the life.

Types of Psychiatric Nurse Shifts

To make things easier, we’ve written this article to represent an early shift, but like other nursing specialties, shifts rotate on an 8-12 hour basis. The “early shift” is usually 7 AM to 3 PM, the afternoon shift is 3 PM to 11 PM, while the night or overnight shift is 11 PM to 7 AM.

For hospitals on a 12-hour shift schedule, there’s the day shift (8 AM-8 PM) and the night shift (8 PM-8 AM). Start and end times differ at each workplace.

GRWM: Getting Ready for the Day

As a psychiatric nurse, you’ll work long shifts. That means you should spend some time getting ready for work, including self-care, to prepare for the day.

Since they’ll be caring for patients for the rest of their shift, most psychiatric nurses try to eat a healthy and filling meal before they go to work. This way, they have the energy to get them through their shift until they have time to take a break.

Once they’ve eaten, they’ll pack their lunchbox, grab some coffee, and head to the clinic or hospital.

Start of The Shift

At the beginning of a shift, a psychiatric nurse will clock in, look at their assignments, then attend any staff meetings. If it’s the morning shift, the nurse will meet with doctors and administrators to go over any new admittances, talk about the plan for the day, and troubleshoot or diagnose issues that happened on the previous shift.

Once that’s over, the nurse will start attending to their patients. We’ll look at psychiatric ward-specific care tasks later.

Middle of Shift

Once medications are administered, and patients have woken up and had breakfast, nurses will take them to the clinic’s different programming activities. This could be group therapy, play therapy, or one on ones. Some nurses are asked to lead group sessions, where they advise on coping skills, listen to emotion sharing, and act as emotional support staff to their patients.

While parents, caretakers, and outside providers can call during a shift, most contact the nurses during traditional working hours. Depending on her rank, a psychiatric nurse could discuss treatment plans with the attending doctor, get consent from parents for medications, and/or update the appropriate parties on a patient’s improvements.

End of the Shift

Towards the end of the shift, the nurse will do her best to update charts, tend to individual patient needs, and even supervise dinnertime. Depending on the age of the patient, she may administer nighttime medication before the end of the day shift or leave that for the night nurses.

When all the charts are updated and it’s time to switch shifts, the nurse will update the night team on what happened during the day shift. He will go over any medical events, outbursts, or positive breakthroughs patients had.

Then the nurse will head home, make dinner, probably watch a show, and head to bed knowing that they made a difference in their patients’ lives during their shift today.

Psychiatric Nurse Job Tasks

Some nursing tasks are universal, like updating charts and tending to patients. But psychiatric nurses have unique roles they perform compared to general or floating nurses. During any given shift, they might …

Administer Medication

In a psych ward or clinic, most patients are on multiple medications. These medications are mandatory and can be controlled substances. Many psychiatric patients don’t want to take their medications, so these nurses have to be skilled at persuasion and have a good eye for people who pocket their meds or try to hide them under their tongue.

After they administer the medications, they need to record each patient’s dose and cooperation level. Unfortunately, some patients will need to have their medicines force-fed to them, either with help from nursing aids or via an IV.

Creating Patient Treatment Plans

While a licensed psychiatrist has to officially create and sign off on a patient’s treatment plan, they consult nurses to understand where the patient is, how they’re responding to treatment daily and their overall progress.

Nurses can make recommendations to doctors for initial plans or changes, whether or not the doctor listens.

Communicating Patient Progress and Updating Notes

When a patient is in a psychiatric clinic or ward, there are exterior people who need to be kept updated on their progress. This could be parents/caretakers, state social workers, or correctional facility personnel.

When these people call, the nurse will verify their clearance level and identification, then give them updates on the appropriate patient. Psychiatric nurses have to have a good grasp of HIPAA and any statutes that govern personal medical information when the individual is incapacitated.

Administering IVs and Taking Vital Signs

Some psychiatric patients need to be sedated, and the nursing staff will have to administer, maintain, and remove those IVs. Depending on the number of nursing assistants available, psychiatric nurses will also monitor patients’ daily vital signs, draw blood, or order bloodwork.

Act As Emotional Support Nurses

When you’re in a psychiatric clinic or ward, the patients aren’t having a good time in life. It takes a very emotionally strong nurse to be strict enough to deal with outbursts but empathetic enough to deal with abuse and mental illness victims.

As a psychiatric nurse, you should regularly attend therapy yourself to process all the things you see and hear about on the job.

How to Become a Psychiatric Nurse

If the tasks and psychiatric nurse daily routines above sound like something you’d like to do, hospitals are always looking for nurses in the NY and PA areas.

You can apply online to access amazing pay rates, exclusive hospital placements, and more.

Start searching through our latest jobs here

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