Medical Careers in Mental Health Care

From Psychiatric Nurse to Social Worker

 According to multiple sources in media and healthcare, demand has grown substantially for psychiatric care and workers to help treat the mentally ill population. Modern Healthcare reported on the concerning growth in 2014. In many areas, patients are being treated for mental issues by primary care providers, who are not as well-equipped to treat serious psychiatric disorders. Working with mentally ill patients is a very challenging career, but is also a very rewarding field within the healthcare industry.

Because the need for psychiatric care is growing, and the field of mental health care is so challenging, there is extremely high demand for health workers in this area of medicine. Jobs are available for professionals with a wide range of experience and education, from entry level high school grads to advanced practice providers and physicians. Additionally, many health organizations are creating  tele-medicine and flexible work opportunities for psychiatric care, which allows additional flexibility for mental healthcare workers, while also expanding their reach to greater patient populations. Learn more about careers in the demanding, rewarding field of mental health care.

Psychiatric Nurse

Nurses of all types are needed in mental health care. Vocational nurses, registered nurses, and advanced practice nurses all have opportunities in psychiatric care.


After the passage of health reform, the demand for psychiatrists continued to grow and has been well documented since 2014 by a variety of media outlets, including, as well as by health associations and experts.

An additional factor contributing to the shortage of psychiatrists is the length of time needed to train a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist is a physician (who has obtained an M.D. or D.O. degree) from an accredited medical school and has completed a residency in psychiatry. Psychiatrists may have private practices or be employed by hospitals or other agencies or institutions. Their practices may be primarily office based, or, if they are dealing with very ill patients, psychiatrists may treat patients in an inpatient setting. Psychiatrists may have a general practice or they can sub-specialize in addiction medicine, or child/adolescent psychiatry, among others.

Forensic Nurse

Forensic nurses typically help treat patients who have been a victim of a crime, or accident, or some other traumatic event. The role of forensic nurses includes treating the mental anguish caused by the trauma or crime, and they are also specially trained to collect forensic evidence to use in solving the crime and prosecuting the criminals. Essentially, forensic nurses help bridge the gap between healthcare and law enforcement.

Social Worker

Social workers are case managers for people in need of a variety of services, including health, financial, and more. Many clients treated by social workers are people who are under stress or who may be suffering from traumatic circumstances, mental illness or other mental anguish. In addition to helping provide services, part of the role of the social worker is to help counsel his or her client to help the person to get back on their feet, so to speak.


A psychologist is similar to a psychiatrist in many ways but there are some key differences. The type of degree they hold is not exactly the same - only psychiatrists have completed medical school. However, psychologists do hold a doctoral level degree, just not from a medical school.

Like psychiatrists, psychologists may administer a variety of tests to help diagnose the patient. Psychologists may also use counseling or psychotherapy (talk therapy) to help treat the patient, as psychiatrists would, to help the patient develop coping skills and function normally. However, psychologists are not able to prescribe medications.

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