A psychiatric nurse practitioner and a social worker are different in many ways, especially if the social worker is a direct-service social worker as opposed to a clinical one. Among the differences are education, professional designation, income, and the authorization to prescribe medication and order medical tests. The primary similarity between a psychiatric nurse practitioner and a clinical social worker is that both treat patients with mental illness.
Social workers who provide direct services perform tasks such as arranging housing for the homeless, overseeing the care of children who have been placed with foster families, helping military veterans obtain benefits and simply working with people who need help coping with everyday problems. Clinical social workers, although they may provide some of these services, primarily diagnose and treat mental, behavioral and emotional health problems. Either may work in a hospital, clinic or school or in private practice. Neither can prescribe medication.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner:
A psychiatric nurse practitioner is a registered nurse who has completed postgraduate training in the diagnosis, management and treatment of patients with mental illness. Also called advanced practice nurses, a nurse practitioner focuses on health promotion, disease prevention, health education and counseling as related to mental health. They have prescribing authority for medications, diagnostic tests and treatments. The nurse practitioner has a supervising physician. In the case of a psychiatric nurse practitioner, this is usually a psychiatrist.
Education and Licensing:
Psychiatric nurse practitioners and social workers begin their education with a bachelor's degree. For direct-service social workers, this degree may be all that is necessary, but a clinical social worker must have a master's in social work. Psychiatric nurse practitioners also must have a master's degree, and some obtain doctorates. Direct-service social workers are licensed in some states, while clinical social workers and psychiatric nurse practitioners must be licensed in all states.
Social Worker Salaries:
Salaries for social workers vary according to their area of practice. Child, family and school social workers, who are usually considered direct-service social workers, had an average annual salary of $44,410 as of 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Mental health and substance abuse social workers, who are clinical social workers, averaged $42,650 for the same period. The BLS says healthcare social workers, who could be direct-service or clinical social workers, earned an average yearly salary of $50,500.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Pay:
The BLS groups advanced practice nurses such as psychiatric nurse practitioners with all other registered nurses and reports that their salaries averaged $69,110 in 2011. Nurse practitioners working in the area of psychiatric or mental health reported a base salary of $96,160 to the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners.