Mental health nurse career progression guide

Mental health nursing can be a long and rewarding career, doing something that you love. If you’re looking for advice on the opportunities that are available, we’ve created a comprehensive mental health nurse career progression guide containing everything you need to know about the possibilities ahead of you.

Here at Pulse, we have the passion and expertise to help you go far in mental health nursing. Our wealth of experience in healthcare staffing means we know what employers look for and can bring you incredible opportunities. We understand the unique challenges you face and pride ourselves on providing first-class support and career advice to the professionals we work with so you can focus on doing your best work, knowing that we’re here for you every step of the way.

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Mental health career progression opportunities

There are many different areas you can look to move into as you progress in your mental health nursing career. Wherever your strengths and interests lie, you’ll find roles that will bring you personal fulfilment and that are aligned with the direction you’d like to move in.

Here’s a summary of the different paths you can take:

  • Specialise in an area of mental health 
    • Work with certain patient groups 
    • Pursue roles in particular settings 
    • Support with specific mental health conditions 
  • Move into management 
  • Explore academic opportunities

Specialise in an area of mental health

If you want to develop within a particular area of mental health, there are a number of directions you can take.

If you’d like to work with certain patient groups, there are many options available, including:

  • For specialists who’d like to support the mental health of children and teenagers, there are a wealth of opportunities in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS).
  • You could also work with the elderly in older people’s mental health (OPMH) services, which is also referred to as old age mental health nursing.
  • If you’d like to specialise in female mental health, you can look at opportunities within dedicated units for women, such as acute services and intensive care.
  • In mental health nursing within palliative care, you can help people with life-limiting illnesses as well as their families.
  • You can support people from disadvantaged backgrounds, such as in homeless and vulnerable adult teams, helping patients access care and make informed health decisions.
  • If you’re interested in supporting people with disabilities, you can find roles in specialist support teams who work either within patients’ homes or in healthcare settings.

You can also look at working in particular settings:

  • Prisons – your duties can include conducting assessments, administering medication, creating and monitoring care plans, and providing crisis support.
  • Specialist hospital inpatient wards – these nursing roles offer experience within areas like intensive care and palliative care. Your responsibilities can include observing, interviewing and monitoring patients and keeping records of behaviour and progress.
  • Hospital outpatient departments – a role within this setting focuses on day patients, who have appointments for treatment or diagnoses.
  • People’s homes – if you’d like to focus on work outside of healthcare institutions, you may find fulfilment in community mental health teams (CMHTs). These roles involve supporting both patients with mental health challenges and their carers.
  • Residential mental health facilities – these could be within the NHS or private healthcare, providing support around the clock.

If your passion lies in the treatment of specific mental health conditions, you can also pursue nursing roles that support people with anything from depression to addiction and eating disorders.

Move into management

You can also progress your mental health nursing career by moving into management roles. If you’re interested in taking this route, there are many ways you can move up the ladder.


You may want to start by looking into nurse educator opportunities, in which you mentor student nurses and other healthcare professionals looking to learn about the profession. Once you have a good amount of experience and competence in your role, you can then become a preceptor, helping newly qualified nurses with support and skills development.

Hospital ward managers

When you’ve worked your way up in your nursing career, you may want to become a hospital ward manager, leading a team of people including nurses and other healthcare workers. This allows you to advance your tra/heining skills, shaping and developing services in healthcare settings.


With experience, you can eventually become a matron in a hospital or clinic, managing a team of nurses and setting professional standards within your department. You’ll train and develop the nursing professionals in your team, while playing a key role in patient safety and quality of care.

Directors of nursing

You can also look to become a director of mental health nursing, taking a more senior role in overseeing operations within healthcare settings. This can include directing and evaluating nurses, leading on policies and procedures around care, and implementing programmes that help whole facilities to deliver better services.

Health policy nursing (HPN)

If you’d prefer to focus on healthcare policy, you can also work in influencing the way treatment, care and other services are delivered. This chiefly revolves around forming and recommending new policies, which you then communicate to the government, professional bodies and other decision-makers.

Explore academic opportunities

If you wish to further your qualifications and become an academic or lecturer, you can study to teach others in the field of nursing. Once you’re a recognised teacher, you can work at universities as a professor of nursing. You can combine teaching work with research and writing for publications, helping to further new findings in the field.

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Register your interest and we will be in touch to discuss your work preferences.

Top tips for progressing your mental health nursing career

There are many ways you can work on your mental health nurse career progression. We’ve outlined some useful tips to help you take ownership of your career, with recommended actions that may lead to exciting opportunities.

Formulate a plan

Carve out regular time to plan out your next steps for career progression. These could include completing a certain training course, attending events, introducing yourself to professional contacts or a new area/department you’d like to gain experience in (more on some of these below).

Revisit your plan every couple of months to review where you’re at and where you’re heading. Set a new goal each time you carry out this exercise to keep you moving forward.

Research the market

Research current opportunities in the market. Even if you discover roles a little beyond your experience at the moment, it’s good to see what you’re moving towards further down your career path. It will also be valuable to find out the qualifications, experience and skills needed for those more senior positions. Information on different roles can be found online, in industry publications, through professional networks or in initiatives and schemes within healthcare organisations.

Have proactive discussions

As part of your ambition to keep moving forward, request meetings with your line manager to find out if there are any opportunities to take on more responsibilities, study for new qualifications or help with training.

Gain additional experience

There may be the possibility of shadowing those in higher roles to get day-to-day experience of more senior positions. If this isn’t an option at this time, you could even look to volunteer, which can help to enhance your reputation and meet new industry contacts.

Find networking opportunities

Networking is another great way of increasing your knowledge of career progression opportunities. You can do this in a variety of ways, both online and in-person. This could include attending events, conferences, recruitment open days and job fairs; being active on LinkedIn; or becoming involved in RCN campaigns and meetings.

Mental health nursing job opportunities with Pulse

At Pulse, we have over 30 years of experience connecting nursing professionals with rewarding roles. As a leading healthcare recruiter, our trusted partnerships with NHS Trusts and leading private sector organisations mean we can bring you the widest choice of roles. Many of our opportunities are also exclusive to us and can’t be found anywhere else, as we’re a sole supplier to many of our clients. 

Our specialist team of consultants are experts in the mental health nursing field and will give you dedicated support that prioritises finding you a role that matches your future goals, lifestyle and experience. We also offer revalidation support and access to high-quality training and development, as part of our commitment to helping the nurses we work with thrive in their careers. 

Register with Pulse today to speak to one of our advisors about the range of mental health nursing jobs we currently have available. 

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