Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNP), also called women’s health care nurse practitioners (WHCNP), have the advanced education and training necessary to provide primary healthcare to women throughout their lives. The role these advanced practice nurses play in offering primary care is one that has evolved over the years. The original WHNP focus was on family planning, but evolved to include obstetric and gynecological care. Today’s WHNPs very often serve as primary care providers, serving women throughout the lifespan as gender-focused specialists.
Services provided by women’s health nurse practitioners include:
- Annual exams, including pap smears and other health screenings, and well woman care
- Birth control and family planning
- Prenatal and postnatal care for normal pregnancies
- Care during perimenopause and menopause
- Management of sexually transmitted diseases
- Care during acute or chronic medical conditions
- Education about women’s health issues
Women’s health nurse practitioners often operate their own independent practices. They may also work as part of a team with OBGYNs or other physicians in hospitals, or in primary care, women’s health, family planning, or prenatal clinics. Women’s health nurse practitioners also provide services in institutional settings such as shelters and women’s prisons.
Women’s health nurse practitioners with the right education and clinical experience can also specialize in areas such as bone health (osteoporosis), cardiovascular health, endocrinology, geriatrics, infertility, oncology, or high-risk pregnancies.
Education and Degree Program Options
Becoming a WHNP requires completing a master’s degree, post-master’s program, or Doctor of Nursing degree, often with a concentration in women’s health. The degree most often conferred is the Master of Science in Nursing-Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP). Some programs refer to the specialty in more broad terms, offering the MSN-Advanced Practice Nursing with Women, Neonates and Children (APNWNC).
Women’s health nurse practitioner programs include didactic and clinical training that covers:
- Advanced health and clinical assessment
- Advanced pharmacotherapeutics
- Advanced pathophysiology
- Advanced practice nursing in the care of the adolescent and adult
- Women’s health in advanced practice nursing (gynecology, obstetrics, common women’s health issues not related to reproduction)
- Health promotion and disease prevention
- The role of the WHNP in the healthcare system
All advanced practice programs will include both a practicum and a preceptorship in a women’s health setting. Programs may also provide training in cancer prevention and treatment, substance abuse, and domestic violence.
Certification and Licensure
Certification for WHNPs is provided through the National Certification Corporation (NCC), which offers the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner Credential (WHNP-BC). The requirements that must be met in order to be eligible to sit for the certification exam are a current RN license in the U.S. or Canada and successful completion of a master’s, post-master’s, or doctoral degree in an educational program for women’s health specific to nurse practitioners.
NCC has a Certification Maintenance Professional Development Program that involves a periodic assessment to determine the continuing education needed to maintain certification.
Nurse practitioners must become licensed by the state Board of Nursing in the state where they intend to practice. Licensing laws and requirements vary by state, and each state also independently defines the scope of practice for women’s health nurse practitioners.
The National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH) represents nurse practitioners that primarily provide care to women in gender-specific roles. The National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health’s Program for Accreditation offers accreditation to educational programs that prepare nurses to become women’s health nurse practitioners. The National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health’s also offers continuing professional education.
Women’s health nurse practitioners may also be interested in The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), which promotes the health of women and newborns and works to strengthen the nursing profession. The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses publishes The Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner: Guidelines for Practice and Education as a guide that defines the WHNP role on the healthcare team and identifies practice guidelines and competencies.
According to the National Salary Report 2011 published by Advance for NPs and PAs, the average full-time annual salary for nurse practitioners working in a women’s health setting was $82,183.The average pay for those working part-time was $42.44 an hour.