Have you considered focusing your nursing career on the needs and demands of women’s health? If you’re ready to take the next step as an advanced practice nurse, then an online Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) program may be the right choice for you. If you’re a post-BSN registered nurse, you can begin your academic journey right away and soon be the women’s health advocate you’ve dreamed of being.
In a typical WHNP program, you may experience a treatment-focused environment to prepare you to become a practitioner that delivers primary health care services to women or a clinical leader in charge of other women’s health care providers. This advanced master’s degree can make you eligible to work in a wide variety of treatment settings to help women at all stages of their lives.
Fortunately, the demand for WHNPs is expected to increase. Women’s health nurse practitioners are classified as “advanced care nurse practitioners” by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which projects that there will be 53,400 new jobs in this field by 2024.
When you’ve graduated as a WHNP, you will have had been properly trained to provide:
- Primary care
- Prenatal and postpartum care
- Case management
- Education to help women maintain wellness and prevent disease
- Preventive care
- Reproductive health care
Specializing as a WHNP may improve your job prospects and earning potential, but one of the main reasons nurses choose to focus on this area of advanced nursing practice is to provide the care women desperately need. Studies show that females are more likely than males to be unable to get or delayed in getting needed medical care, and the shrinking number of women’s health care providers in the United States will only make things more difficult for women in the coming years.
Researchers from the Departments of Surgery & Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Ohio State University College of Medicine published a paper in April 2011 that estimates a 40 percent shortage of OB/GYNs by 2030. The WHNP plays an important role in caring for medically underserved women, and is expected to be even more important as the number of OB/GYNs in practice decrease in relation to the female population in the US. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) echoes this position, stating that the “medical needs of the US adult female population during the next decade cannot be met by OB/GYNs, family physicians and general internists alone.”
The Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) defines the WHNP as an advanced practice registered nurse who provides”primary health screening, health promotion and care women from menarche through senescence that includes basic management and/or referral for common non-gynecological health problems.” But what does a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner do?
First, it’s helpful to understand the role of the Nurse Practitioner (NP) before examining the female-specific focus of the WHNP. According to the Occupational Information Network, NPs have the following core job tasks:
- Analyze and interpret patients’ histories, symptoms, physical findings or diagnostic information to develop appropriate diagnoses
- Diagnose or treat acute health care problems such as illness, infections or injuries
- Recommend diagnostic or therapeutic interventions
- Education patients about self-management of acute or chronic illnesses
- Prescribe medications
An online WHNP program will train you to provide specialized and general care for women across the lifespan. As a primary care provider, WHNPs offer health services that embrace most of a woman’s health needs throughout her life, including well-woman exams, cancer screening, STD treatment, pregnancy testing, prenatal and postpartum care, menopause health promotion and reproductive health care.
As an aspiring WHNP, you are in the position to require an education with a multi-disciplinary approach that combines academics with real-world practice in clinical settings. Progressive coursework in pharmacology, health assessment and diagnostics combined with hands-on clinical work will prepare you to treat women of all ages and all walks of life. Gain confidence by sharpening your patient communication skills, integrating theory into action during clinical hours and by working collaboratively with other health care practitioners.
Review the other factors to help you identify which school and degree program are best for you.
Although it’s not a guarantee of a high-quality curriculum, accreditation is an indication that a school and/or their degree programs meet certain educational standards. One of the accrediting bodies for Nursing programs is the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE). Programs that have this accreditation meet standards that the CCNE sets forth for institutions that offer nursing degree programs.
There is also regional or national accreditation for universities, conferred by an independent accrediting organization. In this case, the school itself has met the standards of the accrediting organization, which is independent of the school and not associated with the Department of Education.
Other indicators, such as faculty, graduation rates and exam pass rates, all speak to the quality of an institution or degree program.
WHNP-BC exam pass rates
A quality degree program prepares you to sit for the NCC national board certification exam. Check a school’s website to see if they post their graduates’ first-time WHNP certification exam pass rates to see how well they prepare their students. However, keep in mind that the ability to practice as a women’s health nurse practitioner is regulated by individual state boards of nursing.
Certification is required in some states for advanced practice roles such as a WHNP. Check with your state’s regulatory nursing board to see if certification is required where you live. Even if certification is not a requirement in your state, becoming a board-certified WNHP as part of your professional nursing development may still be of interest to you.
Women’s health nurse practitioner program curriculum
Look for a curriculum that prepares you to become a leader as a primary care provider for women. A premier online women’s health nurse practitioner degree program offers you the opportunity to develop advanced skills and real experience to treat and help prevent illnesses that are unique to women.
WHNP programs typically include courses in advanced physiology, prenatal and post-partum care and strategies to create treatment plans for chronic conditions that are present during the different phases of a woman’s lifespan. Other courses include: informatics, public health and organizational management.
Although specific coursework varies, some of the WHNP courses you may encounter as you look at different online women’s health nurse practitioner programs will include:
- Midwifery care before, during and after pregnancy
- Women’s health issues
- Advanced reproductive dynamics
- Policy issues related to women’s health
- Family nursing
In addition to coursework, you are expected to fulfill clinical hours to successfully complete the program. Clinical hours offer real world treatment experience, often under supervision, to help you gain confidence in diagnosing and treating patients and develop the ability to collaborate with other health care providers to find the best solutions for patients.
What’s it like to study to become a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner? Coursework and requirements may vary by program, but you can get an idea of what to expect by looking at this sample full-time WHNP course schedule.
Distance learning offers greater flexibility than traditional WHNP degree programs, which makes it easier for busy students to fit education into their lives. But while the flexibility of studying anywhere and anytime may sound ideal, it can also be a challenge if you enroll in a program that doesn’t offer a rich human component. If you would like to feel more engaged with the coursework and with your peers, look for a program that features live-streaming classes and group projects. These types of online programs may also help hold you accountable and keep you on track for success.
WHNP clinical hours
Even as an online student, you may be required to complete clinical hours in a setting approved by the college. Before enrolling in an online WHNP program, make sure to review the nursing department’s requirements for clinical hours and approved settings.
Some schools offer clinical placement for students enrolled in the online WHNP program, while others may require you to set up your own clinical experience. Make sure you know the ins and outs of a program’s list of clinical requirements before enrolling.
Immersions and intensives
You may also be required to attend on-campus events known as immersions or intensives. These sessions provide students the opportunity to meet with instructors, advisers and peers, as well as help students integrate advanced practice techniques that require hands-on training. Immersions and intensives may last a few days up to a week, and students may need to complete multiple campus visits before earning their degree. Make sure to plan for these events before enrolling.
The time to complete an online WHNP program may be different, depending on course requirements and whether you’re a full- or part-time student. In general, an online program that results in a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) degree can take between 18 to 24 months for full-time students with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) degree. Part-time options may be available at universities and usually take between three to four years.
If you have your RN designation and bachelor’s degree, you may be eligible for an accelerated program, which reduces your time in a degree program even more.
You’ll be required to meet the same requirements as on-campus students when you enroll in an online WHNP program. Classes will have a beginning and end date, and you may or may not have lectures and discussions that you have to attend at specific times. Assignments and examinations will also have due dates that you’ll be required to meet.
Other than the virtual aspect, earning your WHNP degree online is similar to earning it at a brick-and-mortar campus. In most cases online students have access to the same resources and support services as on-campus students, meaning you’ll have the same opportunities with the added benefit of earning your degree online.
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