Do you want to expand your scope of practice and take the next step in your nursing career? Consider becoming a Nurse Practitioner (NP). NPs are independently-licensed health care providers focused on managing health conditions and preventing disease. NPs often specialize by patient population, including women’s health. These specialized NPs are referred to as Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners, or WHNPs.
According to Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH) and the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner is “an [Advanced Practice Registered Nurse] prepared through academic and clinical study for practice as a primary care nurse practitioner that includes a focus on providing care for conditions unique to women.”
In addition to the functions and duties of advanced practice nurses, WHNPs perform specific tasks related to women’s health. The National Organization of Nurse Practitioner Faculties (NONPF) identifies the core competencies for all NPs, including population-focused Nurse Practitioners like the WHNP. These competencies include the fundamental knowledge, skills and behaviors expected for entry to practice, and are thus a great place to start if you’re looking for information on what WHNPs do.
Some of the core competencies of the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, according to the NONPF, include:
- Provides culturally appropriate reproductive and primary care for women of all ages
- Evaluates gender-specific interventions and integrates gender-specific evidence into practice
- Integrates research, theory and evidence-based practice knowledge to develop clinical approaches that address women’s responses to physical and mental health and illness across the lifespan
- Advocates for health care policies and research that support accessible, equitable, affordable, safe and effective health care for women both locally and globally
- Demonstrates knowledge of legal/ethical issues and regulatory agencies relevant to gender specific issues
Furthermore, The National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health’s (NPWH), lists some of the specific women’s health services provided by WHNPs:
- Well-woman examinations
- Breast cancer screening
- STD screening, treatment and follow-up
- Pregnancy testing
- Fertility evaluation
- Menopause health promotion
Enroll in a graduate Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner program
If you are a Registered Nurse, the first step toward becoming a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner is to enroll in an advanced nursing degree program. The Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) is the minimum degree requirement for becoming a Nurse Practitioner. An MSN degree with an emphasis on women’s health will help students develop the specialized skills needed to deliver primary health care to women.
Our partner Georgetown University describes its online WHNP program: “With advanced courses in pathophysiology, pharmacology and health assessment, the WHNP program helps aspiring nurse leaders thrive as compassionate caregivers in a variety of settings, including physician’s offices, primary care clinics, hospitals, emergency care clinics and nursing homes, among others.”
In addition to developing the skills and knowledge needed for advanced nursing practice, you will need to complete a graduate nursing degree program if you wish to sit for the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner certification exam and apply for an advanced practice license in your state.
Earn WHNP certification
After successfully completing a WHNP program and graduating with a Master’s of Nursing degree, the next step is to sit for the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner certification exam. The National Certification Corporation (NCC) is currently the only national certifying body that offers the WHNP certification. Eligibility requirements for NCC WHNP certification include:
- Current US nursing licensure
- Successful completion of an accredited graduate nurse practitioner program that meets NCC program requirements and prepares Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners
- Exam must be taken within eight years of graduation from advanced nursing program
You will also need to upgrade your RN license to an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN) license and meet other state-specific nursing licensure requirements to practice as a WHNP.
If you’re thinking about becoming a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner, you may also be interested in becoming a Certified Nurse-Midwife (CNM). WHNPs differ from CNMs in that they focus on the general and reproductive health of women across the lifespan; CNMs focus on providing medical care to pregnant women, women of childbearing age and newborns.
Online Master’s of Nursing programs in either specialty area (women’s health and nurse-midwifery) reflect the differences between these two nursing professions. For example, nurse-midwifery programs might focus more in-depth on neonatal care and the birthing process, while WHNP programs may include more courses on contemporary issues in women’s health.
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