A women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) can be an extremely valuable resource and care provider for women throughout their lives – from adolescence to later years. To borrow a phrase from the Vanderbilt University WHNP program, these nursing professionals provide well-woman care in addition to “normal and high-risk prenatal management, family planning, fertility and uro-gynecology.”
A women’s health nurse practitioner often operates completely independently of a physician, either in private practice, at a hospital, birthing center, or a women’s clinic. These highly trained individuals are able to provide care for acute and chronic issues that are specific to women, and are attuned to the best practices in preventative medicine as well as health promotion. In most states, nurse practitioners can even write prescriptions, making them entirely independent and offering a high degree of flexibility and responsibility when it comes to their employment.
In order to become a women’s health nurse practitioner, there are certain educational standards that must be met, and prospective WHNPs must also complete specialized clinical experience in their chosen field.
In order to become a women’s health nurse practitioner, you must already have a background in nursing. Most WHNP programs require that prospective students become Registered Nurses (RNs) before applying to an advanced program. RN requirements vary from state to state, but they generally require at minimum an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) and in some cases a bachelor’s of science degree in nursing (BSN), successfully passing the NCLEX-RN exam, and registering with the state.
RNs are technically eligible for many nurse practitioner programs without additional experience, but most nurses spend a few years in clinical practice before pursuing the Master’s or Doctoral degree necessary to become a nurse practitioner. In fact, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), RNs spend an average of 10 years in practice before pursuing their advanced degree. This additional clinical experience can also help in determining the ideal specialization, such as women’s health.
In addition to being an RN and holding an advanced nursing degree, WHNPs must complete the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner certification from the National Certification Corporation (NCC). The computer-based exam currently requires a fee of $325 and must be completed within 8 years of graduation from an eligible advanced program.
As with any nursing specialty, there are also some personality traits that can be helpful – if not required – when it comes to the WHNP career. While all nurses should be compassionate individuals, this might be even more important when it comes to women’s health care. Many of the health issues that women face, particularly surrounding childbearing and fertility can be particularly stressful and emotional. In addition, the use of nurse practitioners has greatly expanded due to a lack of health care providers in rural areas as well as low income regions, which are often more culturally diverse. This means women’s health nurse practitioners would do well to learn about and respect other cultures, and to learn other languages when possible.
Not every nurse will follow the same steps to becoming a women’s health nurse practitioner, but this is the outline for the career path for the majority of nurses working in this particular specialty.