Meet a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner
A women's health nurse practitioner (WHNP) provides care for women throughout their lifespan, from adolescence through menopause.
WHNPs may work in hospitals, private practice, clinics, family planning clinics, prenatal clinics, and women's prisons. While these healthcare providers are equipped to care for women before, during, and after pregnancy, they do not deliver babies.
On this page, you'll learn the scope of practice for a WHNP, how to become a WHNP, and the average annual salary you can expect. Before diving into the details, let's hear from a WHNP who has over 25 years of experience and is a veteran of the U.S. Air Force.
Q&A With a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
Robin Squellati, Ph.D., is an advanced practice registered nurse and core faculty member for Walden University's master of science in nursing program. She has been certified as a women's health nurse practitioner for over 25 years. Squellati is also a veteran of the U.S. Air Force where she served as a nurse for 28 years.
Q: Why did you choose a career in nursing? Were you interested in women's health specifically?
I became a nurse because I wanted to help people. I also wanted to be a women's health nurse practitioner because I had a WHNP help me through my first pregnancy when I was young. The WHNP was very kind and spent time going over the maternal changes and fetal development. I wanted to be like her. I followed her advice and had a healthy, 7-pound 10-ounce baby boy. Then she helped me with birth control and taught me the importance of spacing pregnancies.
I completed my associate's degree in nursing and then my bachelor's degree. I looked into getting an MSN for WHNP but I needed to work and could not find a program in which I could work while going to school. So, I ended up getting an MSN in leadership because by that time, I had joined the U.S. Air Force. Several years later, the Air Force sent me to school to be a WHNP. It took time to reach my goal but I had lots of great nursing experiences along the way.
Q: While every patient and situation is unique, what might a "typical" day look like for you as a women's health nurse practitioner?
I was a WHNP while in the Air Force, so there were not too many typical days. However, for gynecology (GYN), I liked having a combination of some acute appointments (needing to be seen within 24 hours), some routine (needing to be seen within a week), and some wellness exams. The obstetrician (OB) appointments were scheduled in a morning or afternoon block.
While at Keesler Air Force Base, which had an OB/GYN residency, I did colposcopies one afternoon. Also at Keesler, some mornings were postop checks. In between appointments, if possible, and at the end of the day, I would call patients who had abnormal labs, provide radiology results, or answer telephone consults. There were also unit and hospital meetings to attend.
Q: What are some of the biggest challenges of your work?
I had several challenges. There was never enough time. Patients had wonderful stories to share, but I needed to get to the next patient.
Another challenge was not being able to help everyone. Pelvic pain is a condition that sometimes has an answer and sometimes does not. There were other types of pain that needed referrals. Sometimes I would catch a condition like high blood pressure, an abnormal lab, or other issues that needed to be addressed but were not addressed by the primary care provider (PCP).
It bothered me when a patient would deny having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, or other common problems because the PCP had not discussed the problem with the patient. Still, there were so many patients who were very thankful and appreciative that these challenges were only minor.
Q: And the greatest rewards?
Finding a problem and being able to offer a solution is rewarding. In this situation, the patient is happy and so is the WHNP. Another reward is seeing the same patients year after year.
Doing postpartum checks where new moms would bring back their little ones was also a great reward. I love babies! Being able to sit with a mom who lost her baby was something that I will also cherish. It is a sad time, but being a respected, trusted person is rewarding.
Lastly, I will always remember the OB/GYN physicians and other NPs whom I worked with. We supported each other and the shared ups and downs in life.
Q: What advice would you give to those considering a career as a women's health nurse?
Get your family nurse practitioner or a geriatric NP certification first. Then add women's health. As a WHNP, I was constantly merging with primary care issues. Jobs are more abundant for a primary care NP, too.
Also, I was glad I had several years as a women's health registered nurse (RN) prior to becoming a WHNP. I waited several years to reach that goal, but every year provided experience that I needed later in life. When I was young, I did not realize that those experiences would help me with my career.
What Does a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Do?
"Being able to sit with a mom who lost her baby was something that I will also cherish. It is a sad time, but being a respected, trusted person is rewarding." — Robin Squellati, Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
WHNPs can provide a wide range of healthcare services and management of both common and complex medical conditions. In many states, nurse practitioners have the authority to work independently in full practice. There are currently only 11 states where a nurse practitioner has restricted practice which requires career-long supervision.
WHNPs provide healthcare services to meet women's health and wellness needs, from adolescents to senior adults. The majority of care focuses on gynecology or childbearing. However, WHNPs are trained to address all health issues unique to women.
According to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP), a full-time WHNP will see approximately 19 patients daily. Below is a list of skills and responsibilities common to a WHNP's practice. You may want to consider these as you decide if nursing as a career is right for you.
How to Become a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
To become a WHNP, a candidate must first complete an accredited bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree. A student may start with a two-year associate degree in nursing (ADN) and complete an ADN-to-BSN bridge program while working. Once the ADN or BSN degree program is complete, the student must pass the National Council Licensure Examination for RNs (NCLEX-RN).
A WHNP is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) with a focus on women's health. An APRN requires a master of science in nursing (MSN) degree. Most MSN programs recommend at least two years of bedside experience. This is important before taking on a more independent role as an advanced practice nurse.
Not all programs have a women's health nurse practitioner track. If this is not available, you may consider a family nurse practitioner role or an adult-gerontology nurse practitioner focus. Once graduated, you may be certified through the National Certification Corporation. It confers the women's health nurse practitioner - board certified credential.
How Much Do Women's Health Nurse Practitioners Make?
WHNPs averaged a median wage of $59.00 per hour or a $112,000 annual salary ($118,000 with bonuses), according to the 2019 AANP survey. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) cites the annual median salary of all nurse practitioners, midwives, and nurse anesthetists as $117,670.
In the AANP survey, the salary included the hourly rate and benefits package such as retirement, health insurance, and bonuses. Full-time employment was defined as 35 or more hours each week.
Compensation depends on several variables. These include:
Of the nurse practitioners surveyed, 32.7% of the full-time practitioners took evening and weekend calls. However, not all were compensated for their time.
Employment benefits that may be negotiated at hire include paid vacation, malpractice insurance, medical, dental, vision, and life insurance, and a retirement plan.
BLS estimates a job growth for NPs of 45%, which is much faster than average. The growth in the job market, high level of satisfaction, and diversity in the patient population create a uniquely appealing career opportunity for WHNPs.
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