How to Become a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
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Women's health nurse practitioners offer healthcare to women of all ages, from adolescents to the elderly. These nurse practitioners can also assess and diagnose patients.
The road to becoming a women's health nurse practitioner involves multiple degrees and licenses. That might seem like a confusing process, but this article breaks down how to become a women's health nurse practitioner.
What is a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner?
A women's health nurse practitioner (WHNP) provides comprehensive care to girls and women across their lifespans. These professionals provide adolescent healthcare to teenagers, pap smears and breast exams to adult women, and prenatal care to women who want to become or are pregnant.
After many years of education and training, WHNPs work in private clinics and public hospitals. They differ from certified nurse midwives, who have a narrower focus on pregnancy and delivering infants.
Our separate guide on the women's health nurse practitioner field provides more general information about the career path. This page focuses on how to become a women's health nurse practitioner, taking you step by step through the educational and licensing process.
Steps to Becoming a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
Like other advanced nursing professionals, WHNPs must meet specific educational, national certification, and state license requirements. This section outlines the steps to earning a women’s health nurse practitioner degree and finding employment.
Earn a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN)
Many nurses acquire their registered nurse (RN) license after completing an associate degree in nursing or a bachelor’s in another field. However, a BSN provides the best educational pathway to becoming an RN and qualifying to begin a WHNP graduate program.
Those with bachelor's degrees in non-nursing fields can complete an accelerated BSN program to meet the requirements. Aspiring women’s health practitioners should choose BSN programs accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing. The program should include clinical experiences and coursework in statistics.
Obtain RN Licensure
Each state establishes its own specific requirements for RN licensure, but all license-seekers need associate or bachelor’s degrees. After receiving authorization to take the national RN test from their state board of nursing, applicants must pass the NCLEX-RN exam, administered through the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN).
After prospective WHNPs complete their undergraduate degrees, gain clinical experience, and acquire RN licensure, they can choose their specialties.
Degree-seekers who want to specialize in womenâs health should choose advanced practice nursing programs that meet WHNP certification requirements. This entails coursework in primary care for women, gynecological health, and prenatal and postpartum care.
Gain Admission to an Accredited Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
Each women’s nurse practitioner program establishes its own admission policies. Most of these programs require an accredited BSN degree, a valid RN license, and clinical experience.
An MSN is the most common pathway to advanced nursing practice. However, the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses and other nursing groups propose that APRNs should earn DNP degrees. DNPs prepare graduates for professional roles in direct patient care and in management and policy positions.
Earn an MSN or DNP
WHNP programs consist of core and specialized coursework and clinical practice experiences known as preceptorships. Depending on the degree level, students typically begin their NP programs with core courses in advanced physiology, advanced pharmacology, and advanced health assessment and screening, followed by coursework in the womenâs health specialization.
An MSN requires approximately two years of study. A DNP may take three or more years depending on studentsâ level of prior nursing education.
Obtain Certification From the National Certification Corporation (NCC)
Graduates of accredited MSN and DNP programs who hold current RN licensure may obtain the womenâs healthcare nurse practitioner (WHNP-BC) certification.
This certification process requires a passing score on a comprehensive exam that tests specialty knowledge and applications in physical assessment, pharmacology, obstetrics, gynecology, and primary care to women in inpatient and outpatient settings. Applicants may take a computerized or written version of the test. Nurses must renew their WHNP-BC certification every three years.
Obtain NP State Licensure
WHNPs must apply for licensure in the state where they intend to work. Because each state establishes its own licensing requirements, WHNPs should check with their state boards of nursing before finishing their degrees to discern current regulations. In general, state licensure requires at least a masterâs in nursing, a valid RN license, and WHNP-BC certification.
As communities across the country struggle to meet their primary and preventive healthcare needs, certified and licensed WHNPs often find work easily. WHNPs can begin their job search by investigating employment listings from nursing organizations, such as the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). Job-seekers can also check with their schools' career placement offices.
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Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Schooling
Though all aspiring WHNPs need to complete graduate degrees, each student's pathway is unique depending on previous work experience and education. Students' schedules determine their education pathways as well, whether they pursue part-time online study or full-time on-campus programs.
Earning a BSN is vital for a few reasons. First, nurses need an undergraduate degree (either a BSN or an associate degree in nursing) to pass the NCLEX and earn RN licensure. Additionally, many graduate-level nursing programs require applicants to possess both a BSN and RN licensure.
Applicants need a high school diploma. Sometimes, they must meet minimum GPA requirements. They should also submit ACT or SAT scores, along with an admission essay and a high school transcript.
A BSN teaches students foundational knowledge in physiological, psychological, and environmental factors when considering patients' health. Learners practice their new nursing skills during clinical rotations.
Time to Complete
Bachelor's degrees typically take four years to complete. Part-time learners may need an additional year or two to graduate. Incoming students who already possess ADN degrees can graduate in just two years.
BSN students learn to use the nursing process to care for patients. They practice hard skills like assessing patients, starting IVs, and administering medication. They also learn soft skills such as compassionate care, patient advocacy, and therapeutic communication.
Aspiring WHNPs need graduate nursing degrees to apply for licensure and legally work in nurse practitioner roles. Many nurses opt for MSN degrees, which take less time to complete than DNPs.
MSN programs typically require candidates to possess a bachelor's degree. Specific RN-to-MSN programs accept associate degrees. Applicants need RN licensure, and some schools might require previous work experience.
Master's students specialize in particular areas. To become WHNPs, learners must study advanced coursework in women's health. Courses cover gynecological health, perinatal care, and women's care across the lifespan. Students undergo clinical rotations within this specialization as well.
Time to Complete
Students can usually complete a master's degree in about two years. Part-time learners may need three years to graduate.
MSN candidates specializing in women's health learn to give prenatal care, postnatal care, and gynecological care, like pap smears. They also master soft skills such as critical thinking in high-pressure situations.
Doctor of Nursing Practice
Nurse practitioners can also pursue DNPs to fulfill their graduate degree requirements. A terminal degree, the DNP prepares nursing professionals for higher-level and leadership opportunities.
Incoming students may need either a bachelor's or a master's degree depending on their program's requirements. Applicants should also hold RN licensure and, in some cases, previous nursing experience.
Like a master's degree, a DNP involves specialized courses in women's health. This degree also may cover more advanced materials in addition to leadership, theoretical, and research courses. DNP programs require clinical rotations as well.
Time to Complete
DNP candidates can complete their degrees in 2-3 years. Students enrolled in post-MSN doctoral programs may graduate more quickly. Those who draw out their clinical work may need more time to graduate.
Students learn advanced hard skills useful in caring for women's health. These skills include assessment, diagnosis, and treatment of gynecological conditions. DNP programs also integrate leadership skills and healthcare policy expertise.
Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Credentials
Advanced practice nurses including WHNPs must complete several years of education and specialized training before they can work in the field. This section outlines women's health nurse practitioner schooling, including how to acquire the required credentials. Degree-seekers can also review the difference between RN and APRN licensure.
Women’s nurse practitioners should always check with their respective state boards of nursing and nursing credential organizations to confirm current eligibility requirements. These professionals should also investigate certifications that may help broaden their expertise and career potential. Certifications in family practice, nurse midwifery, and neonatal care might be beneficial.
Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Licensing
Admission to a WHNP program requires an associate or BSN degree plus RN licensure. Educational requirements differ by state, but all RN licensure applicants must pass the NCLEX-RN examination administered through the NCSBN. Before sitting for the RN exam, RN license-seekers must apply to the respective board in the state where they intend to practice.The next step to becoming a WHNP requires graduate-level training and APRN certification. Students must enroll in either an MSN or a DNP program leading to a practice specialization for a particular population.
After completing the degree, prospective APRNs must take the certification exam in their intended practice specialty from the appropriate credentialing organization. For WHNPs, the NCC administers the required certification exam. Candidates in other specializations typically take their exams through the AANP or the American Nurses Credentialing Center.
Before WHNPs can practice, they must apply to their state board of nursing for an APRN license. Licensing regulations vary by state, but many nursing boards use the certification exam to assess candidates' competency to practice. License-seekers should contact their respective state boards to verify APRN requirements.
Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Certification
The women's healthcare nurse practitioner certification exam is the national credential for this specialization. RNs who graduate from WHNP programs may apply online through the NCC for this certificate by submitting diplomas and official transcripts.
Once approved, candidates receive eligibility letters providing a three-month window in which to take the test. The multiple-choice exam comprises 175 questions and takes approximately three hours to complete. Questions in the content areas of obstetrics and gynecology make up 64% of the test, with 12% allocated to primary care, 12% to assessment, 9% to pharmacology, and 3% to professional issues and ethics.
NCC requires a payment of $325 for application and testing fees. Candidates must schedule the certification examination within eight years of graduation.
Working as a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
After earning their licensure, women's health nurse practitioners can find jobs in various healthcare settings including women's health clinics, community health centers, and hospital gynecology departments. Full-time nurse practitioners earn a median base salary of $110,000, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners.
Women's Health Clinics
Offer patients regular examinations to monitor their gynecological health; assess health issues; offer treatment options; in some states, prescribe medication
Meet with many different patients across the lifespan; diagnose acute and sometimes urgent health conditions; give treatment plans
Community Health Centers
Educate patients on gynecological and women's health; provide fundamental care like pap smears and breast exams; offer contraception to patients
Becoming a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner: FAQs
How long do you have to go to school to be a women's health nurse practitioner?
The time needed to complete a WHNP program depends on the type of program and on students’ prior nursing education. Nurses with associate degrees may pursue RN-to-MSN programs, which take up to three years to finish. RNs who have completed their bachelor’s can earn an MSN in two years. BSN-to-DNP programs require 3-4 years.
How many hours a week does a women's health nurse practitioner work?
Although WHNPs earn reasonably high salaries, they often work long hours. WHNPs employed in doctors’ offices or clinics typically work eight-hour shifts five days a week. Hospitals and other in-patient settings may require these nurses to work on call and overtime in 12- or 24-hour shifts, swing shifts, and graveyard shifts.
What is the difference between a women's health nurse practitioner and a nurse midwife?
As APRNs, WHNPs provide a full spectrum of chronic healthcare services. They specialize in women’s health issues throughout the lifespan with a focus on gynecological and reproductive health and preventive care. APRNs trained as certified nurse midwives (CNMs) also provide reproductive healthcare but with a primary focus on pregnancy, labor, childbirth, and postnatal care.
Can a WHNP deliver babies?
WHNPs and CNMs are both APRNs trained to provide an array of patient services. However, only CNMs possess the specialized training to deliver babies. WHNPs should obtain a second CNM certification in order to deliver babies.
Can NPs Start Their Own Practice?
In states that allow independent practice, NPs may establish their own practices. Owning a practice offers NPs greater autonomy and decision-making authority for the management and delivery of patient care. Requirements differ by state, with some jurisdictions requiring the presence of a physician onsite or within an accessible distance.
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Resources
Page last reviewed: April 24, 2022
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