How to Become a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner
April 01, 2021
Women's health nurse practitioners stand at the forefront of a movement that recognizes gender-based disparities in healthcare and attempts to redress them. This advanced practice nursing profession requires at least a master's degree in nursing.
Health disparities between women and men are a known issue, with healthcare gender biases negatively impacting women's outcomes and even jeopardizing the lives of female patients. Day in and day out, women's health nurse practitioners across the country work to address this issue.
According to the nonprofit professional and advocacy organization Nurse Practitioners in Women's Health (NPWH), these advanced practice nurses address gender issues through "strategic partnerships that advance health equity and holistic models of care" for women. They:
- Advocate for holistic healthcare that addresses female patients' unique needs over their lifetimes
- Guarantee that key women's health issues are not overlooked by providers, policymakers, and researchers
- Ensure women have the right to make their own healthcare choices
- Work to increase women's wellness and health outcomes and eliminate disparities affecting women
Women's health nurse practitioners are more than healthcare practitioners. They challenge conventional medicine and advocate for new approaches and attitudes. They empower women healthcare consumers, improving outcomes for them and for future patients.
In this guide, we'll cover how to become a women's health nurse practitioner by examining:
- What a women's health nurse practitioner does
- Steps to becoming a women's health nurse practitioner
- Best programs and schools to become a women's health nurse practitioner
- Certifications to become a women's health nurse practitioner
- Tools and resources for becoming a women's health nurse practitioner
What a women's health nurse practitioner does
Nurse practitioners fall under the category of advanced practice registered nurses (APRN). They act as primary-care and specialty providers. In many states, they can perform the same tasks doctors perform, including prescribing medications. Their duties include:
- Evaluating patients
- Taking health histories
- Performing physical exams
- Ordering and interpreting lab work and diagnostic tests
- Diagnosing medical conditions
- Helping patients manage health issues through medications and other treatments
- Discussing treatment plans with patients
- Monitoring chronic illnesses
- Promoting wellness through preventive screenings and preventive care
Women's health nurse practitioners provide lifelong women's health services. Some duties change with age, but general practices include:
- Well woman examinations
- Breast cancer screenings
- Pap smears, HPV screenings
- STD screenings, treatment, and follow-up care
- Pregnancy testing
- Prenatal visits
- Pregnancy care
- Postpartum care
- Adjusting to a changing menstrual cycle
- Evaluating fertility
- UTI care
- Menopause care
- Screenings for general health issues like heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes
How much does a women's health nurse practitioner make?
According to Glassdoor, the average nurse practitioner earns $117,292 in base pay and $5,006 in additional compensation (e.g., bonuses). Payscale lists the average annual income for women's health nurse practitioners at $90,050 in base pay, plus additional income opportunities (over $3,000 in bonuses, $12,500 in commissions, and $3,349 in profit sharing).
Steps to becoming a women's health nurse practitioner
How long does it take to become a women's health nurse practitioner?
NPs are required to hold an advanced degree—either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).
The academic journey to the nurse practitioner role is a long one. A bachelor's degree, or an associate's degree followed by an RN-to-BSN program, typically take four years to complete for full-time students. MSN programs typically take two years to complete full-time, and (of course) longer part-time. A full-time DNP typically takes three to four years for a BSN to complete; MSNs can complete the degree in one to two years (you do not need an MSN to pursue a DNP).
If you are a practicing registered nurse (RN) with an associate's degree, you can enroll in an RN-to-MSN program. These can typically be completed in three years of full-time study or four years of part-time study. To become a registered nurse, you must pass the NCLEX-RN exam and earn licensure from the state in which you practice.
Regardless of whether you pursue the MSN or the DNP, the program you choose must offer a women's health care specialization and the chance to provide the following types of care to female patients (in both inpatient and outpatient settings):
- Primary care
All told, expect undergraduate and graduate study to take six to eight years.
Best programs and schools to become a women's health nurse prtitioner
Approximately 400 academic institutions offer nurse practitioner degree programs. Of these, 43 offer a specialization in women's health, according to the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP). As you consider programs:
- Confirm the institution offers a women's health concentration
- Decide between an online or on-campus program
- Choose the degree program you prefer (MNS or DNP)
- Make sure you meet admissions requirements
- Research each program's accreditation and graduation rate
The AANP provides a search engine where prospective students can search programs based on state, focus, and degree option.
The following nurse practitioner programs are highly ranked by US News & World Report and offer a specialization in women's health:
- Duke University (100 percent online)
- Frontier Nursing University (online and on-campus available)
- Ohio State University - Main Campus (online and on-campus available)
- University of Alabama at Birmingham (online and on-campus available) University of Illinois at Chicago (online and on-campus available)
- University of Pennsylvania (on-campus only)
- Vanderbilt University (online and on-campus available)
- Yale University (on-campus only)
How respected are online women's health nurse practitioner degrees?
The answer should be evident from the list above: many top schools offer this degree online, and some offer it exclusively online. Obviously, top institutions have determined that a women's health nurse practitioner degree can be delivered effectively online. More to the point, they would not offer the degree if they weren't confident employers would accept it.
In the early days of online education, there were valid concerns about whether complex content could be delivered virtually. Advances in online pedagogy and vastly expanded bandwidth capacities have obliterated most of those concerns. As a rule of thumb, if a reputable university is offering a program online, it is probably of comparable quality to anything the school offers on-campus. You should be wary of programs at schools you've never heard of, schools that lack accreditation, and websites that focus on ease of admission and obtaining financial aid.
Certifications are required to become a women's health nurse practitioner?
The Women's Health Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (WHNP-BC), offered through the The National Certification Corporation (NCC), is the sole certification exam for this profession. All women's health nurse practitioners must pass this exam to practice. The exam, which is administered by computer, consists of 175 multiple-choice questions to be answered within a three-hour time limit. It currently costs $325 to take the exam.
Tools and resources for becoming a women's health nurse practitioner
As you further explore the career, here are some resources about finding employment in the field from top professional organizations:
- NPWH Career Center: The NPWH Career Center provides a job-alert notification system and space to upload a resume specifically for NPs specializing in women's health.
- Women's Healthcare: A Clinical Journal for NPs: This peer-reviewed journal offers articles on policy and best practices.
- AANP Job Center: The AANP Job Center helps all nurse practitioners find jobs through alerts and a résumé posting system.
- _Employment Negotiations for Nurse Practitioners, AANP_: This AANP resource offers helpful tips for calculating the job opportunity for you.
- Research and Reports: Another AANP resource, this one providing data on NP job satisfaction, compensation, demographics, and roles.
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