Women of all stages and ages have unique, often complex healthcare needs, yet access to quality reproductive care remains very limited in many parts of the country, particularly in rural and medically underserved areas. However, the growing presence of women’s health nurse practitioners is bucking this trend, improving women’s health and wellness outcomes and decreasing health disparities along the way.
Become a women’s health nurse practitioner and you’ll be part of a revolution in women’s healthcare. You’ll serve as an independent, board-certified nursing professional who deftly provides well-woman, reproductive and gynecological care, as well as prenatal and postpartum care, often filling the void left by a lack of OB/GYN physicians.
The Freedom to Choose How and Where you Want to Work
Sure, women’s health nurse practitioners land jobs in private, physician-led OB/GYN practices, but more often than not, these patient-focused caregivers are part of NP-led practices, community health clinics, government-funded women’s health clinics, correctional facilities, HIV clinics, and health departments, many of which serve as the sole providers of women’s care in low socio-economic and rural areas throughout the country.
Women’s health nurse practitioners are experts in providing care throughout a woman’s lifespan, and their education and training allows them to provide most, if not all, of a woman’s healthcare needs throughout her life. Contraceptive care; wellness counseling; STD screening, testing, and treatment; pregnancy testing; fertility evaluations; and prenatal and postnatal care are all well within the wheelhouse of women’s health nurse practitioners.
These NPs also often serve as the primary caregivers of women, routinely screening them for general health conditions such as heart disease and hypertension and helping them make smarter lifestyle choices.
The Fight for Autonomous Practice and Prescriptive Authority Among Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners
As of 2020, the fight for autonomy among APRNs has made significant in-roads, with 28 states and Washington D.C. allowing women’s health nurse practitioners to practice and prescribe independent of a physician (14 of those states require NPs to complete a specific number of practice hours/years before they can begin practicing independently). In these states, women’s health nurse practitioners are leading the charge when it comes to improving access to well women care and other services, thanks to their ability to provide care without operating under a restrictive physician arrangement. As such, these providers are able to reach millions of women throughout the U.S. who would otherwise not have access to high-quality, reproductive care.
The remaining states have varying degrees of restrictive practice regulations for NPs, with many requiring some form of physician oversight.
The Path to Becoming a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner: Education and National Certification Requirements
The MSN-WHNP is the minimum degree requirement to become a women’s health nurse practitioner. However, the more these APRNs fight for the right to practice autonomously, the more they are realizing the value of earning a DNP.
Earning a DNP puts women’s health NPs on par with other doctoral-prepared professionals within the interdisciplinary healthcare team, including psychologists, pharmacists, physical therapists, and occupational therapists, while earning them the respect and recognition they so rightly deserve as independent healthcare practitioners. The DNP also comes with higher salaries, in many cases, and greater professional opportunities. And for currently practicing APRNs, it provides the perfect opportunity to earn an additional credentials as a board-certified women’s health NP (Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified (WHNP-BC) through the National Certification Corporation).
With the movement toward the DNP gaining steam, options for earning this highest practice-based nursing degree are also increasing. As a result, if you have your sights set on earning the DNP, you’ll be able to do so through BSN-DNP programs (designed for nurses with a BSN), MSN-DNP programs (designed for both APRN and non-APRN nurses with an MSN), and direct-entry DNP programs (designed for career changers who have completed a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing major).
The MSN-DNP consists of about 36 credits and two-years of full-time study. The BSN-DNP includes the coursework and clinical components of the MSN and DNP and consists of about 73 credits and three years of full-time study. And the direct-entry DNP includes the clinical and coursework components of the MSN (including RN licensure) and DNP and consists of between 65-80 credits and four and a half years of full-time study.
The curriculum of the DNP-WHNP includes courses that meet the AACN’s 8 DNP Essentials, along with all required courses to earn national certification as a WHNP. A sample of courses specific to this chosen APRN role and focus include:
- Reproductive Healthcare for Women at Risk
- Women’s Reproductive Healthcare
- Women’s Health Issues
- Advanced Concepts in Women’s Health
You may even take additional courses to gain advanced knowledge in areas such as:
- Breast health/oncology
- Gynecologic oncology
- Maternal-fetal medicine
- Reproductive endocrinology/infertility
- Forensics/sexual assault
The DNP also includes about 500 hours of clinical experiences, which include both clinical immersions and formal internships, and a DNP final project.
Upon graduation, you’ll qualify to take the National Certification Corporation’s Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner Certification (WHNP-BC) examination to become board-certified and state licensed as a WHNP.
Salary Highlights for Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners
Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH) reported that as of 2018, the mean, annual salary of certified women’s health nurse practitioners was $99,767. The Medscape 2019 APRN Compensation Report revealed that WHNPs earned a gross salary of $98,000.
The Medscape report also found that NPs with a doctorate degree earned about $7,000 more than their MSN-educated peers.