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How to Become a
Women's Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)

Considering advancing your nursing career in the unique women’s health specialty? Here’s what you need to know.

You can advance to a primary care healthcare role across the lifespan as a women’s health nurse practitioner. The WHNP specialty is an excellent option for current RNs seeking greater autonomy in their practice and to focus their care on women’s health—in the pregnancy/childbirth period and across the lifespan as a primary care provider.

Here’s what you need to know about becoming a WHNP:

  1. Role of the WHNP
  2. Becoming a registered nurse
  3. Education requirements
  4. How to get certified
  5. Obtaining licensure in your state
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Women's health nurse practitioner reviewing test results with female patient

Know the role: what does a women's health nurse practitioner do?

A women's health nurse practitioner (WHNP) is an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who focuses on providing healthcare services to women across the lifespan, from adolescence to menopause and beyond.

While many registered nurses can specialize in labor & delivery or OBGYN, WHNPs have more autonomy to provide preventive & educational primary care for women across all ages and stages of life.

General roles & responsibilities

Specific duties and responsibilities of a women’s health nurse practitioner can include:

  • Performing physical examinations and order diagnostic tests
  • Prescribe medications
  • Develop and implement treatment plans
  • Refer patients to specialists, and collaborate with other healthcare staff to ensure proper care
  • Routine check-ups, pap smears, breast exams, screenings for sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
  • Provide education and counseling on many health topics

The importance of preventive care and education

WHNPs play a vital role in preventive care to educate their patients on how to achieve the best health outcomes. Their counsel covers a variety of topics, including:

  • Family planning and contraception
  • Pregnancy and prenatal care
  • Menopause and hormone therapy
  • Sexual health and education
  • Nutrition and exercise
  • Mental health and well-being

WHNPs can diagnose and treat a variety of different conditions for women, including:

  • Gynecological problems, such as endometriosis, irregular periods, or pelvic pain 
  • Urinary tract infections and bladder problems
  • Sexually transmitted infections
  • Chronic conditions, such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and thyroid disorders
  • Mental health conditions, such as anxiety and depression

Where can women’s health NPs work?

Women’s health nurse practitioners can work in several different types of healthcare facilities, including:

  • Doctor’s offices
  • Women’s health centers
  • Family planning centers
  • Clinics and hospitals
  • Academic settings as a teacher or researcher

Comparisons to other roles in women’s health

There are several different types of healthcare professionals involved in women’s health, including WHNP and:

  • OBGYN nurse practitioners. These NPs may be WHNPs, Family Nurse Practitioners (FNP), and even Adult Gerontology NPs that have chosen to focus on pregnancy and childbirth, as opposed to serving a primary care role through the lifespan.
  • OBGYN physicians. Obstetricians have a higher level of expertise in complex pregnancies, high-risk deliveries, and performing gynecological surgeries.
  • Certified nurse midwives (CNM). Nurse midwives play a different role in the pregnancy and childbirth period, and can also deliver babies. Learn more about the biggest differences between CNM and WHNP.
  • Labor & delivery nurses. These types of RNs provide direct care to patients during labor and delivery, though they do not have an advanced degree. They can perform and read vital signs, administer medications, assist with breastfeeding, or perform newborn assessments.
  • OBGYN RNs. An RN who works in OBGYN can potentially assist with routine patient care tasks for patients in an OBGYN department outside of strictly labor and delivery.

2. Becoming a registered nurse

If you are already a licensed, practicing RN, you can skip to #3.

If you are not yet a licensed RN, you’ll need to first pursue that licensure before considering working towards a women’s health specialty as an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse (APRN). 

That means your first step is to earn a nursing degree and take the additional steps needed to officially become a registered nurse

You have a several options to begin your nursing education with an eye on WHNP in the future.

Once you’ve earned a nursing degree, you’ll need to pass the National Council Licensure Examination for Registered Nurses (NCLEX-RN) exam and meet the board of nursing requirements in your state to begin practicing as an RN. You can then pursue the advanced education and credential you need in the WHNP specialty.

The nursing school experience, and working as an RN, can really help you determine what career path you want to follow. There are many possibilities in the field of nursing, especially as you climb the ladder into advanced practice.

A note regarding the FNP pathway

 

Some women’s health nurse practitioners have a background as a Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP)

Keep in mind this is a separate track, despite an FNP curriculum containing some coursework covering women’s health topics. The National Certification Corporation (NCC), the board certifying agency for women’s health nurse practitioners, does not accept FNP education as eligible education to sit for WHNP-BC certification. 

If you eventually choose to broaden your specialty to FNP in the future, you will need to enroll in a post master’s certificate WHNP program to become qualified to sit for the WHNP-BC exam.

3. Earn a master’s degree in nursing

You’ll need to earn at least an MSN in the women’s health NP specialty to qualify for certification and eventually practice in your state.

A master’s-level WHNP curriculum includes the advanced knowledge and skills you need to pass the certification exam and become fully prepared to excel in your first WHNP job.

Our School of Nursing offers multiple pathways for current RNs to earn an MSN-WHNP:

If you are an RN who earned an MSN via an MSN Direct Entry program, you’ll need to earn a post master’s certificate in WHNP to qualify for the WHNP-BC exam.

Waived Enrollment Fee

Now Through June 30th

4. Pass the WHNP-BC certification exam

After graduating with your master’s degree, the next step you’ll need to take is to get certified. This will put you in the best position to compete for the WHNP job you really want. Most states require certification in order to practice.

Graduate from a Herzing University WHNP program and you will be qualified to sit for the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner – Board Certified (WHNP-BC) certification exam from the National Certification Corporation (NCC).

The certification is valid for 3 years. Learn more about the steps you’ll need to take to maintain WHNP-BC certification.

5. Obtain licensure in your state

Note the difference between being licensed and certified: becoming certified shows employers you are capable of patient care in a women’s health setting, while licensure determines if you are legally allowed to practice in your state of residence.

Each state has their own requirements for licensure as an advanced practice nurse. You will need to locate the requirements, which can be found on your state’s board of nursing website along with the current process for licensure.

Keep in mind employers may require board certification before hiring a WHNP even if practicing without certification is legally permissible in your state.

Frequently Asked Questions

The National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health’s Guidelines for Practice and Education outline a large list of WHNP competencies across several important categories:

  • Client-centered care
  • Primary care
  • Women’s gynecologic, sexual, reproductive, menopause-transition, and post-menopause healthcare
  • Male sexual and reproductive healthcare
  • Obstetric care
  • Professional role

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners earn an average salary of $128,490 per year ($61.78 per hour). Pay depends on many factors, including your location, what healthcare institution you work for and your level of experience.*

Discover the average nurse practitioner salary by state and find out what nurse practitioners make on average near you. Salaries can vary between specialties, and the BLS does not provide a specific estimate for WHNP.

The 2018 NPWH Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Workforce Demographics and Compensation Survey highlights several environments in which WHNPs practice, including:

  • Private practice offices
  • Community health centers
  • Hospital-based clinics
  • Academic medical centers
  • Schools and colleges
  • Correctional facilities
  • Inpatient settings
  • Patients’ homes

WHNPs may work in urban, suburban, or rural areas, and may also potentially provide telehealth services (remote care).

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs for nurse practitioners are expected to grow by 45% from 2022-2032.* Given the projected growth in the baby-boom population the need for advanced medical care is expected to rise, and nurse practitioners will continue to be leaned on as primary contributors in this level of healthcare.

We offer multiple options for current nurses, including pathways for ASN/ADN and BSN degree holders.

View our available online Women's Health Nurse Practitioner programs.

Both WHNP and certified nurse midwives (CNM) are advanced practice nurses with specialized roles for women, but they have unique focuses in terms of scope of practice.

Women’s health nurse practitioners specialize in providing primary health care to women across the lifespan, while nurse midwives are more focused strictly on the pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Midwives may deliver babies, but WHNP cannot.

Each has their own unique certification and educational requirements, as well as differences in salary potential.

Learn more about the primary differences between a WHNP and certified nurse midwife.

According to the 2018 NPWH Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Workforce Demographics and Compensation Survey, the significant majority of WHNP describe direct patient care as their primary role (84%).

Some WHNP may work in academia, management/administration, research, or health policy/advocacy. 

However, at this time there are no separate certifications for different types of WHNP: only the primary WHNP-BC certification from the National Certification Corporation (NCC).

Precise scope of practice can vary by state and employer. The American Associate of Nurse Practitioners (AANP) provides a brief summary of the scope of practice common to all nurse practitioners.

You may have some initial questions about what a WHNP can and can’t do. For instance, can WHNP…

  • Write prescriptions? Yes, nurse practitioners may write prescriptions.
  • See male patients? Yes, some WHNPs may treat men. WHNPs are educationally prepared to care for individuals inclusive of sex, gender, or sexual orientation.
  • Deliver babies? No, only midwives or obstetricians (Obstetrics and Gynecology - OBGYN) can deliver babies.
  • Prenatal care? Yes, WHNP can provide pregnancy testing, fertility evaluation, prenatal visits, and postpartum care. 
  • Be called an “OBGYN” nurse practitioner? Some WHNP may be informally regarded as an OBGYN NP if their care focuses primarily on the pregnancy, childbirth, and postpartum period. However, no WHNP has the same scope of practice as an OBGYN physician (or nurse midwife).
  • Do mammograms? No. WHNP can order mammograms but they do not perform the actual exams.

You’ll learn more specifics over the course of the WHNP program.

You can take these steps and become a WHNP. You are possible.

Once you’ve graduated with a degree and earned certification and licensure, you’ll be ready to succeed in your first job as a WHNP.

You may discover more advancement opportunities in the future. You could pursue additional specialties by enrolling in a post master’s certificate program—or reach for the heights of the nursing profession by working towards earning a Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP).

Our School of Nursing is designed to provide you with the degree pathways necessary to help you build a fulfilling, rewarding career in the field of nursing. We know you are possible.

Learn more about our WHNP program

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* Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment and Wage Statistics 2023 / Occupational Outlook Handbook 2022. BLS estimates do not represent entry-level wages and/or salaries. Multiple factors, including prior experience, age, geography market in which you want to work and degree field, will affect career outcomes and earnings. Herzing neither represents that its graduates will earn the average salaries calculated by BLS for a particular job nor guarantees that graduation from its program will result in a job, promotion, salary increase or other career growth.

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