Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner


What is a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP)?

A Women's Health Nurse Practitioner is an essential member of the healthcare team.  They are licensed only to care for women (not men or children) and will perform health exams, teach patients, order diagnostic tests, diagnose health conditions, and prescribe medicine or medical equipment. 

However, the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner has a distinctive outlook in which they place a significant emphasis on preventative care instead of only diagnosing and treating disease.  WHNPs focus on promoting health maintenance and patient safety in their population.  This attention makes for healthier communities.

The WHNP is an extremely educated Registered Nurse (RN) who, in general, has received a graduate degree (Master of Science in Nursing) or higher (Doctorate of Nursing Practice or Doctor of Philosophy). Nurse Practitioners increasingly receive a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) or Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) as an entry to practice, but it is not yet required.  WHNPs of the past were grandfathered in with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN).  However, entry-level Nurse Practitioners can no longer enter practice with a BSN.

The Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner is a team member that collaborates closely with a group of physicians, specialists, nurses, and ancillary staff.  The WHNP will often work closely with women’s health providers like Obstetricians, Gynecologists, Physician Assistants (PAs), and Certified Nurse-Midwives (CNMs).  The scope of the WHNP varies according to their state’s rules and regulations, but many states have pending legislation.   The WHNP may work directly under the supervision of a physician, share a collaborative agreement with a doctor, or practice independently. 

Why do we need a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner?

The nation is facing an increasing shortage of obstetricians and gynecologists (OB-GYNS).  Half of all counties in the United States don’t have a single obstetrician. The causes are numerous.

First, obstetricians often face burnout.  Being on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week is a tall order.  They also see 30+ patients per clinic day, perform many cesarean and gynecologic surgeries per week, and attend vaginal births at all hours of the day.  

Second, the compensation is higher than primary care medicine, but many feel the pay is inadequate.  The salary of obstetricians may not be sufficient for the stressful vocation and the irregular hours.  

Third, the cost of medical malpractice and risk involved in lawsuits drives away many birth professionals. Since WHNPs don't deal directly with labor and birth, the malpractice cost and risks are lower.  In fact, the risk of malpractice is so great that one in three obstetricians work in labor and delivery for less than 12 years.

Women's Health Nurse Practitioners act to help fill the void by seeing obstetric and gynecologic patients in clinics. They can do primary care, gynecologic care, menopausal, and obstetric care for women.  Women of low socioeconomic standing in urban and rural areas are at increased risk for poor pregnancy and birth outcomes.  The WHNP provides care to these disadvantaged populations in urban and rural areas that lack physician support.  

Focusing on women’s health can improve the overall health of the community.  Women make up more than half of the population are the healthcare decision makers for their children, spouses, and elderly parents.  The resourceful care by WHNPs can improve the health of women, families, and communities.

What does a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner do? 

The job description of a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner differs based on the chosen position. A WHNP follows the state laws that regulate the type of activities and care that a Nurse Practitioner may legally perform.  In general, Women's Health Nurse Practitioners provide healthcare to women of all ages and care for conditions ranging from preconception to well women visits to menopause.  

A Women's Health Nurse Practitioner must be skilled in choosing the diagnostic tests (e.g. laboratory samples, blood tests, and radiology tests) that are appropriate for each age group, visit type, and diagnosis while being able to both educate and empower patients.  

Job Description

WHNPs focus on patient-centered interventions like minimizing stress, maximizing wellness, and encouraging healthy lifestyle changes. Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners have the unique role of seeing women every year for their annual visit, screening for cervical and breast cancer, and assessing for other risks factors for disease and chronic health conditions.  Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners have the clinical expertise to diagnose medical conditions and prescribe medications. WHNPs work with other members of the healthcare team, connect with patients, use medical judgment, and provide compassionate care.

Women Health Nurse Practitioners provide primary health care services for women.  WHNPs develop history and physicals, care plans, diagnose medical conditions, order diagnostic tests, medications, and create referrals to specialists or physicians when appropriate.  WHNPs typically work in outpatient clinics, but often work in education too. 

The role of all Nurse Practitioners is to care for the population specialty of their choice.  In the case of Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners, caring for women is their selected population.  Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners provide health care services to females from adolescence to the elderly.

WHNPs take a national certification exam that is specific to their specialized scope of practice. If the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner can pass this test, it means that the WHNP has achieved the specialized skills and training needed to practice clinically. The WHNP takes an exam given by the National Certification Corporation (NCC).  The Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification, Inc. (ABSNC) accredits the NCC to certify WHNP-BCs.  

Scope of Practice

The Scope of Practice for a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner depends on the state that you are licensed.  NPs can practice both autonomously and in conjunction with physicians and other healthcare professionals.  Some states allow WHNPs to practice completely independent and some require complete physician oversight.

All WHNPs are permitted to perform primary care, prenatal care, well-woman visits, preconception counseling, contraceptive care, and care for the menopausal woman.  WHNPs focus on caring for the healthy woman from adolescence past menopause.

How much does a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner make?

A Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner salary must reflect the need for increased medical knowledge, clinical development, and risk for liability and malpractice.  This surge in skills and responsibility requires fair compensation.  Thankfully, the outlook is ideal for future WHNPs.  

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017), the market for all types of Nurse Practitioners will grow by 36%, surpassing the average job growth for many other U.S. professions.  The need for WHNPs will continue to rise as the population ages and the number of OB/GYN decline.  Choosing a career as a WHNP will give you career security, a positive job outlook, a decent benefits package, and appealing pay.

The average national salary for a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner is $120,955 annually according to Glassdoor.  The pay range for WHNPs across the United States is between $96,000 to $131,000.  

The Bureau of Labor Statistics (2017) estimates that a total of 166,280 Nurse Practitioners are employed.  There are approximately 12,000 to 15,000 WHNPs in current practice in the United States 

WHNPs practice in physician’s offices, outpatient facilities, hospitals, public health departments, and colleges, universities, and professional schools.

Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Certification

To become a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner, you must first earn a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Nursing (BSN) from an accredited college or university.  Next, you must pass the NCLEX-RN examination and become a Registered Nurse.  You will enter into a Master of Science of Nursing (MSN) or Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) program for Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners.  Most programs require clinical RN experience before program admission.  

The certification program makes sure that the board-certified WHNPs maintain the minimum professional standards of the certifying board. Once a WHNP is Board Certified, they become licensed as a WNHP-BC.  

The national certifying body that grants WHNPs national certification is the National Certification Corporation (NCC).  The Accreditation Board for Specialty Nursing Certification, Inc. (ABSNC) issued continuing accreditation to the National Certification Corporation (NCC) for their WHNP-BC program through 2021.

The National Certification Exam

Certification occurs from passing a national certification exam that signifies that the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner achieved the practical skills and knowledge required for professional clinical practice as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner.  After you take the WHNP exam, you will find out immediately if you have passed or failed.

According to 2017 passing rates, the average pass rate was 90% for the NCC WHNP exam. If you fail the NCC WHNP exam, you can attempt to retake after 90 days of the last testing date. 

After passing the exam, you will have to apply to the state board for licensure in each state in which you would like to practice. Every state’s rules and regulations define the scope of practice for Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners.