Career Spotlight: Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

Professional woman smiling while outdoors
Written by Marie Hasty, BSN, RN Content Writer, IntelyCare
A women's health nurse practitioner helps a patient.

A women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) is the access point to primary care and women-focused medicine for many people. WHNPs see women at every stage of life — from young adults to mature patients — broadening access to preventative care and medical treatment. They can work in private practice settings, in medical centers, and in community health to help women live healthier lives.

Despite women making up more than half of the population, women’s healthcare outcomes have lagged compared to men’s. Women experience more chronic pain, depression, autoimmune diseases, osteoporosis, and dementia. Additionally, many women’s health issues are still poorly understood and lack effective treatment options. WHNPs seek to meet these needs.

Women’s health nurse practitioners are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who specialize in women’s health areas, including:

  • Endometriosis
  • Menstrual disorders
  • Contraceptive counseling
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Prenatal care
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Postpartum depression
  • Fertility and family planning
  • Breast cancer
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Uterine or vaginal infections
  • Mental health concerns
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Hypertension
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease

What Do Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners Do?

Working in women’s health necessitates both clinical expertise and interpersonal skills. The daily tasks in this role depend on where a WHNP works. Here are some of the things a WHNP might do in a day:

  • Head-to-toe assessments
  • Pelvic examinations
  • Laboratory testing interpretations
  • Family planning counseling
  • Prenatal and postpartum care
  • Papanicolaou (Pap) tests
  • Responding to gestational emergencies
  • Prescribing and managing hormone therapies
  • Health counseling
  • Encouraging lifestyle changes and preventative health measures

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Scope of Practice

WHNPs are sometimes called “mid-level” providers, although this term can be a misnomer. In some states, NPs must practice under the supervision of a physician. In others, they can treat patients without a physician’s orders. In either case, they tend to work independently with patients and carry their own patient load.

Through rigorous education, WHNPs have demonstrated clinical expertise in these scope areas:

  • Providing pharmacological therapy as it pertains to women’s health needs throughout the lifespan.
  • Offering general health supervision and education.
  • Obtaining gynecological and obstetric histories, performing pertinent exams, and obtaining/interpreting diagnostic studies.
  • Identifying what is inside and out of normal limits, formulating diagnoses, and providing education and management.
  • Education and management for patients who need assistance with family planning.
  • Providing prenatal and postpartum education and management for low-risk pregnancies.
  • Screening for high-risk pregnancies, complications, and referring/collaborating as appropriate.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner vs. OB-GYN

WHNPs and obstetric/gynecological physicians share the same demographic of patients and treat many of the same problems. However, women’s health nurse practitioners tend to have a focus on preventative care and health counseling, and they don’t usually perform surgeries or work with high-risk patients. On the other hand, OB-GYNs perform the same services as a WHNP, but they also see riskier patients and may perform surgeries.

How Much Do Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners Make?

The average women’s health nurse practitioner salary is $124,680 per year. Most WHNPs make between $87,340 and $165,240 in a year. Experience, education, and location can determine what you’ll make as a nurse practitioner.

Curious about where you could make more in this role? These are the states with the highest pay for NPs:

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Education Requirements

Interested in this specialty? If you’re not yet a nurse, starting in this role may be about a decade away. If you’re already an RN, becoming an WHNP could take as little as two years. Here are the educational and work requirements to enter this role:

1. Bachelor’s degree in nursing. Most programs require a BSN for admittance, although ADN-to-MSN programs admit nurses with associate degrees. Whichever degree you choose, you’ll need to pass the NCLEX-RN to become a licensed nurse. Learn the difference between ADN and BSN degrees.

2. Clinical experience. Many degree programs require some experiencein women’s health or primary care before admittance. Working in OB-GYN nurse jobs, in an outpatient women’s health clinic, or in another area of women’s health will help you gain the baseline skills to enter WHNP programs.

3. WHNP degree. These degrees come in two forms — a master’s of science in nursing (MSN) and doctorate of nursing practice (DNP). Whichever program you choose will include courses in reproductive healthcare, gynecological care, family planning, and more. You’ll also complete clinical rotations in different locations. If you enroll in one of the online women’s health nurse practitioner programs, keep in mind that you’ll still need to do in-person practicum.

4. State licensure. Once you’ve graduated from a degree program, you’ll need to pass the licensure exam to practice in your state. This is called the WHNP-BC certification, and it’s provided by the National Certification Corporation (NCC). With experience, you can also apply for a compact NP license, which will allow you to practice in some other states.

5. Additional education. You may choose to pursue additional certifications in women’s health areas, such as:

  • A post-graduate certificate (PGC) program, which focuses on leadership, clinical evaluation and scholarship, and evidence-based practice.
  • A post-graduate women’s health program, which focuses on gender-related studies, cultural competency, and interprofessional communication.

Looking for Jobs in Women’s Health?

Now that you know more about how to become awomen’s health nurse practitioner, you might be curious about other roles as well. Have a look at the latest nurse practitioner jobs in women’s health and additional specialties on IntelyCare.