Routine preventive health screenings are a critical component of women’s health, because specific screening tests by nurses and other medical professionals can often provide insight into habits that can be changed to maximize health and wellbeing. Women’s health nurse practitioners are generally responsible for administering the following preventive health screenings, and educating their female patients on why each test may be necessary.
An annual visit to a women’s health nurse practitioner or physician is highly recommended to maintain overall health and wellness. During these visits—which are generally not the result of an immediate medical need— women have the opportunity to discuss any concerns they may have, any symptoms they may be experiencing, and be assessed for any potential risk or future problems.
Gestational diabetes screening
Gestational diabetes is a condition that may begin during pregnancy. It can result in serious health risks for the pregnant woman and her child. Gestational diabetes means there is generally a greater chance of complications occurring during the pregnancy, labor, or the delivery process. Also, children may be born at a larger-than-normal size, with potentially dangerously low blood sugar levels. Screening for the disease uses an oral glucose tolerance test, and is recommended for every woman between the 24th and 28th weeks of pregnancy. 
Blood pressure screening
Women’s health nurse practitioners should recommend that patients have their blood pressure checked at least every two to five years. The purpose is to measure how much strain is being placed on the heart and blood vessels. If recurring unsafe blood pressure levels are discovered, patients should be advised to have their pressure checked yearly. If unchecked and left to spiral out of control, heightened blood pressure can place patients at a significantly higher risk of heart attack, stroke, and other adverse health conditions.
Though high cholesterol on its own isn’t always a sign of negative health, a complete cholesterol test can determine whether a patient is at risk of developing heart disease. If normal cholesterol levels are consistently discovered, testing need only be performed every five years for women, unless they undergo significant lifestyle changes, such as extensive weight gain.
Breast cancer screenings
Breast cancer self-exams and professionally administered mammograms can save a woman’s life, especially if the patient has specific risk factors, such as a family history of breast cancer diagnoses. Women’s health nurse practitioners should teach their patients to perform a breast self-exam, and suggest that women perform them regularly, preferably on a monthly basis. Patients should also be advised that more comprehensive professional preventive screening options exist for breast cancer, like breast ultrasound, MRI scans, and mammograms.
Cervical cancer screenings
The pelvic exam and Pap smear are two methods currently used by women’s health nurse practitioners and physicians to detect cervical cancer in female patients. Patients should be advised to undergo these procedures beginning at age 21 to most reliably detect cervical cancer before it becomes unmanageable.
To prevent bones from becoming weak and brittle, women beyond the age of 65 should be screened for osteoporosis, as should younger women who have a similar fracture risk (within 10 years or so) to 65-year-old women. Offering female patients these preventive screenings allows educated nurses to prescribe treatment strategies and medication to prevent bone breakage and deterioration.
Screenings for sexually transmitted diseases
Women’s health nurse practitioners must provide preventive education to help women avoid infections that are transmitted through sexual contact. During regular pelvic exams, women should at least be tested for the most common sexually transmitted diseases, like chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling
After giving birth, women sometimes struggle to find adequate support in selecting the most appropriate breastfeeding supplies, and developing a lactation schedule that works best for them and their newborn/s. Women’s health nurse practitioners can be an invaluable resource for their patients by consulting them on the most practical breastfeeding solutions, and educating them on any potential obstacles they may encounter.
Interfamily and domestic violence screening and counseling
Unfortunately, some women are victimized by their spouses or other family members. Women’s health nurse practitioners are often trained to identify the signs of interfamily violence and domestic spousal abuse. Counseling the victims is one strategy that can work to prevent further instances of harm.
Under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), approximately 9.5 million women received affordable health insurance, and approximately 55 million women gained no-cost access to critical preventive medical care. If the act is repealed, many women, especially those of low-income, will likely be forced to live without health insurance; limiting their access to birth control, maternity care, and other preventive services.  Regardless of any legislative changes, certified nurse practitioners who have a Master of Science in Nursing are essential to the process of ensuring that as many women as possible have access to life-saving preventive medical care.
Across the country, a national shortage of primary care providers has set the stage for RNs to advance. As more states certify nurse practitioners as primary care providers, you can pursue a new avenue of nursing to fill meaningful voids in today’s health systems. At Regis College, you can earn an online post-master’s certificate to not just prepare for advancement in nursing, but to also expand services as a primary care provider.
1. U.S. National Library of Medicine
3. The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation
4. Health Resources & Services Administration
5. The Affordable Care Act & Women’s Health
6. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
7. Mayo Clinic
8. American Family Physician
10. Huff Post
11. Center for American Progress