Faculty Talks: Meet WHNP Program Director Lawana Brown, MSN, WHNP-BC

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Preparing to become a women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) could be a rewarding step forward for your career. As a WHNP, you can have the opportunity to work with complex issues, including pregnancy, childbirth, postnatal care, wellness examinations, family planning, and health issues that occur more commonly in women, such as breast cancer – with more autonomy and with greater impact.

Meet the program director of the online Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) program at Regis, Professor Lawana Brown, MSN, WHNP-BC.  Watch the video below to find out about her journey toward becoming an advanced practice nurse in the women’s health setting, WHNP industry insights, tips for success and to learn more about the online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program at Regis.

Students enrolled in the online MSN program at Regis can benefit from:

  • 100% online coursework. Complete clinical hours in your area.
  • Flexible entry paths: ADN/BSN/Bachelor’s to MSN
  • Complete in as few as 28-36 months
  • Qualify to sit for board certification exams
  • Transfer maximum credit hours

Watch the video below to learn more.


Lawana Brown: 

My name is Lawana Brown and I am the program director for the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner online track here Regis College. It’s very good to be able to speak with you today. I want to tell you a little bit about my role here at the college and talk about some roles in advanced care for nurse practitioners. So, I came into nursing through an associate degree program at a local technical college. It was a very good and rigorous program and prepared me well for bedside nursing. Once I started bedside nursing, I was working in the labor and delivery unit at a local hospital, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

I did however want to advance my degree because I knew that I might not want to do bedside nursing for my entire nursing career so I decided to go back to school and I went to Lander University here in South Carolina and pursued my RN to BSN till I got my Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree. As I worked in my job that I had there at the hospital, I began to see that I wanted to have an opportunity to have an advanced care role and be able to provide care to the patient before they got to labor and delivery, perhaps in a different setting like an office setting. So, in order to do that, I knew I’d have to get another advanced degree. So, as you’re watching this as a nurse yourself, you may be thinking “why would I want to get an advanced nursing degree?”. Most of us when we’re in nursing school, we’re thinking to ourselves that once I get done with nursing school, I’m never going to school again. I can remember having that thought.

However you’ll begin to see as you work in nursing that you will at some times want to do things a little bit differently. Maybe go into a management position maybe do some teaching or maybe just have an expanded role in your patients care other than being able to care for them at the bed side or in an office setting. Of course if you want to teach, you’ll go on to pursue the doctorate in nursing practice which is really the goal for all of us. To be able to teach and also to be able to have a role as a change agent when it comes to areas of practice and levels of practice. You’ll need to have those advanced degrees. So, other reasons that you might consider is of course you want to have more autonomy in practice, being able to make more decisions about your patient’s care, being able to have more of a share in patient education- all of those things are very important and of course you will have a higher salary. Your earning potential does increase as you advance your nursing career. Another thing to keep in mind is that when you’re working in bedside, your nursing hours are pretty much going to be 12 hour shifts or maybe eight hour shifts. You may have some nights and weekends because that is the nature of the things that go on in a hospital so we really have to consider if you want to have a change in our hours that we have to advance our nursing degree to be able to have something like a daily schedule like office hours, things of that sort.

For me, I’m going to go back again to my journey in women’s health and tell you why I chose to do women’s health. I have seven maternal aunts and my mother has seven sisters. She comes from a very large family and I’m the mother of four daughters, so I’ve seen a lot of women that have been able to care for their families and to work and to pursue different careers but sometimes, they may not have taken as good care of themselves as they did their family or their partners. So I wanted to be able to encourage women not only in my family but in my community and to educate them on the things that they needed to know about their bodies and about keeping doctor’s appointments, which became very important to me over time.

When I was young, my grandmother (my maternal grandmother) was a diabetic and all I can remember of her as actually being bedridden because she had gotten pretty ill at that time. She was an amputee as well and I thought about the fact that she spent many years caring for eleven children doing a lot to make sure their health was in good shape and not paying as much attention to her own health. So that became an important focus for making me want to go back to school – first of all to be a nurse and also having an interest in women’s health. As far as wanting to go back to be a nurse practitioner, I mentioned that I worked in the labor and delivery unit. The unit that I worked in was in a rural hospital and we had a lot of teen mothers that came through and sometimes we would have patients that would come to us to deliver a baby as a teen and maybe a couple of years they returned and in a couple of years they would return again and so I wanted to get on the other side of that – to be able to help women to make a plan for their lives, reproductive health plans, plan pregnancies and get good prenatal care. Those were things that I wanted so in order to do that, that was why I went back to school as a nurse practitioner.

Now like most nurses, nursing school seems to somehow attract challenges in your life as well. So, when I went to nursing school initially, I was going through a divorce at the time and I had four children that I had to co-parent. I had to go to work so they were a lot of challenges there but I made it through that and then having nurse practitioner school – that challenge did not change with working full-time, as some of you may have been, and so even though it was challenging, I found ways to be successful and so can you. One thing is making sure that you plan ahead, making sure that you have a work schedule and talk to your employer that will allow you to have some time to study and to get your clinical practice in, which we’ll talk about a little bit later. Make sure that you have a good support team for child care and just encouragers on your team for those moments when you feel like you can’t go on that you’ll have someone to say “yes, you can” and to remind you of your why and the reason why you’re doing this. As far as nurse practitioners in general, there about three hundred and twenty thousand or so of us throughout the country.

No doubt you may have seen a nurse practitioner in your local family practice office or in other areas. Lots of them work in urgent cares and there are about 3% of us that are women’s health nurse practitioners so it is a very specialized area but with women there are a lot of special needs they have across the lifespan. Even your common health concerns like hypertension and diabetes present a little bit differently for the female patient then they will for the male patient and of course we have the added layers of reproductive health of childbirth, of birth control – all those things that are unique to women that definitely make it a specialized area of care.

When you think about coming into our program, you may think well I need to have a background in women’s health. Now, I will tell you that it does help if you’ve had some work maybe in a labor and delivery unit or an OB office or been exposed in some way to areas where women were having well-woman exams or maybe with prescribing or you were in the area where they were doing birth control. That does help because you’ll have that layer there but we do have nurses who come in that have just been in general nursing practice on the general floors in the nursing units, maybe in intensive care units etc.

They come from all backgrounds but the one thing that they hold in common is that they’re very interested in focusing in on the care of women and even in their practice areas, they have seen the need to learn more about these disease processes in women and also about how to help women to maintain health continuously throughout their lifespans. So you can come from many different backgrounds, and some have a lot of years of experience, some not so many. Some may come without work experience, although we do find that it’s better if you had some time to really be in the field to get a feel for how to handle patients and for patient interactions.

Once you’ve graduated, what can you expect to do? Well, in your state you no doubt will have state health departments. That is a good place to work. I worked at the state health department here in South Carolina. We offered reproductive health services, we got to treat sexually transmitted infections and doing well-woman exams. There were a lot of things that we treated and took care of there that really expanded my knowledge base and gave me a good foundation as a nurse practitioner and also you have the opportunity to work in obstetric offices, OBGYN offices, you can see women for GYN care across the lifespan and for obstetric care, you can see women who are in low risk pregnancies. Anybody with high risk would be of course cared for by an MD, although delivery is not a part of our scope of practice so if you’re one of those that want to be able to deliver babies, you’d be looking at the area of being a certified nurse midwife. If you’re going to be a women’s health nurse practitioner, there are varied areas that you can practice in. Currently, I also practice in a women’s health clinic at a local college, at a university, and so that is a unique opportunity being able to see the female students that are they are and so that’s another opportunity you would be able to look at. As you go on to look at your search for a college, you’re going to find that there are a lot of programs out there, so why choose Regis?

When you’re looking for a program, of course you want to be able to look for a program that’s going to educate you, the student, as a whole person and that’s one of our goals here at Regis – to make sure that our students are well-rounded and that they’re not only competent as far as the book knowledge that they need to have and the hands-on experience. They also have that caring element because of course the basis for all of our teachings here at Regis College is the care of the dear neighbor and so that is a principle that we’re guided by and we also help you as a student to be able to be guided by it so that’s a holistic look at caring for our students and it’s the same way that we educate them and the way that we want them to educate patients. Of course, we have students from all walks of life and we have faculty from different walks of life and that’s important because the world that we live in is very culturally diverse and your care is going to be specialized, depending on the person or the patient’s backgrounds, so you want to be sure that you’re able to speak to all of that and we do speak to that in our curriculum.

We have a faculty that has a wide range of experience and many years of experience in the nurse practitioner program that I direct. All of the faculty that are there – I’ve been in women’s health for over 15 years and all of them that are there have been there much longer than me. Some 20 years, some more than that, and they have worked in different varied practice areas and have really brought a lot to the table as far as the knowledge that they’ve had in being able to talk with students so that is definitely something that you could look at as far as Regis is concerned. Also, our class sizes- we try to keep them small because that makes for better interaction it makes for a more personal touch and so you don’t feel like you’re getting lost in the group that might be too large for you.

As far as the studies, I’ll be honest with you. The curriculum is rigorous and we want it to be that way because we want you to step out of here knowing everything that you need to, to provide a high level of care for your patients. So, you’ll have classes that will talk about pharmacology on the advanced level. You’ll have Advanced Health Assessment so that you’re taking it a level up from the assessment that you did as the bedside nurse because you’re now the provider and then in the women’s health nurse practitioner program, you’ll also have classes that will talk about primary care for women where you will discuss things like high blood pressure or diabetes and things of that sort in female patients and you’ll also have Care of the Childbearing Woman across the lifespan so that you’ll be able to learn about that as well as being able to learn about reproductive health needs, well-woman visits, breast exams, pap smears- all of those things.

You will have to get at least 600 hours of clinical time. You will have two to three semesters to complete that depending on whether you’re entering as a full-time or part-time student and that’s something you’ll be able to discuss further with student services when you get to that point. We also have a component called Clinical Seminar, which is a 75-minute once a week meeting that you’ll have with your clinical faculty and this will be where you’ll have that face-to-face interaction with faculty. It will happen once a week, it is scheduled, the times will appear in the student schedule and when you select that time, you’ll be expected to be there virtually and that attendance is mandatory. This gives you an opportunity to talk about the things that you’re seeing in your clinical with your colleagues and with your professor. It also gives you the opportunity to cover case studies and other items in-depth. We take a deep dive into those subjects so students really enjoy this because it makes them feel a connection to their professor, even though we’re online and that is one of the things that students really love and enjoy. It’s being able to have that connection and to say that hey, when I’m in this particular class with this professor, I enjoy it. The professors try to package the information in a way that makes it easy for the students to learn and to use and so that is something that’s really, really good here.

One thing I want to really emphasize to you as you prepare to enter into a nurse practitioner program which is going to be critical to your success is having a site and a preceptor identified when you enter the program. Of course, it’s always difficult to find sites for students. COVID-19 has made that even more difficult but there are sites there. So, I encourage you to start networking now, talking to your colleagues, talking to providers that you worked with in your area about being able to precept and building those bridges for later. Also, look at the fact that you may have to travel, maybe an hour or two away from where you’re living to be able to get in the clinical practice with the clinical hours that you need. Be willing to do that and go ahead and make that plan early because if you make the plan early, then you won’t to be at the point where something may come up later in the program and you may find it difficult to get those clinical hours. Students do face challenges but as I said, planning is the key to overcoming them. Plan your schedule, plan your work and make school a priority. If you have family concerns, talk to your partner, talk to those who might be able to offer you help with child care or to offer you help with things financially. Plan for everything that could possibly happen and have a back-up plan so that way you’re able to be able to be successful. We do know that there are things that will come up and that’s why we have that pathway that’s open between us and you with faculty.

We have office hours that are available every week. Faculty will answer email and that is the best way to get in touch with us (through email) and we answer emails within 24 hours during the week and within 48 hours on the weekend. We want you to succeed. We want to set you up for success so that’s why we want to be very upfront with you about the expectations and we want you to be upfront with us about the challenges that you may have so that we’ll be able to provide support if we need to. We have a very robust student services groups that can provide support in many different ways and so they are available to you as well.

Now, of course once you’re done with clinical and you’re done with class and you’ve graduated, you have to pass boards and you all know that from passing NCLEX, that was a focus when you were in your RN program and for us as women’s health nurse practitioners, NCC is the accrediting body that provides our exam and you will have a chance to see practice questions and to be set up for success in that as well but do know that you will need to pass that exam and there’s certain things you’ll need to know. The questions are the same style as the nursing questions you may have had in your boards but the focus is a little different because they want to be sure that you’ll be able now to be in this role as a provider. It’s a different level of decision-making, it’s a different level of autonomy and you need to be able to handle that. We’ll prepare you for that and you will succeed with that.

Maybe you haven’t been in the online program before and you’re a little nervous about that and wondering why should I pick an online versus an on-ground. What I can tell you is there’s a lot of flexibility with an online program. There is no on-site presence at the college required at all for these programs so that means that you’ll be able to do all of your work online and then you’ll be able to do your clinical at home in the setting that’s more familiar to you. It also means that you’ll have more flexibility with planning things as far as care for your family, care for your children, other activities that you may have that are going on. So, it allows for a lot of flexibility.

Your clinical hours would be completed as I said in your state and keep in mind that now we have learning platforms such as Moodle, which is what we use at Regis that allows for us to add in video content, we can do group assignments- we can do so many different things because of the capabilities with this particular software with these learning systems is very robust so we’re able to provide a lot of different media to assist with learning and that’s what we want to provide for each style of learning for each student. Our faculty are experts when it comes to doing the online teaching, to grading, to recording lecture, to jumping into have a live session for something that was not covered as well or something that student’s having issues with. Just reach out to the faculty and know that we’re there for your success. So take a deep breath.

We talked about a lot and maybe now you feel a little more comfortable about your decision that you’re about to make to become an advanced practice nurse, to pursue your degree as a women’s health nurse practitioner. The most important thing I want you to remember is you have to examine your “why”- what is it of the things that we’ve talked about that’s really made you make that decision that you want to advance your career. Hold on to that “why” because on the days when the assignment’s a little tough and the days when you’re a little tired from work and on the days when you think I don’t know if I can continue to do this because something’s going on in clinical that you’re having an issue with- remember that “why”, regroup, reach out to faculty and know that we’ll be there and that we’re going to try to propel you forward so that you can have success and eventually be able to serve in these advanced practice roles.

We need you. The healthcare system needs you. There’s so many areas that we can be of benefit to patients and you will be qualified to do that when you leave our program. So, I can’t determine what your “why” is for you. You can think about that but once you get your “why”, I can tell you “where”.

Come to Regis College.

We look forward to seeing you in class.