Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) play integral roles in the U.S. health care system, as female patients may prefer professionals who have undergone training in health care needs specific to women. Additionally, the aging U.S. population will require more registered nurses with specialized knowledge of older women’s needs.
There is also an increasing need for WHNPs who can address women’s health issues due to a growing nurse and physician shortage, and without an uptick in the number of qualified WHNPs, the industry — and women’s health — may suffer.
For those who are interested in helping to fill this gap, a good first step is gaining a clearer understanding of the women’s health nurse practitioner job description.
What Is a WHNP?
Nursing has several levels, each granting more responsibility than the previous but with higher educational requirements.
With that said, what is a WHNP specifically? A WHNP is a nurse who progresses through a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and registered nurse (RN) status to earn a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), usually specializing their degree in women’s health. The applicant then must pass a board certification licensing exam. Licensing requirements may vary by state, however, and applicants should review their state’s guidelines before applying.
As with any specialization, nurses may choose women’s health because they are passionate about the people they wish to serve. WHNPs are increasingly in demand as the medical community recognizes the depth of knowledge needed to address women’s unique health concerns. These professionals may help deepen the understanding of women’s health issues to improve care quality and overall patient well-being.
One of the most important areas of study is the intersection of socioeconomic circumstances and how they affect women’s health. Researchers attributed the risk to a number of factors, including lack of access to preventive care, incomplete education about health issues, and high stress levels. Without access to necessary preventive treatment and prenatal care, low-income women will likely suffer significantly higher mortality rates than the rest of the population.
However, through public pressure, adequate research, and education, the public and private health care sectors can continue to expand access to women’s health services throughout the country. WHNPs will help address the need.
What Does a WHNP Do?
The strict educational and certification requirements for nurse practitioners allow them to perform services beyond those of a typical registered nurse. A nurse practitioner may also supplement the role of the physician, and in some states, they can operate a clinic without an MD’s supervision.
Nurse practitioners can diagnose and prescribe medications for acute and chronic conditions, collect medical histories, and build treatment plans to improve patient health. RNs, on the other hand, can make recommendations and consult with other health care professionals, but the final decision about a patient’s treatment lies in the hands of the physician.
So, what does a WHNP do? A WHNP is a nurse practitioner who further specializes in women’s health and the issues that women face. A women’s health nurse practitioner job description can include providing essential services, such as:
- Prescribing oral contraceptives
- Consulting with patients for hormone treatments
- Performing routine gynecological examinations
- Screening for breast cancer
- Providing pre- and post-natal care to babies and mothers
Where Do WHNPs Work?
That answers the question of what WHNPs do, but where do WHNPs practice?
The highly specialized work of WHNPs may mean that they work in a narrower selection of environments than other practitioners. WHNPs who do not open their own practice often work with OB-GYNs or other physicians who focus on women’s health issues. WHNPs may also provide services in private or public clinics for underserved communities.
Trends in Women’s Health
The employment outlook for the WHNP profession is strong. Currently, the U.S. has more people over age 65 than at any previous point in history, and most of these individuals have multiple diagnoses and comorbidities that require expert clinical care. More than half of this population is female. With physicians unable to keep up with the rising demand for care, the role of WHNPs is more valuable than ever.
In addition, the Affordable Care Act and other efforts at health care reform brought millions of Americans into the health care system. As of 2021, 31 million Americans have taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act, with millions more eligible to enroll. As the number of insured people rises, demand for health care will place an enormous strain on the existing system. States and the federal government are working together to find a solution to the shortage of medical professionals. One of the most popular solutions is the expansion of responsibilities for nurse practitioners.
In the interim, the demand for nurse practitioners, including WHNPs, remains high. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that nurse practitioner will be one of the fastest-growing professions between 2020 and 2030, with a projected growth rate of 52%. As of August 2021, WHNPs had a median annual salary of $94,834, according to PayScale (2021).
Learn More About Becoming a WHNP
Providing high-quality medical services requires advanced education and specialized expertise, and the current demand for skilled medical professionals is high. There are countless opportunities to meaningfully contribute to the health care system as a WHNP, and the first step is assessing the women’s health nurse practitioner job description and then seeking educational pathways.
With Regis College’s online Master of Science in Nursing with a focus in Women’s Health, students can learn to treat women’s specialized health needs across the lifespan. Find out more about how this program can prepare students to become women’s health nurse practitioners today.