How to Become a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner

As a nurse practitioner, a type of advanced practice nurse, you may be able to take on numerous responsibilities, like diagnosing and treating illnesses, and even specialize in certain patient populations. One type of nurse practitioner specialty is women’s health, which involves the treatment and prevention of illnesses specific to women. In this guide, we discuss how to become a women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) and share insights for you to consider as you pursue your nursing career.

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Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Job Duties and Responsibilities

What does a women’s health nurse practitioner do? A WHNP provides quality care to women at nearly all stages of life, from adolescence to adulthood. They are experts in a number of subject areas, namely gynecology, primary care, and prenatal and postpartum care. If you’re interested in any or all of these topics, then studying women’s health issues and pursuing a career as WHNP may be a goal of yours. Learn more about nursing degree salaries and nurse practitioner careers.

If you become a WHNP, you may find yourself overseeing preventative care plans and measures, like conducting well-women exams, breast cancer screenings, and Papanicolaou tests. Women’s health nurse duties may also include reproductive care services, like administering pregnancy tests, performing fertility evaluations, and assisting women during and after pregnancy.

Unlike registered nurses, WHNPs need at least a graduate degree to practice. There are a growing number of online healthcare degree options that make it possible for working professionals to pursue a women’s health nurse career. One common program option is an online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program, which may allow you to maintain full-time employment and balance your personal obligations with your studies.

What Are the Education Requirements for a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner?

All nurse practitioners, including women’s health nurse practitioners, must hold a graduate or doctoral degree to practice. To become a women’s health nurse practitioner, many people first complete a bachelor’s degree or an associate’s degree in nursing and get licensed as a registered nurse. After graduating and acquiring field experience, you may apply to an MSN or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP) program that offers a specialty in women’s health.

If you’re already a registered nurse but haven’t obtained a bachelor’s degree yet, there are programs available to allow you to do so. An RN to MSN bridge program, offered both online and in-person, will allow you to earn your undergraduate and graduate nursing degrees simultaneously at an accelerated pace. Some MSN programs even cater to aspiring nurses with a non-nursing bachelor’s degree—a viable option for those looking to move from their current industry into the expansive field of nursing.

What Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Certification is Needed?

In order to practice, WHNPs need the appropriate licensure. Every state has different licensure requirements, but they typically include a women’s health nurse practitioner certification from the National Certification Corporation (NCC), the national accrediting body for WHNPs. Achieving the NCC certification involves passing the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner Exam, and maintaining certification requires the completion of continuing education hours every three years.

The NCC’s exam ensures that you have the professional knowledge needed to practice safely. This includes competence in providing obstetrical, gynecological, and primary care services to women.

6 Common Steps to Becoming a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner

Everyone’s journey is different and there’s no single or “right” way to become a women’s health nurse practitioner. Wherever you are along the nursing path—just getting started or already immersed in the profession—these steps may help you make informed decisions about your future and help answer your preliminary questions about how to become a women’s health nurse practitioner.

Step 1: Get an Associate or Bachelor's Degree in Nursing

Becoming a nurse practitioner requires advanced health care knowledge, meaning nurse practitioners must hold at least a graduate degree—and WHNPs are no exception. Before getting a graduate degree, however, you’ll need to complete an associate’s or bachelor’s degree.

Bachelor’s degrees in nursing programs typically take four years to complete, while associate degrees typically last two to three years. Although bachelor’s degrees take longer to complete, they are generally necessary for enrollment in graduate school (unless the program is an RN to MSN bridge program) and may be required by certain employers.

Step 2: Sit for the NCLEX-RN Exam

Before becoming a nurse practitioner, you will have to become a registered nurse (RN). A key step in receiving your RN license is passing the NCLEX-RN exam, the national nursing exam offered by the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). The NCLEX tests candidates on their knowledge of safe care management, health promotion and maintenance, and psychological and physiological integrity.

To register for the NCLEX, you need an Authorization to Test (ATT) from your state’s nursing regulatory body. Afterward, you can sign up for the exam and prepare for test day. Keep in mind that there is a $200 testing fee for U.S. applicants.

Step 3: Obtain Up to Two Years of Clinical Experience

Once you become a registered nurse, it’s time to enter the field. Acquiring at least a year of full-time clinical experience is not only a requirement to enroll in some MSN programs, but it’s also an opportunity to decide whether you would like to specialize in women’s health. While a number of registered nurses work in hospitals, some work in physician’s offices, schools, and outpatient centers. These are all settings where you can gain the relevant clinical experience for a women’s health nurse practitioner role.

Step 4: Graduate with Your Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Degree

The length of MSN programs varies by school and the level of education you’ve completed before enrolling. If you already have a bachelor’s degree in nursing, completing an MSN in women’s health nursing practice generally takes one to three years depending on whether you’re a part-time or full-time student.

Many accredited programs involve in-person clinical experiences where you develop hands-on nurse practitioner skills. Your clinical experience will prepare you to handle the full scope of women’s health issues, from prenatal to menopausal care. Learn more about applying to nursing school.

Step 5: Become a Board-Certified Women's Health Nurse Practitioner

After completing graduate school, nurse practitioners typically pursue certification in the specialty or patient area in which they would like to practice. There are a number of boards that issue professional certifications for nurse practitioners, including the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners and the American Nurses Credentialing Center.

The accrediting body that offers WHNP certification however is the National Certification Corporation. As previously mentioned, the NCC administers the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner Exam, which aspiring WHNPs typically need to pass in order to earn their credential. To maintain your status as a board-certified women’s health NP, you’ll have to complete continuing education requirements every three years. Be sure to check with your state’s guidelines for licensed nurse practitioners, as requirements to practice vary by location.

Step 6: Begin the Search for Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Jobs

When it’s time to search for your first job as a WHNP, you may take advantage of the wide array of resources available online. Here are two examples:

What are the Continuing Education Requirements for Women's Health Nurse Practitioners?

Another component of becoming a WHNP is staying up to date on the constantly evolving standards and best practices in the industry through continuing education credits. Continuing education for women’s health nurses varies by state but are required by most for license renewal.

For instance, in Hawaii, continuing education for women’s health NPs involves maintaining your national certification and completing 30 contact hours, 8 of which must be related to your women’s health specialty.

Skills that Can Help You Become a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner

Being a women’s health nurse practitioner may be demanding at times, but certain skills may position you for success in the profession. Skills that women’s health nurses use include practiced listening skills, communication skills, critical thinking skills, and the ability to work both collaboratively and independently. Additionally, WHNPs tend to have compassion for women and understand sensitivity around women’s issues. While these are some of the skills women’s health NPs have, they don’t necessarily guarantee you a job. You still have to put in the study time. That being said, they may come in handy as you embark on the educational and clinical journey ahead.

  • Listening and Communication Skills
    As a nurse practitioner, you’ll have to listen to and talk with patients on a daily basis to understand their medical concerns or symptoms and discuss potential medications and treatments. Patients need a health care provider who can explain the health issues they're facing in clear, simple terms.
  • Critical Thinking Skills
    Diagnosing illnesses and deciding the best course of action for patients requires a considerable amount of critical thinking, in addition to your training. The ability to make informed decisions that will impact patients’ lives cannot be underestimated.
  • Teamwork Skills
    Although WHNPs must be confident in their decision-making skills and ability to make choices independently, they also have to collaborate with patients and teammates in their workplace, whether that be a hospital, doctor’s office, or research lab.

Of course, keep in mind that all skills can be honed over time. For instance, if you have a hard time communicating with new people, interacting with patients might feel difficult at first. But overtime, you can develop your skill set. You may have the opportunity to cover bedside manners in your clinical experiences, and other nurses can give you tips for conversing with patients. If you love nursing and care about women and their issues, becoming a women’s health nurse practitioner could be a good fit for you, allowing you to make a key difference in a patient’s life.

Last Updated October 2020