What Is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

A women's health nurse practitioner provides biological, intersex and transgender women with health care throughout their lives — from puberty to pregnancy to menopause and beyond. A WHNP's focus is on general women’s health care including gynecological and obstetric health. But the care WHNPs offer goes well beyond a woman’s health needs during her reproductive years.

Patients may opt for a women’s health nurse practitioner over an obstetrician because of their broader and sometimes more personalized and collaborative approach to health care. WHNPs have a reputation for taking time to listen to their patients’ questions and addressing their overall wellness and medical needs.

Top women’s health nurse practitioner programs provide registered nurses who want to specialize in women’s health with the tools and training they need to be proficient in their field. In WHNP programs, nursing students learn a holistic approach to care that centers on a patient’s physical and emotional well-being. Nurses gain knowledge and experience in both classroom and clinical settings where they can develop lasting relationships with mentors and peers in the profession.

Online women's health nurse practitioner programs are an option for busy working nurses who wish to pursue a Master of Science degree part time and for others seeking the flexibility that an online program provides.

Why Is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Important?

WHNPs are unique. While they provide gynecological health care throughout a patient’s life, they are also educated and skilled at addressing aspects of health that affect reproductive health, including work/life balance and heart, nutrition, fitness and mental health. For example, a WHNP is able to diagnose and treat sexually transmitted infections and is also trained to address the emotional toll the diagnosis might have on a patient.

Educated WHNPs are especially important in light of the maternal and newborn outcomes in the U.S. There is an increased rate of maternal mortality in the U.S., according to a March 2019 article in the Journal of the American Medical Association. In May 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that about 700 women die each year in the U.S. as a result of pregnancy or labor and delivery complications, a figure that is high for a developed country, experts say. A women’s health nurse practitioner can be a key support professional during prenatal care, especially in patient populations at risk for maternal mortality, according to a July 2018 National Institutes of Health article.

What Does a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Do?

Women’s health nurse practitioners work in a variety of settings, including private practice offices, clinics, universities and hospitals. They specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, providing well-visit care and disease-prevention education, contraceptive counseling and prenatal support. WHNPs also address a woman’s chronic health concerns, such as diabetes, and her mental health needs.

Women’s health nurse practitioners provide a wide variety of care for patients. Their roles and responsibilities include:

  • Adolescent health care.
  • Well-woman exams, including pelvic exams and Pap smears.
  • Breast cancer screening/mammograms (and support if a diagnosis is made).
  • HPV and sexually transmitted infection screening, treatment and follow-up.
  • Health and wellness counseling.
  • Contraceptive care.
  • Pregnancy testing.
  • Miscarriage care and support.
  • Preconception health, prenatal visits and postpartum care.
  • Concerns about menses and menarche.
  • Fertility evaluations.
  • Urinary tract problems, such as incontinence or infections.
  • Menopause-related health and management.
  • Screening for heart disease, hypertension and diabetes and offering referrals and support when a condition is identified.

How To Become a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

Women's health nurse practitioners are disciplined and committed health professionals who have had an extensive education. Individuals interested in pursuing this specialty should research undergraduate and graduate nursing programs carefully because program requirements may vary from school to school. The following steps are required in order to become a women’s health nurse practitioner:

WHNP Education Requirements

  • Earn a bachelor’s degree in nursing and become a registered nurse. Required coursework focuses heavily on science-related topics, including physiology, microbiology, psychology/mental health, pharmacology and neonatal health. Alternatively, some programs, such as RN to MSN programs, offer bridge coursework that allow students with an associate’s degree in nursing to enter the program.
  • Complete a master's degree in nursing or a doctor of nursing practice degree through an accredited nursing program. Coursework includes primary care, prenatal and postpartum care, preventive and general wellness, and reproductive health care.

WHNP Examination, Licensure and Certification

  • Pass a national certification exam through the National Certification Corporation for women’s health nurse practitioners. Eligibility requirements: In order to be eligible to take the exam, a nurse must be an RN and have earned an MSN or DNP through an accredited women's health care nurse practitioner program. The program must be sponsored by or affiliated with a college or university. At least 200 didactic (teaching) hours and 600 clinical hours specifically related to women’s health care are required. The certification process includes the option to take a written test that covers knowledge of primary care, gynecology and obstetrics care for women. It is offered once a year in September, or a computer-based exam is available year-round. Fees: $325, which includes a $50 nonrefundable application fee and a $275 testing fee. License renewal is required every three years and requires a $100 fee and 45 continuing education hours. Once certified, a nurse uses the acronym WHNP-BC, where the “BC” stands for board certified.
  • Understand your state’s laws and regulations regarding the scope of WHNP practice and required state licensing exams.

WHNP Salaries

Salaries for women’s health nurse practitioners are higher than salaries for RNs. WHNPs earn a median salary of $100,000, according to a 2018 survey from the Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health organization.

Explore online WHNP programs

Online programs can be a logical and efficient way for working nurses to pursue a specialty in women’s health while keeping their current commitments. Programs such as our partner, Georgetown University School of Nursing & Health Studies’ Online Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Program enable students to earn an advanced degree right where they are. Universities including but not limited to East Carolina University, Texas Tech University, University of Cincinnati and Philadelphia University also offer online WHNP programs. To explore more options, visit the Online Midwifery Programs page.