What is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner?
Definition of a WHNP
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioners (WHNPs) are APRNs who provide advanced primary care to women across the lifespan, from adolescence to old age. That means their work encompasses fields such as gynecology, reproductive health, family planning, fertility, obstetrical services, normal & high-risk prenatal management, oncology, menopause, and well-woman care.
As trusted advisors, WHNPs are also committed to health education & counseling, disease prevention, and holistic healthcare. Some WHNPs may even end up helping male patients if their health affects their partner (e.g. sexual dysfunction, infertility, and STDs).
Thanks to their specialized training, many WHNPs prefer to work in OB-GYN and women-centered settings, including:
- Ambulatory OB-GYN clinics
- Women’s health clinics
- Primary care facilities
- Private practices (e.g. obstetrical and gynecologic practices)
- Community clinics & health centers
- Planned Parenthood
- Family planning clinics
- Prenatal clinics
- Infertility clinics
- Uro-gynecology practices
- Rural clinics
- Nursing homes
- Women’s prisons & correctional facilities
- Public health departments
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner vs. Other Specialties
WHNP vs. FNP (Family Nurse Practitioner)
Do you enjoy working with women patients in primary care? You’re likely to run into the WHNP vs. FNP debate. There’s no easy answer to this, but here are some pros & cons to consider:
- WHNP: The WHNP is a specialist position. If you adore women’s health and you have zero interest in pediatrics, then it’s worth a look. In an RN to MSN WHNP program, all of your clinical hours and concentration courses will be focused on women’s health (the FNP has to cover men & children). You’ll get specific training in OB-GYN and adult-focused care, and you may be able to explore specialty areas (e.g. breast cancer). OB-GYN employers often ask for WHNP job candidates because they know that graduates can hit the ground running. To burnish their résumé, some students opt for dual focus RN to MSN WHNP/AGNP (adult gerontology) programs, which means they can care for adults of any gender.
- FNP: This is the most popular NP specialty for a reason. It’s super-flexible and highly marketable. You’ll see tons of job listings for FNPs because employers want nurses who can treat women and men and children. In the real world, an FNP can take a WHNP-type job, but a WHNP may not qualify for an FNP position. In fact, many RNs who currently work in female-centered settings (e.g. labor & delivery) end up opting for the FNP. That means they graduate with solid professional experience + the broad appeal of the FNP. Remember, too, that some RN to MSN FNP programs will let you focus on women’s health and midwifery during clinical rotations & electives.
As always, it helps to have some prior experience before you make a decision. Consider working or volunteering in a relevant setting and shadowing a WHNP on his/her rounds. Talk to current WHNPs & FNPs with OB-GYN positions (via LinkedIn) about their job hunting experiences. Examine the education & skills requirements in job descriptions.
You may even wish to contact OB-GYN clinics in your area, explain that you are considering graduate school, and ask them if they have a preference when they hire (e.g. WHNP vs. FNP, WHNP vs. CNM, etc.).
Note: You can always decide to complete an RN to MSN FNP program, become certified as an FNP, work a few years in a women’s health setting, and then pursue a post-master’s certificate in WHNP. This will give you the best of both worlds, but you will have to maintain two certifications!
WHNP vs. CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife)
Do you love labor & delivery and OB-GYN work? You’ll have another choice between the WHNP and the CNM. Again, this is going to come down to personal goals, but here are a few points to consider:
- WHNP: WHNPs care for women across the entire lifespan—from their first period to post-menopause. Generally speaking, WHNPs will get to work in obstetrics, but they won’t spend time in the delivery room. For that reason, some RN to MSN WHNP programs may require less prior work experience than CNM programs (i.e. they may be easier to get into). Plus you’re likely to have a fairly regular work schedule upon graduation. If you’re especially interested in gynecology, including all its intriguing sub-specialties (e.g. oncology, HIV, geriatrics, urology, etc.), the WHNP is probably your best bet. Just keep in mind that the pay may not be as high as a CNM.
- CNM: CNMs are responsible for providing primary care to childbearing individuals in all kinds of settings. As you might expect, RN to MSN CNM programs tend to be weighted heavily toward obstetrics training & deliveries, but they will try to include gynecology coursework & primary care rotations. That’s because CNMs in busy clinics may spend as much time handling GYN, sexual health, and well-woman care (e.g. smoking cessation), as they do dealing with pregnancy, obstetrics, and prenatal care. Since babies wait for no one, CNMs may also have longer hours, tougher on-call schedules, and higher malpractice insurance costs (due to the dangers of childbirth). But they’re often paid well for their pains!
Talk to current CNMs and WHNPs in your area before you make a decision (LinkedIn is your friend, here!). They’ll be able to explain their day-to-day routine and give you the inside scoop on hireability and insurance costs.
Note: You could also consider a dual concentration CNM/WHNP degree offered by schools like Georgetown, the University of California San Francisco, and Yale. Sometimes it’s easier for midwives to get credentialed for outpatient-only work (i.e. no births) if they also have the WHNP, but this rule seems to be receding. In your state, you may find that the CNM works just fine for most jobs.
RN to MSN Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Programs
RN to MSN Women’s Health NP: Overview
RN to MSN WHNP programs are aimed at RNs who have a diploma or an associate’s degree (e.g. ASN/ADN) and want to earn an MSN or MS in order to become a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP). There are also a number of RN to MSN WHNP programs for RNs with a bachelor’s degree in a field other than nursing.
In our directory, you’ll discover:
- Concentration/Track: RN to MSN Nurse Practitioner (NP) programs with a concentration or track in the Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner specialty. There are plenty of on-campus and online degrees in this category.
- Dual Concentration: RN to MSN programs that allow you to tackle two NP specialties during graduate school. The most popular dual focus program is the WHNP/AGPCNP (Adult Gerontology Primary Care). You may also run into dual WHNP/CNM (Certified Nurse Midwife) offerings. Be aware that some schools will expect you to hold a BSN to apply to these programs.
- Sub-Specialty: RN to MSN WHNP programs that allow you to focus on a sub-specialty or particular area of interest (e.g. clinical lipidology, nursing education, etc.). These are rare, but they’re not unheard of.
Pay close attention to mandatory coursework & clinical components, especially if you’re also considering RN to MSN FNP Programs. Some WHNP programs are super-focused on women’s health issues; others may include a large chunk of family care & adult gerontology training.
RN to MSN Women’s Health NP: Admissions
Almost all RN to MSN Nurse Practitioner programs (FNP, WHNP, AGNP, etc.) share the same prerequisites: a diploma or associate’s degree in nursing (unless you have a bachelor’s in another field), a current RN license, at least one year of RN clinical experience, a baseline undergraduate GPA (usually 2.75-3.0), and letters of professional reference. See our guide to RN to MSN Nurse Practitioner Programs for details.
Since the WHNP is a primary care specialty, it’s useful to have work experience in—you guessed it—primary care settings. Plenty of RN to MSN WHNP applicants also have prior work experience in labor & delivery, postpartum care, and OB-GYN units or clinics. If you don’t have any hours in these work areas, you may have to accrue some before you can take certain clinical courses.
RN to MSN Women’s Health NP: Undergraduate Phase
Before you can start the MSN portion of your degree, you’ll be required to earn good grades on upper-level undergraduate courses (e.g. community-based nursing, leadership & management, evidence for clinical practice, etc.) through the college or university. These courses can take anywhere from 6 months to 2 years to finish (depending on the school).
Have a look at our guide to RN to MSN Nurse Practitioner Programs for more info.
RN to MSN Women’s Health NP: MSN Curriculum
Once you’re at the graduate level, standard MSN or MS degrees take around 1-3 years to complete. Approximately 70% of the MS or MSN is going to involve didactic coursework (i.e. traditional classroom learning), including:
- Foundation Courses: Standard WHNP programs contain courses in leadership, evidence-based practice, physical/healthcare assessment, pathophysiology, and pharmacology. Often called the “Nursing Core,” this set of subjects appears in almost every NP program.
- Concentration Courses: On top of the core, Schools of Nursing will often include concentration or “specialty” courses that deal specifically with women’s health issues (e.g. care of childbearing women, reproductive health, sexual healthcare across the lifespan, etc.). Since this is an adult field, you may be required to take courses in community health, adult primary care, and health problems of adults/older adults.
- Electives: If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to choose electives in sub-specialty areas (e.g. diabetes management, cardiovascular health, etc.). But a number of RN to MSN WHNP programs have no electives at all.
As a rule of thumb, it’s useful to look for programs that will expose you to a whole range of women’s healthcare topics (e.g. IUDs & contraception, perinatal care, breast health, STDs, transgender issues, interpersonal violence, etc.). You should also be sure the curriculum meets the education prerequisites & covers the exam topics for WHNP certification.
RN to MSN Women’s Health NP: MSN Clinical Hours / Practicums
On top of being required for state licensure & certification, clinical practicums (a.k.a. clinical rotations) can help you explore new specialties, gain useful job training, and meet potential employers. Schools of Nursing usually try to include 600-800 total hours of direct patient care in an MS or MSN (i.e. around 30% of the degree).
For WHNP clinical practicums, you may be working in:
- Primary Care Settings: Think family practices, internal medicine offices, private physicians practices, community clinics, and medical centers. Schools may want you to go through a basic primary care practicum before you progress to more specialized clinical work.
- Women’s Health Sites & Specialty Clinics: Depending on your location and your ability to arrange rotations, you may also be able to get some quality time dealing with pre- and postnatal care, gynecology, sexual health, and other relevant specialties (e.g. HIV, rural health, etc.) in women-focused work sites.
We should point out that WHNP programs don’t often include clinical practicums in dedicated acute care settings. The University of South Alabama, for example, only allows a minimum rotation to hospital facilities (antepartum, postpartum, and GYN units for up to 10% maximum per semester and only as approved by faculty/state boards of nursing).
Online RN to MSN Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Programs
Are Online RN to MSN WHNP Programs Available?
Yes. A select number of universities in our directory offer Online RN to MSN Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner degrees. Having said that, you’ll find a lot more choice in Online RN to MSN Family Nurse Practitioner Programs. If you’re committed to distance learning, you may wish to research both options!
Here’s how a standard Online RN to MSN WHNP works:
- Undergraduate Phase: Just like an on-campus program, you’ll be required to earn credits in upper-level undergraduate courses. These courses are usually offered online, in order to accommodate RNs with busy work schedules.
- Graduate Phase: You can take all (or almost all) of your MS or MSN courses online, but remember that you must participate in clinical practicums in order to graduate. You’ll be able to complete these rotations in your own community. On the other hand, you may be expected to find the site and a preceptor. Online students often end up working part-time while they’re completing clinical practicums.
Be wary of any degree that bills itself as “100% online.” Many strong online RN to MSN WHNP programs make a point of including mandatory campus visits. For example:
- The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s RN to MSN program includes an orientation and three multi-day intensives.
- The University of South Alabama’s RN to MSN program has a 3-4 day clinical orientation for students enrolled in the first clinical course. This visit includes workshops and lab sessions.
You’ll meet lots of new professional colleagues and gain plenty of hands-on experience during campus trips. But they will involve extra costs (e.g. travel expenses). Draw up a complete budget before you commit to a distance learning program.
Online RN to MSN WHNP Programs & State Licensure
We’re almost tempted to include a warning siren! Before you commit to an Online RN to MSN WHNP program, check with your State Board of Nursing and the program coordinator about APRN state licensure. State Boards have specific rules and regulations regarding clinical learning experiences for students enrolled in distance education programs. You deserve to know if your degree components will meet licensure requirements in your state.
You can find info about out-of-state applications in the program’s FAQ section or State Regulation page. For instance, the University of Alabama at Birmingham has an entire State Approval Website for Online Degree Programs. State rules change frequently, so it’s worth asking for clarification. For example, as of 2018, UAB’s School of Nursing was not accepting students from a number of states, but it noted that it was working to acquire approval for them.
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Certification
Overview of WHNP Certification
The road to becoming a WHNP begins with the first four steps outlined in How to Become a Nurse Practitioner. Once you have decided to pursue your graduate degree in Women’s Health NP and investigated your state’s licensure requirements (Steps 3 & 4), you can turn your attention to national certification.
Before you can practice as an APRN in women’s health, most (but not all) State Boards of Nursing will require you to pass the WHNP-BC exam from the National Certification Corporation for the Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Specialties (NCC). Solid RN to MSN WHNP programs will always prepare you for this exam. Great schools will brag about their pass rates (e.g. Vanderbilt’s first-time pass rates; Regis’s annual pass rates, etc.).
The WHNP-BC is offered by the National Certification Corporation for the Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Specialties (NCC). To gain it, you must:
- Hold a current, active RN license.
- Earn a master’s (e.g. MS or MSN), postgraduate, or doctoral degree (e.g. DNP) from a WHNP program accredited by the CCNE or ACEN. The program must include at least 200 didactic hours and 600 clinical hours.
- Pass the WHNP-BC exam administered by the NCC. The exam covers Physical Assessment & Diagnostic Testing; Primary Care; Gynecology; Obstetrics; Pharmacology; and Professional Issues. You must take the exam within 8 years of graduation from your program.
- Keep your certification & licensure up-to-date through continuing education. The certification period lasts 3 years.
Note: CNM and FNP graduates are not eligible to sit for the WHNP-BC exam.
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Jobs
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Careers
As we noted in our section on the WHNP vs. FNP, new WHNP graduates may have fewer initial job opportunities that FNPs. Although your options will depend on geography and market saturation, you can do a lot by planning ahead:
- Conduct Market Research: Examine WHNP job postings in your chosen region or city. How many are there? What are the basic skills requirements (e.g. ultrasound certification)? Are you willing to relocate to another area after graduation?
- Choose a Job-Focused Degree: Look for Schools of Nursing that offer career counseling, professional & career development workshops, and job fairs. Does the School maintain a WHNP job board? What kind of local partnerships does it have with primary care providers? Will the clinical rotations give you a chance to network with potential employers?
- Seek Alumni Opinions: Talk to former students about their experiences—most WHNPs list their degree & alma mater on their LinkedIn profile. How hard was it for them to find a job? What would they have done differently? Don’t be afraid to ask the program coordinator about alumni employment rates as well!
- Burnish Your Clinical Experience: Volunteer for extra clinical hours in women’s health or OB-GYN clinics during your degree. Take advantage of clinical work in sub-specialties. Gain as much experience as you can in common procedures (e.g. IUD insertion, pap smears, breast cancer & heart disease screening, STD tests, etc.). You might even want to learn Spanish or Mandarin so you can work with multiple patient populations.
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Job Openings
- AANP Job Center: Filter by job setting (i.e. Women’s Health/OBGYN; Maternal-Fetal Medicine; etc.) for the best results.
- AWHONN Career Center: Job postings for WHNPs, NNPs, Nurse Managers, RNs, and more.
- NPWH Career Center: Search by “Nurse Practitioner” or use the Browse section for the best results.
- Indeed: Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Jobs; WHNP Jobs; OB-GYN WHNP Jobs.
- Glassdoor: Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Jobs.
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Salaries
For salary estimates, start with Glassdoor’s pages on Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Salaries, Indeed’s page on Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Salaries, and Payscale’s page on Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Salaries. In 2018, average WHNP salaries ranged from $86,000-$117,000.
Another useful resource is the AANP National NP Compensation Survey report. This report is free for AANP members and available for purchase by non-members.
Finally, you can compare these numbers to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), which provides annual occupational statistics for Nurse Practitioners. The BLS posts wage & salary figures for a variety of primary care settings (where most WHNPs work).
- In 2017, the average mean wage for NPs in Outpatient Care Centers was $111,690 ($53.70 per hour).
- In 2017, the average mean wage for NPs in Offices of Physicians was $105,730 ($50.83 per hour).
Though they don’t distinguish by specialty, BLS’s national NP maps will show you states & metro areas with the highest level of employment and the best wages for nurse practitioners. Major medical areas such as Boston/Cambridge, Baltimore, and New York/New Jersey have the densest levels of NP employment. But the cost of living is correspondingly high.
Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Resources
WHNP Certification Bodies
- National Certification Corporation for the Obstetric, Gynecologic, and Neonatal Specialties (NCC)
- NCC Exam: Center for Certification Preparation and Review (CCPR)
WHNP Professional Associations
- American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)
- American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM)
- American Urogynecologic Society (AUGS)
- Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nursing (AWHONN)
- National Association of Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health (NPWH)
- Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO)
WHNP Conferences & Events
- AWHONN Annual Convention
- Nursing Network on Violence Against Women International (NNVAWI) Conference
- NPWH Annual Premier Women’s Healthcare Conference
- SGO Annual Meeting on Women’s Cancer
- Journal for Nurse Practitioners
- Journal of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners (JAANP)
- Nursing for Women’s Health (NWH) Journal
WHNP Useful Resources
The Women's Health Care Nurse Practitioner program at the University of Alabama at Birmingham is a 45-credit program that students can complete in six semesters. In the first three semesters, classes cover the nursing core. In the final three semesters, students take didactic and clinical coursework focused on women's health nursing. Students complete two practicum experiences in women's health care and a residency where they implement the role of a Women's Health Care Nurse Practitioner. Coursework for this degree includes synchronous online sessions as well as on-campus intensives where students take part in laboratory and simulation experiences. During the last four semesters, students must come to Birmingham four times for intensives. Students work with preceptors in their home community for clinical experiences. The UAB School of Nursing has many endowed scholarships, such as the Eileen Marie Mahan Endowed Scholarship for graduate nursing students with demonstrated financial need.
Nurses in the Women's Health Nurse Practitioner program at the University of South Alabama can add a sub-specialty if interested. Those options are 11 credits in nursing education, eight credits in clinical lipidology, or nine credits in advanced forensic nursing care. Those credits are in addition to the requirements for the NP program, which mandates 21 credits in core and support classes and 24 credits in the women's health specialty. Classes cover the care of female patients from adolescence to old age, including primary care and gynecologic care. The program also covers the care of men with sexually transmitted diseases, infertility, or sexual dysfunction. Students are required to attend a two-day women's health clinical skills intensives, which is held on the campus in Mobile, Alabama, in the fall semester when they start specialty classes. Students can try to arrange a clinical experience in their home community.
Regis College has a fully online option for nurses who want to earn a Master of Science in Nursing with a specialization in women's health. The curriculum includes 24 credits in core classes and 22 credits in the specialization. The Young School of Nursing at Regis College requires students to complete 600 clinical hours for this specialty through two semester-long clinical courses in primary care of women. Students learn to provide care for female patients from adolescence to geriatrics. Graduates are prepared for the national certification exam for Women's Health Nurse Practitioner. Regis's online option doesn't require students to come to campus, and students arrange clinical rotations in their home community. Classes are also available at the Regis campus in Weston, Massachusetts. On-campus students may perform clinical rotations at some of the college's partner organizations, such as Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.
The Vanderbilt School of Nursing has two options for RNs who want to specialize in women's health. The school offers a Women's Health Nurse Practitioner specialty in its MSN program and also offers a dual-focus program for nurses who want to train in women's health and adult-gerontology primary care. The women's health program requires students to complete 630 clinical hours and the dual focus requires 1,190 hours. Classes are offered in a modified distance learning format that combines online synchronous and asynchronous material with on-campus meetings in Nashville. Women's health students must come to campus nine times while taking the specialty classes. Dual focus students may be required to come to campus an additional four times during the second year of specialty classes. Vanderbilt MSN graduates had a 97% first-time pass rate on the AGPCNP exam in 2018 and a 90% first-time pass rate on the WHNP certification exam.