Women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) are advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who care for the health of women across the lifespan, from adolescence on through old age. WHNPs are trained in women’s reproductive health and the physical, psychological, social, and emotional issues that women may face from menarche to menopause and beyond. Furthermore, they focus not only on primary care, but also on health promotion and education, and aim to guide patients towards making wise lifestyle choices to prevent disease and improve their overall well-being.
To become a women’s health nurse practitioner, candidates must complete a WHNP program that has been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN), pass an exam administered by the National Certification Corporation (NCC), and apply to their state board of nursing for certification or licensure as an APRN / WHNP.
Overview of Online Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Degree Programs
Women’s health nurse practitioner programs are offered at multiple degree levels, including MSN, DNP, and post-MSN certificate. The length of a particular WHNP program depends on the degree being sought. For instance, BSN to MSN programs with a specialization in women’s health nurse practitioner typically require 50 to 60 credits, and take between 16 and 28 months to complete, while post-MSN certificate programs in women’s health often require the completion of 35 to 40 credits, and take between 12 and 15 months to complete, depending on whether they are full-time or part-time.
All accredited women’s health nurse practitioner programs require students to fulfill a minimum number of clinical hours, which are defined as the time a student spends in a real medical setting, working with patients and completing actual medical tasks under professional supervision. Accredited online WHNP programs also typically require students to attend one or more campus visits that are comprised of in-person lectures, group discussions, networking events, and/or group projects. On OnlineFNPPrograms.com, we define an online WHNP program as one that requires three or fewer visits to the campus per year.
Types of Accredited Online Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Degree Programs
Online women’s health nurse practitioner programs are offered at the master’s, post-master’s certificate, and doctorate levels. Below is a description of the main pathways that RNs have to gain education and training as a women’s health nurse practitioner:
- Online BSN to MSN WHNP Programs require RNs to earn their BSN from a CCNE or ACEN accredited program. BSN to MSN programs with a focus in women’s health typically require the completion of 50 to 60 credits. Full-time BSN to MSN programs typically take about 16 months to complete, while part-time programs generally take about 28 months to complete.
- Online Bachelor’s to MSN WHNP Programs accept students who have either a BSN or a bachelor’s degree in a non-nursing field from an accredited institution. For students who already have their BSN, this type of program is equivalent in length and units to a conventional BSN to MSN program. Non-BSN students generally need to complete certain bridge or prerequisite undergraduate courses prior to beginning their graduate studies. As a result, for these students, Bachelor’s to MSN programs with a focus in women’s health typically require the completion of 60 to 75 credits, and can take about two years to complete when following a full-time course of study. Part-time Bachelor’s to MSN programs can take about 30 to 36 months to complete for non-BSN students.
- Online RN to MSN WHNP Programs are for registered nurses who have either an Associate Degree in Nursing (ADN) or a diploma in nursing from a CCNE or ACEN accredited program. Many, but not all, of these programs allow RNs with an ADN or diploma to earn their BSN and MSN with a concentration in women’s health together through one concentrated program. RN to MSN programs with a specialization in women’s health generally require 100 to 120 credits, and take approximately 24 to 30 months to complete, depending on whether they are full-time or part-time. Students should note that while some RN to MSN WHNP programs accept both ADN and nursing diploma recipients, other programs only accept ADN graduates.
- Online Post-MSN WHNP Certificate Programs are for individuals who have already earned their MSN in a specialization other than women’s health, and who would like to gain training and certification as a WHNP. In general, post-MSN certificate programs require between 25 to 38 units and 12 to 15 months to complete.
- Online BSN to DNP WHNP Programs admit BSN-prepared registered nurses who want to pursue a DNP degree without first completing a separate MSN program. These programs typically involve 65 to 90 credit hours, and include both MSN and DNP specific courses. Students can expect to complete a full-time BSN to DNP WHNP program in three to four years, while a part-time program may take as much as six years to complete. BSN to DNP WHNP programs often give students the chance to earn both an MSN and a DNP, but some programs only culminate with a doctorate degree.
- Online Post-Master’s to DNP WHNP Programs are designed for nurses who hold a master’s degree from an accredited school of nursing, and want pursue both a DNP and APRN certification as a WHNP. These programs are basically a DNP program combined with a post-master’s WHNP certificate program, and generally take students one to two years to complete. Depending on the focus of their previous master’s program, students can either enter an MSN to DNP WHNP new specialty program or an MSN to DNP WHNP second specialty program. New specialty programs are for nurses who earned their master’s degree in a non-APRN field (such as nurse administration or clinical nurse leader), and are pursuing their first APRN certification as part of the DNP program. Second specialty programs require students to already have an APRN certification, and are for APRNs looking to obtain a second certification in addition to their DNP.
Admissions Criteria for Accredited Online WHNP Programs
All accredited online women’s health nurse practitioner programs mandate that their students have an active license as a registered nurse in their state of residence. Furthermore, some programs ask that candidates have a year or more of professional medical experience.
Academic admission requirements for accredited online WHNP programs vary depending on the degree sought; for example, while BSN to WHNP-MSN programs require applicants to have a BSN, post-MSN programs typically require candidates to hold an MSN or higher graduate degree from an accredited nursing program. Other admission requirements for online WHNP programs may include a minimum undergraduate GPA, the completion of specific college classes such as statistics or nursing research with a passing grade, and the submission of letters of recommendation from academic and professional references.
Online Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Programs: Curriculum
Accredited online women’s health nurse practitioner programs typically contain a combination of fundamental courses in advanced practice nursing, such as Advanced Health Assessment and Human Anatomy and Physiology, and classes that cover women’s general and reproductive health across the lifespan, such as Health Care for Childbearing Women and Medical Care for Menopausal and Post-Menopausal Women.
In addition to the coursework described above, online DNP programs will include doctoral-level courses that focus on the eight core competencies outlined in The Essentials of Doctoral Education for Advanced Nursing Practice by the American Association of Colleges of Nursing. These curricular elements are fairly standard across all DNP programs, no matter the specialty. While specific course titles may vary, DNP students can expect to gain training in areas such as evidence-based practice, organizational and systems leadership, health care policy, patient care technology, and clinical prevention and population health.
Online WHNP programs are available in both full-time and part-time formats. Full-time WHNP programs require students to take more courses each term, and thus generally enable them to earn their degree or certificate in a shorter amount of time. In contrast, part-time online WHNP programs typically allow students to take fewer classes per term, which results in greater flexibility for students who have other personal or professional commitments. Part-time programs typically take longer to complete compared to full-time programs.
When deciding between a full-time and a part-time program, students should take into consideration any and all extracurricular responsibilities they may have that they must maintain while enrolled, and balance these responsibilities with how quickly they wish to earn their degree or certificate.
Online Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Programs: Clinical Hours Requirements
Clinical hours are a requirement for certification as a women’s health nurse practitioner, and thus are an essential element of all accredited WHNP programs. Clinical hours are defined as the time that a WHNP student spends in a real medical setting, such as a hospital or clinic, fulfilling real nursing responsibilities and caring for actual patients. Students must complete their clinical hours under the supervision of a preceptor, who is a medical professional that oversees and guides them through their clinical practicum(s).
Accredited WHNP programs typically require students to complete between 600 and 1000 clinical hours. DNP students will need to complete a minimum of 1000 post-BSN clinical hours in order to qualify for their doctorate, and many schools require even more than that. Some online WHNP programs may divide students’ clinical hours into rotations that focus on certain areas of women’s health, such as gynecological health care, prenatal care, preconception advising, family planning, and post-menopausal care. Many WHNP programs incorporate clinical hours into their curriculum, so that students fulfill their clinical practicums concurrently with courses in which they discuss the concepts, principles and practices that they are learning during their clinical internships.
Some accredited WHNP programs match students to clinical sites and preceptors, while other nursing schools ask that students find their own clinical locations and supervisors, but support students during their search.
On-Campus Visits for Accredited Online WHNP Programs
In addition to clinical hours, the majority of accredited online WHNP programs require students to attend one or more prearranged campus visits, or on-campus intensives, in order to graduate. These campus visits range from the majority of one day to several days in duration, and are typically composed of in-person lectures with program instructors, discussions with fellow classmates, networking events, group projects, and/or clinical simulation experiences during which students participate in simulated scenarios that utilize their clinical decision making skills and medical knowledge. As noted previously, on OnlineFNPPrograms.com, we categorize an online WHNP program as one that requires three or fewer visits to campus annually.
Accredited Online WHNP Programs: Sample Courses
While course titles and content may vary slightly across different programs, typical classes for accredited online WHNP programs include:
Core Courses for Online WHNP Programs:
- Advanced Health Assessment: Collecting, analyzing, and synthesizing individuals’ physical, psychological, cultural, and social information to form an accurate understanding of patients’ health. How to maintain medical histories and utilize critical thinking and diagnostic skills when conducting patient health evaluations.
- Human Physiology and Pathophysiology: The structure and function of the various organ systems within the human body. The anatomy and role of specific organs and tissues are also explained, as are the fundamental molecular actions that take place in the human body. After establishing how a healthy human body functions at various ages, this course will discuss common diseases and conditions, and explain their origin, typical progression, and overall effect on the human body. Students will learn how to apply their knowledge of human anatomy and pathophysiology to develop an overall health care plan for patients.
- Advanced Concepts of Pharmacology: The common drug classes and how they affect the body (i.e. what organ systems they act upon, what diseases or conditions they treat and through what mechanisms). Students will learn the principles of pharmacodynamics, pharmacokinetics, drug metabolism, and dose-response relationships.
- Leadership in Advanced Practice Nursing: How APRNs work with a team of other medical professionals in a clinical setting to manage patient health care and education. The essential principles and methods of collaborating with physicians, medical assistants, and other nurses in order to best treat patients. How to inform patients through health education programs and one-on-one counseling.
Women’s Health Concentration Courses:
- Primary Care of Childbearing Women: How to care for and monitor women’s general and reproductive health during their childbearing years. How to advise patients before, during, and after pregnancy about effective self-care and preventative care, and develop a sound health care plan that takes patients’ families and social/cultural background into account. The physical, emotional, and psychological effects of pregnancy, and common health concerns during each stage of pregnancy.
- Contemporary Issues in Women’s Health: Contemporary issues in women’s health from a medical, psychological, social, and political standpoint. Prevalent health conditions and issues that women face, and how current health policies, recent healthcare reforms, and the overall health care system impact the quality and accessibility of medical care for women.
- Primary Care of Elderly Women: The necessary principles and methods to effectively assess the health of post-menopausal women, and how to treat the common conditions that this demographic group faces. How to integrate medical treatment with regular health monitoring and patient education to improve elderly women’s quality of life.