Interview with Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP – Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

I am truly responsible for my patient from the moment they step into my office. Although this may seem like a daunting task, it is really rewarding especially when you start seeing people year after year or someone refers a friend to you. My patient population is quite diverse: I see women of all ages, race, and socio- economic statuses, since this office is located right outside the Chicago boundaries.

About Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP: Loryn Ashton is a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner at Southwest Obstetrics and Gynecology, where she provides primary and gynecological care to female patients ages 12 and older. Her daily work includes annual physical examinations, STI screenings, pap smears, IUD and Nexaplon insertions, and birth control counseling and prescriptions. She also works as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner for Maven Clinic, which is a mobile app that enables women to seek primary and gynecological care and consultations from medical professionals.

Prior to her work with Southwest Obstetrics and Gynecology and the Maven Clinic, Ms. Ashton was a Staff Nurse at Dupage Medical Group and St. Anthony’s Hospital. She earned her BSN from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 2010, and her MSN with a specialization in Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner from the same institution in 2013. During her MSN program, Ms. Ashton completed her clinical rotations at Will County Health Department and The University of Illinois Medical Center Midwifery Group.

Interview Questions

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Could we please have an overview of your academic and professional path in advanced women’s health nursing?

[Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP] I obtained my Bachelor’s Degree in Nursing from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in May 2010. I immediately started working as a full time RN in Labor and Delivery/Mother Baby at a small community hospital in Chicago. I also started my master’s program at UIC in fall 2010 and graduated in December 2013. While in school, I had the opportunity to be placed in a variety of clinic settings including the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) Obstetrics Emergency Department, UIC outpatient clinic, a private office, and a health department. After working as a Labor and Delivery nurse for about a year and a half, I obtained a different RN position in a women’s health private office in the suburbs of Chicago. This opportunity provided me with gynecologic experience. After graduating with my Master’s Degree, I took state boards to obtain certification as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner. I immediately started working as a WHNP in a small private office called Southwest Obstetrics and Gynecology, right outside Chicago in a town called Oak Lawn. I have currently worked there a little over 2 years. I see women of all ages for gynecologic care. Although I am licensed to see obstetric patients, this office does not need that service.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Could you please describe your role and responsibilities as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner at Southwest Obstetrics and Gynecology? What kinds of medical conditions and challenges do your patients face, and how do you help them manage their conditions?

[Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP] I work full time at Southwest Obstetrics and Gynecology in Oak Lawn as their sole WHNP. I strictly see gynecology patients with a variety of complications. My responsibilities include but are not limited to: obtaining a thorough medical, social, and mental history, performing an exam (if needed), obtaining pap smears, ordering labs and diagnostic imaging, inserting IUDs (birth control device), birth control counseling, providing consults, discussing and treating menopause, interpreting results, and informing patients of those results. I am truly responsible for my patient from the moment they step into my office. Although this may seem like a daunting task, it is really rewarding especially when you start seeing people year after year or someone refers a friend to you. My patient population is quite diverse: I see women of all ages, race, and socio- economic statuses, since this office is located right outside the Chicago boundaries. Our patients use Christ Hospital, which is a trauma center for surgery and delivery of their children.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Could you also describe your role and responsibilities as a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner at the Maven Clinic? What kinds of medical conditions and challenges do your patients face, and how do you help them manage their conditions?

[Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP] If you have not heard of Maven before, Maven is an app for women. Women can use this app to book video appointments to see a multitude of providers pending their complaint. I started with Maven working on an as needed basis seeing patients. This opportunity allows me to work from my home. I see a multitude of problems: urinary tract infections, yeast, bacterial infections, need for birth control, issues with anxiety/depression, pregnancy complaints, and occasionally common colds/flu to name a few. I am allowed to prescribe medications (if necessary) to those patients in the states in which I am licensed (I am licensed in 7 states).

This app does not allow you to order labs or diagnostic tests. It also does not provide routine gynecologic care such as pap smears. As Maven is a virtual office, I cannot physically touch a patient and diagnosing some illnesses can be difficult. However, the critical thinking skills needed are the same as those required in in-person clinical settings. This app provides a woman with care at any time, which is extremely convenient. I have used this app myself when I wanted to speak with a pediatrician about an issue with my daughter. I can also receive texts through the app from a patient with a basic question. After seeing the patient and determining how I can help, I write a brief summary of the appointment and my suggestions and send it directly to the patient through the app. Although this is not my full time position, it truly is a great job and shows the versatility of nursing.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] You were a student WHNP at Will County Health Department and UIMC Midwifery Group. Could you explain your responsibilities, patient population, team, and work environment in these roles?

[Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP] As a student WHNP, I was placed in many settings as I stated above. Initially, I learned the basics of how to care for a patient as an NP and slowly increased the complexity and number of patients I saw per day. Each setting was a bit different: I worked in a fast paced OB-ER setting ruling out labor, doing postpartum rounds in a university hospital, an outpatient clinic at the university, a private practice, and a health department. Those experiences allowed me to work with multiple preceptors who have different styles of care. As a student, you take what you like from each preceptor and make it your own. As a student, your preceptor checks your work and is there to answer any question you may have. You also must report the patients that you saw and the hours you completed to your school.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Why did you decide to work specifically in women’s health and obstetrics/gynecology, and what academic and professional experiences helped you determine that this area of advanced practice nursing was the right one for you?

[Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP] When I started nursing school, I truly had no idea what type of nursing I would go into. I decided to become a nurse while watching the nurses take care of my father following a quadruple bypass while I was a sophomore in high school. During my first year of clinicals, I thought I wanted to get a master’s degree in forensics nursing. I always enjoyed those forensic shows on television and thought this field would be perfect for me. At the end of my junior year, I had a women’s rotation where I was able to work with women in the labor and delivery and mother/baby setting. I started to realize, “Hey this is for me!” Seeing a baby born is amazing and being a large part of it is such an honor. The summer before my senior year, I decided to apply for grad school in women’s health and I have never looked back. Although I did take a few courses in forensics as a hobby, I knew that would not be the perfect fit for me. One of my goals is to use some of my forensic knowledge and obtain my SANE license (sexual assault nurse examiner) and volunteer in my local community. I have a passion for women’s health: as a woman myself, I feel our care is far from perfect. I am dedicated to provide each woman I see with the best care within my reach.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] What have been some of the most rewarding aspects of working in women’s health nursing? On the other hand, what specific challenges have you encountered in this field of work, and how have you managed these challenges?

[Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP] The most rewarding thing I have gotten to do in my life is hand a woman her baby for the first time. I got to do this almost daily as a labor and delivery nurse. Although I do not get to do this anymore in my current role, it is still rewarding when I can help a woman take control of her periods or rejoice with her when she becomes pregnant after trying for many months. I find women’s health challenging in general. There are so many barriers to face. (1) Women typically put themselves last when it comes to healthcare; I see women everyday that have not seen a provider for many years because they were busy with their kids or parents. (2) Women work high demand jobs–they cannot take off work for routine care. (3) Birth control is not always covered by insurance. (4) We typically do not have every test available in one place such as a mammogram machine, lab, or mental health specialist. We give multiple orders that frequently are not completed because, again, women lead busy lives. My job is to provide the most comprehensive care to the women yet take the time to listen to their needs and desires.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] For current and prospective MSN students who are interested in working in women’s health nursing and obstetrics, what advice can you give them about optimally preparing for this field while pursuing their degree?

[Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP] I would suggest trying to get a job as a nurse in women’s health: labor and delivery, mother baby, outpatient obstetrics and gynecology offices. It is truly helpful to be in your specialty area early on if you can. I learned so much information by working as a nurse in those settings: sometimes I feel that I learned more there than in school! Hands on learning is the best. If you can volunteer for a family shelter service or help with teaching prenatal classes as a volunteer, I would! While I was a student, I volunteered for a few different community outreaches and it really helps on the resume. Lastly, remember to take time for yourself. Remember that you must take care of you first before you can help anyone else: sometimes this is forgotten when you are so busy with school, work, and family.

Two resources that helped me study for my state boards were: (1) Midwifery and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Certification Review Guide by Beth M. Kelsey and (2) Midwifery and Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner Certification Study Question Book by Beth M. Kelsey. I took my exam as soon as possible. I feel the longer you are out of school, the harder it will be to take this exam. I also looked over some of my class notes prior to the exam as well.

[OnlineFNPPrograms.com] Could you please describe how you see advanced practice women’s health nursing evolving as a field, based off of your professional experiences? What work settings typically employ women’s health nurse practitioners, what role do they play as part of a larger healthcare team, and how do you see their position changing over the years?

[Loryn Ashton, MSN, WHNP] Since I have the privilege to work in an office and telemedicine setting, I see healthcare going more virtual in the years to come. Nurse Practitioners will be needed to fulfill the needs in both settings. I have noticed a shift in hiring Family NPs over WHNPs recently–this is something to consider when choosing a pathway. Society is slowly starting to recognize nurse practitioners as a vital component to the healthcare team. We are seen in all settings including emergency rooms and operating rooms. WHNPs are typically employed in the women’s health setting such as an obstetrics and gynecology office since we are limited to seeing women only. One exception to that rule is we can see men for sexually transmitted infections. I feel as society values the position, the medical field (MD’s) will recognize how crucial we are and will slowly allow us to assist in decision making and practice to the highest level of your degree. Lastly, it appears a doctorate degree will soon be mandatory or highly encouraged in order to enter into practice as a nurse practitioner.

Thank you Ms. Ashton for participating in our APRN career guide interview series!


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About the Author: Kaitlin Louie is the Managing Editor of OnlineFNPPrograms.com, and creates informational content that aims to assist students in making informed decisions about graduate programs. She earned her BA & MA in English from Stanford University.