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Women's Health Nurse Practitioner Certification and Degree Programs

Women's health nurse practitioners assist in primary care, reproductive health and disease prevention. Training for this advanced practice nursing role is available through master's and doctoral programs in women's health nursing.

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Essential Information

An applicant to a nurse practitioner master's degree program needs a bachelor's degree in nursing with strong academic scores in subjects such as microbiology, chemistry and anatomy. Applicants might also need to be licensed, experienced registered nurses. Some programs allow students with diplomas or associate's degrees to enroll and take additional bridge courses.

It's important to note that doctoral degrees in nursing will be required for nurse practitioners in a few years, rather than master's degrees. While many schools require applicants of a DNP program to hold a master's degree, other DNP programs offer longer programs for students with only a bachelor's degree. Due to the stringent nature of doctoral studies, candidates need a strong academic record and an RN license. Some programs also require advanced nursing students undergo a criminal background check.

Programs at both levels consist of clinical work that gives students hands-on experience, and most programs have a research component. Doctoral students also get executive leadership training. Many schools offer online courses and require just a few campus visits.

Master's degree programs take three semesters of full-time study, while doctoral programs are completed in two semesters and a shorter summer period of study. Graduates of accredited degree programs qualify to test for national certification as women's health nurse practitioners.


Master of Science in Nursing (MSN)

A master's degree is currently one avenue to become a nurse practitioner; however, the American Nurses Association states the minimum educational requirement of advanced practice nurses will be increased to a doctorate by 2015 (www.nursingworld.org). Some master's programs offer academic concentrations in women's health, obstetrics, and gynecology, which are designed to prepare students for this nurse practitioner specialty certification.

A master's degree curriculum includes advanced nursing coursework in subjects such as pharmacology, pathophysiology and medical ethics. Graduate programs with a concentration in women's health offer classes covering:

  • Primary care of women
  • Nutrition and mental health
  • Fertility and family planning
  • Pregnancy and prenatal care
  • Breast health and cancer screening

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Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)

While the DNP is a relatively new degree, the American Association of Colleges of Nursing has designated it as the new standard for advanced practice nurses as of 2015 (www.aacn.nche.edu). As a result, many colleges are developing DNP programs as a more in-depth educational experience to foster leadership in the nursing profession and address increasingly complex facets of healthcare.

Unlike a Doctor of Philosophy, which is generally for students wishing to pursue careers in research or academia, the Doctor of Nursing Practice is designed for nurse practitioners wanting to work with patients and clients. The DNP curriculum combines traditional class lectures and labs with supervised clinical rotations. Coursework includes advanced nursing subjects such as pathology and research methodology, in addition to executive coursework in topics covering:

  • Legal and ethical studies in healthcare
  • Financial management
  • Human resources and staffing
  • Medical informatics and technology

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, nurse practitioners earned median salaries of $98,190 as of May 2015. In addition, the BLS predicts that nurse practitioners will see a 35% job growth from 2014-2024. Demand should be especially high in urban or rural areas where there may be fewer primary care physicians (www.bls.gov).!!Continuing Education

Graduating from a master's or doctoral program and earning the RN credential qualifies applicants to sit for the National Certification Corporation's Board-Certified Women's Health Care Nurse Practitioner exam (www.nccwebsite.org). Other related certifications include the American Nurses Credentialing Center's Family Nurse Practitioner credential (www.nursecredentialing.org). Both require ongoing continuing education to maintain certification.

Certification as a women's health nurse practitioner is available to students who complete a master's or doctoral degree program in this advanced practice nursing specialty. Studies in the primary care of women and legal and ethical issues in healthcare can prepare graduates to sit for certification exams and enter a career in the field.

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