Social Change and the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner
Hollis Forster, RNC-NP
There are so many paths to take in education after you have gotten your RN licensure and one path is that of a nurse practitioner specializing in women’s health.
Why take this road? The role of the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner, WHCNP, is varied and exciting. Your patients will be essentially healthy women through the lifespan. For the young women your care will center on family planning services including contraception, well women exams, breast and cervical cancer screening services and prenatal care. As a woman ages, her health care needs change and as a WHCNP, care for your older patients may include menopausal counseling, screening, and hormone replacement therapy management.
The kinds of procedures, patho-physiology, and medication management you will be asked to learn may include simple ultrasonography, birth control method management, and cervical cancer screening techniques which include not only obtaining pap and HPV tests but could include performing colposcopy, which is the evaluation of the cervix after the detection of an abnormal cervical cancer screening test.
The education for this kind of practitioner can be a master’s degree with a time commitment of about two years, or a certificate program, which is generally a year or so for completion of the course. I actually just found that you can complete a certificate program in women’s health and then attend an on-line program where you can complete your master’s degree! Why do they make this program so widely available? Because the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner not only serves individual women but has the capacity to effect the health of the entire family and hence, the community, for generations to come.
How is this possible? It is clear that when a woman receives quality prenatal care, her chances of a healthy baby are increased. This is an obvious and direct benefit of access to care. However, there is also a more subtle value-added phenomena to the delivery of prenatal care. This care and our ability to make it easy to access and customer friendly, serves as a way to introduce that mother and baby into the health care system. That child will be more likely to get preventive care in the form of vaccines and physical exams. That mother will be more likely to bring her family in for preventive services therefore improving the public health by keeping her family aware of health risks and spreading her new knowledge to her friends and extended family.
If you are serious about the health of your community, providing excellent care to the women can have wide ranging beneficial effects on many more people than the one woman served. Let us look at some other reasons to move towards this advanced practice degree. You will function with the help of a physician, but in essence, very independently. In many states, you can have an agreement with a physician as back-up and consultant, but you can hang up your sign, have your own patients and care for them through their entire life.
Logistically, your hours can be your own. You set your schedule to care for your clients. Many clinicians love this aspect of the career move, because, face it, hospital hours are sometimes difficult to keep. With a Master’s degree or a national certification, you can bill your services to Medicare and other insurance providers (another step toward independence).
But, you do not have to be this independent. You can join teams of physicians and other advanced practice clinicians (PA’s, CNM’s) to work within a functioning practice where your administrative chores are completed for you and you can concentrate on the care of the women you see.
Consider this direction as you complete your RN and are looking for the next challenge or advancement. It’s a path that can be fulfilling for you and serve an essential role in the improvement of health care in our nation (and the world) as a whole.