Question: Are there programs designed for FNPs who want to add a WHNP specialty and/or switch specialties? (FNP to WHNP programs)
Answer: Yes – There are graduate certificate programs, also known as post-master’s or post-MSN certificate programs that are designed for Advanced Practice Registered Nurses (APRNs), including those specializing in family nursing, who would like to further specialize in women’s health advanced practice nursing. These programs provide dedicated training in the primary care needs of women across their development, from early adolescence into old age, and qualify students to sit for the women’s health nurse practitioner national certification exam from the National Certification Corporation.
Family nurse practitioners (FNPs) and women’s health nurse practitioners (WHNPs) are both advanced practice registered nurses (APRNs) who have earned a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) (or Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)) from a CCNE or ACEN-accredited program and who have earned certification in their specific area of advanced practice nursing. However, even upon completing their MSN and earning their certification in a designated specialty area of practice, some nurse practitioners (NP) may wish to add a second NP or switch to a different NP specialty. Post-MSN graduate certificate programs are a time-efficient option for such students, and many can be completed in a part-time and/or online format to maximize flexibility for working NPs.
FNP to WHNP graduate certificate programs that have been accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) or the Accreditation Commission for Education in Nursing (ACEN) meet key learning benchmarks to prepare MSN graduates to sit for the women’s health nurse practitioner national certification exam offered through the National Certification Corporation (NCC). Post-MSN graduate certificate programs are the main pathway for APRNs who have their MSN to expand their scope of practice without completing a DNP program that also provides instruction in an additional specialty area.
The National Certification Corporation Examination for WHNPs
To become a women’s health nurse practitioner, students must take and pass the Women’s Health Care Nurse Practitioner (WHNP-BC) Certification Exam offered through the NCC. This exam requires that candidates have earned an MSN and/or DNP from a CCNE or ACEN-accredited program, and are licensed as a registered nurse or advanced practice registered nurse through their state board of nursing. In addition, candidates’ schooling—whether through their MSN or DNP, or through a post-MSN program–must meet NCC guidelines in terms of women’s health care principles and methods. The examination tests candidates on the following content:
- Assessments, Diagnostic Testing, and Interpretation: About 12% of the exam is comprised of questions that test students’ diagnostic skills, including the ability to conduct physical examinations, take patient health histories, and order and interpret laboratory tests and other diagnostic studies.
- Primary Care: About 12% of the exam consists of questions about patient preventative and primary care, including providing regular health screenings, recognizing patient health problems, educating and counseling patients, and providing specialist referrals as necessary.
- Gynecologic and Reproductive Health: About 35% of the exam is comprised of questions about the female reproductive system, female anatomy and physiology, gynecological disorders, fertility and contraception, and male sexual and reproductive health.
- Obstetrics: About 29% of the exam consists of questions about pregnancy; prenatal care and fetal health assessment; obstetrical complications and their diagnosis, treatment, and prevention; and post-partum complications and care.
- Pharmacology: About 9% of the exam covers pharmacotherapeutics, pharmacokinetics, and pharmacodynamics as they relate to the care of women across the lifespan, as well as pregnant women and their fetuses.
- Professional Ethics, Safety, and Quality: 3% of the exam covers important professional issues in nursing such as nursing ethics and laws, and quality control and improvement.
As FNPs already have a strong background in primary care methodologies, patient assessments, and diagnostic testing from their previous master’s training, FNP to WHNP graduate certificate programs tend to focus specifically on women’s anatomy, gynecologic and reproductive health, and obstetrics.
Gap Analysis for Post-MSN Certificate Programs
Due to the overlap in primary care principles, methodologies, and clinical experiences between advanced practice family nursing and advanced practice women’s health nursing, FNPs may find that they can apply some of their previous graduate nursing coursework and clinical hours to their graduate certificate program. Policies around applying previous coursework and clinical hours to a graduate certificate program is evaluated on a case-by-case basis through a process called a Gap Analysis.
Schools of Nursing offering FNP to WHNP post-MSN certificate programs often evaluate the past graduate coursework that students have completed to determine the exact courses they must complete to earn their graduate certificate. For example, NP students are typically not required to repeat the 3 P’s of Nursing (i.e., Physical/Health Assessment; Physiology and Pathophysiology; and Pharmacology) as they have already completed those courses as part of their MSN program. Some programs may also allow students who have already completed clinical hours in women’s health nursing to apply those clinical hours to their graduate certificate program.
Note: For more information on gap analyses and options for transferring credit and clinical hours, prospective students should contact the admissions offices of the programs that interest them. In addition, many schools have limitations on how many past clinical hours can be applied to a graduate certificate program.
Curriculum for WHNP Programs
WHNP graduate certificate programs typically consist of 22-26 credits of concentrated coursework on advanced practice nursing methods and primary care for women across the lifespan and for all of their reproductive health needs and concerns. These programs also typically require the completion of a practicum in a women’s health-related setting. The curriculum for these programs can generally be completed in one year or less of full-time study, with part-time students taking longer to graduate depending on the number of credits they enroll in per term.
Examples of courses that these programs may have include but are not limited to:
- Women’s Reproductive Health: Women’s reproductive anatomy and development across the lifespan. Students learn about the menstrual cycle, fertility and fertility control, common and rare gynecological conditions, and pre-menopausal and post-menopausal health care issues. In addition, they learn health promotion strategies and principles to advocate for female patients and coordinate care as needed.
- Common Illnesses and Diseases in Women’s Health: Common ailments that female patients encounter across their development and their identification and treatment. Students learn how to education patients on managing their conditions, and to also conduct assessments to identify causes for certain reproductive ailments.
- Obstetrics and Gynecology: The physiology and process of pregnancy from conception to birth, and the role of the women’s health nurse practitioner in supporting the health of pregnant women and their fetuses. Students learn how to clinically assess and diagnose pregnant women’s health, identify and treat abnormalities, and coordinate obstetrical and gynecological care.
- Complex and Chronic Disease in Women’s Health: Complex, chronic, and severe health conditions that women face, and how to address them through a combination of diagnostic screenings, treatment, patient education, and care coordination.
- Women’s Health Practicum: Students apply the concepts they have learned in their courses to real work with patients in a clinical setting. Tasks include conducting reproductive health assessments, diagnosing health conditions, coordinating care, advising and educating patients and their families, and treating chronic and acute reproductive health conditions.
Post-MSN FNP to WHNP certificate programs also typically require students to complete 500-700 hours of clinical practicum in a women’s health related setting. These clinical hours give students the opportunity to apply what they have learned in their classes to hands-on experiences with real patients. This practical component of graduate certificate programs is also important because it qualifies students to sit for the NCC certification examination.
Admissions Requirements for FNP to WHNP Programs
Admissions to FNP to WHNP programs is often competitive, and requires candidates to hold at least a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) from a CCNE or ACEN-accredited institution. In addition, most FNP to WHNP graduate certificate programs have minimum GPA requirements for students’ graduate-level coursework. Examples of minimum admissions criteria for an FNP to WHNP post-master’s certificate program may include, but are not limited to:
- An MSN (or DNP) from a CCNE or ACEN-accredited institution
- A minimum GPA requirement of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale for all graduate coursework in nursing
- An active and unrestricted license as a registered nurse in one’s state of residence
In addition to these criteria, applicants to FNP to WHNP programs generally must submit the following:
- Academic transcripts of all graduate coursework in nursing
- Two or three (depending on the program) letters of recommendation from professional supervisors or academic faculty
- A resume or CV
- A statement of purpose
Individuals who are interested in enrolling in an FNP to WHNP program should note that the above admissions criteria and requirements are often the minimum standards for admission, and that candidates who meet these requirements may still not be accepted to all programs depending on how selective a school is for any given admissions cycle. For the most detailed admissions requirements for a particular FNP to WHNP program, prospective students should contact the admissions office before applying.
Online FNP to WHNP Programs
Post-MSN graduate certificate programs are designed with working nurse practitioners in mind, and therefore many of them have course options that maximize flexibility so that students can continue working while earning their certificate. While some graduate certificate programs may have evening classes or use a combination of on-campus classes and online course content (i.e., hybrid graduate certificate programs), there are FNP to WHNP graduate certificate programs that are offered fully online for students who need to be able to review course materials and participate in discussions according to their own schedules. In addition, fully online post-MSN graduate certificate programs allow nurse practitioners and APRNs who live in rural areas that are not close to a School of Nursing to gain additional training without having to relocate for schooling.
Online FNP to WHNP programs utilize learning management systems to create an interactive online environment for students to complete course modules, attend live or pre-recorded lectures, and engage in discussions with faculty and peers. While all online FNP to WHNP programs utilize asynchronous instruction, which consists of course content and assignments that students can access and complete on their own time, some programs utilize synchronous instruction that involves students attending live lectures or discussions via video conferencing or another interactive remote technology. Prospective students should note, however, that all online FNP to WHNP programs still require students to fulfill their clinical practicum hours in-person at a qualifying site. In addition, some online programs require students to attend a limited number of on-campus sessions or intensives that often include skills assessments and clinical labs.