Nurse Midwfie vs OBGYN Nurse Practitioner: What's the difference?

Love working in women’s healthcare as a nurse but want to take the next step in your career? You may consider becoming an advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) specializing in women’s care. 

APRNs get to have a more active role in patient care and may choose from a variety of options in women’s healthcare, including becoming OB/GYN nurse practitioners or nurse midwives. 

What Is an Advanced Practice Registered Nurse? 

An APRN is a registered nurse (RN) who has completed a Master’s of Science in Nursing (MSN) and passed an APRN licensure exam.

While APRNs must work under the general supervision of a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO), they work directly with patients as healthcare providers. They can order tests, diagnose patients, prescribe medications, and administer some treatments or procedures. 

What Is a Certified Nurse Midwife? 

Certified nurse midwives (CNMs) are a type of APRN who have either gotten their MSN in a program focused entirely on midwifery or with a concentration of classes on midwifery. 

CNMs are taught to care for women’s reproductive health from adolescence all the way to menopause. Though they often focus on family planning, pregnancy, and delivery, they can help with reproductive health tests and screenings, post-natal care, and general women’s health. 

CNMs often work in private offices, birthing centers, and hospitals. Some choose to focus exclusively on the labor and delivery (L&D) process. They primarily work with patients with “uncomplicated” medical histories or pregnancies; those with complex cases are often referred to MDs or DOs. 

To become a CNM, you must pass the American Midwifery Certification Board (AMCB) CNM exam. Once you pass the exam, you are licensed to practice in all fifty states. 

What Is an OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner?

An OB/GYN nurse practitioner (NP)—or, technically, “a women’s healthcare nurse practitioner (WHNP)”—is an APRN who received an MSN degree in a program focusing on nursing practice. Some may also go on to receive their Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP), which is the highest level of education in nursing. 

Nurse practitioners often have multiple disciplines of study in their degree programs (and potentially in their clinical hours), including general family practice, pediatric care, and women’s healthcare. They may not have hands-on clinical hours in the OB/GYN field until finding a job, at which point they’ll shadow a physician until they’re ready to see patients on their own. 

Nurse practitioners can receive their WHNP board certifications, certifying their expertise in women’s healthcare. 


To apply, you must meet the following criteria:


  • Hold an active APRN license
  • Complete an accredited graduate nursing program, which can include an MSN, a DNP, or a post-master’s degree
  • Take the exam within eight years of graduation 


OB/GYN nurse practitioners, like CNMs, can prescribe medications, treat and diagnose patients, and conduct certain tests or procedures. They are not, however, licensed to oversee the birthing process to deliver babies themselves. They can help their overseeing physician monitor a birthing patient, however, and they sometimes end up delivering babies if the doctor doesn’t make it on time.   

Nurse Midwife vs. OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner: The Core Differences

We’ve already briefly discussed some of the differences between certified nurse midwives and OB/GYN or women’s healthcare nurse practitioners, but let’s take a closer look at the core differences between the two. 

Their Education 

Both types of APRNs need to complete a master’s degree and obtain licensure to practice. 

Nurse practitioners will have a more generalized nursing education that includes primary care, pediatric care, and women’s healthcare. Their clinical hours may or may not include dedicated women’s healthcare. They can begin working as women’s healthcare nurse practitioners without additional certifications, though they can become board certified as WHNPs. 

Meanwhile, CNMs typically complete MSN programs that are focused exclusively on midwifery. Their clinical hours are specialized, as a result, and they must pass the CNM exam to obtain their licensure. 

Their Focus 

Nurse midwives offer a broad range of reproductive services for women of all ages, though they focus predominantly on family planning, pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum care. Many choose to work almost exclusively in this capacity. 

It’s common for nurse midwives to also be more open to birthing techniques outside of the conventional hospital standard, including different birthing positions or birth plans, as long as these are safe for everyone involved. Overall, they’re more likely to offer holistic healthcare practices. 

On the other hand, women’s healthcare nurses act more like primary care providers in women’s health. They’re more likely to be the practitioner you’ll see for well-women visits alongside diagnosing and treating different conditions. They can oversee a pregnancy, but they cannot supervise a birth as the overseeing practitioner. 

What They’re Licensed to Do 

There is a simple but important distinction between these two types of APRNs:

Nurse midwives are certified to oversee labor and delivery, though complicated pregnancies (or births that will require caesarian sections) are automatically referred to OB/GYN doctors. They are not certified to act as primary care providers.

On the other hand, women’s healthcare nurse practitioners cannot supervise labor and delivery as the lead care provider. They are, however, licensed to act as primary care providers for women’s health as long as they’re working under a supervising physician. 

Considering working in women’s healthcare as a nurse? Check out our Ultimate Guide to OB/GYN Nursing!

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