When you become a nurse practitioner (NP), the world is your oyster. You can choose to pursue an enormous number of specialties (and sub-specialties!), finding a career that’s perfect for you. OB/GYN is a popular specialty that many nurse practitioners consider.
Working as a nurse practitioner in the OB/GYN specialty will allow you to practice nursing in women’s health at the highest level, and in this post, we’ll discuss what that does (and doesn’t!) entail.
What Is An OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner?
An OB/GYN nurse practitioner is a licensed advanced practice registered nurse (APRN) who practices in the obstetrics and gynecology specialty. They must have either a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) or a Doctorate of Nursing Practice (DNP) and pass a licensing exam to become licensed nurse practitioners.
What Do OB/GYN Nurse Practitioners Do?
OB/GYN nurse practitioners work directly with patients as healthcare providers, meaning they examine, diagnose, and treat a patient’s conditions. Their scope of work includes the following:
- Conducting exams, including well-woman exams
- Ordering tests, including ultrasounds, blood work, and mammograms
- Patient education
- Family planning education and services
- Prescribing contraceptives
- Diagnosing conditions
- Prenatal care
- Assessing a patient through their pregnancy
They must work under a supervising physician (who must be either a medical doctor (MD) or a doctor of osteopathy (DO) and may take patient overflow from that physician. They may work in private offices, hospitals, clinics, and in-patient or out-patient facilities. They are, however, unlikely to work exclusively in birthing centers or hospital labor and delivery (L&D) units.
What Can’t OB/GYN Nurse Practitioners Do?
OB/GYN nurse practitioners are not licensed to oversee a birth independently. They can help in a supportive role, but there must be either a nurse midwife or a doctor in charge of the birth. OB/GYN nurse practitioners are not licensed to deliver babies.
OB/GYN nurse practitioners also can’t prescribe any medications in the Schedule 1 drug category, which includes Marinol (or “the pot pill”), though it’s worth noting that it’s unlikely that a women’s health NP would need to prescribe any of these medications to begin with.
In many cases, OB/GYN nurse practitioners will see patients with relatively uncomplicated medical needs; complicated cases may be referred to the supervising physician or another specialist, though this depends on the medical conditions in question and the NP’s experience.
How Is an OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner Different from a Nurse Midwife?
OB/GYN NPs and nurse midwives are both APRNs, but they hold different licenses.
Nurse midwives have chosen to focus their education and careers specifically on pregnancy and birthing. They are licensed to attend births as primary healthcare providers, though they typically work with healthy, uncomplicated, and low-risk pregnancies.
OB/GYN nurse practitioners can’t deliver babies, but they can help women throughout their entire lives; their focus isn’t exclusively on pregnancy. They are more likely to see patients who are experiencing medical concerns than nurse midwives, and they treat a wider range of conditions.
How Is an OB/GYN Nurse Practitioner Different from an OB/GYN Doctor?
OB/GYN doctors can do a number of different tasks that OB/GYN nurse practitioners cannot, including the following:
- Work independently without a supervising physician
- Deliver babies and oversee births
- Perform surgical procedures
- Prescribe controlled Schedule 1 medications
OB/GYN doctors have much more extensive training than nurse practitioners. They must complete four years of medical school and an intensive residency program for four years before becoming licensed.
What Certifications Do I Need to Become an OB/GYN NP?
You can work as a women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) once you complete your graduate program and pass your APRN exam, but it can work to your advantage to become certified in women’s health as an NP.
You can become board certified as a WHNP through the National Certification Corporation. The eligibility requirements for sitting for the exam include the following:
- Current U.S. nursing or APRN licensure is required
- Successful completion of an accredited graduate-level NP program
- Taking the exam within eight years of program completion
Obtaining this certification can help give you an edge when looking for jobs as an OB/GYN nurse practitioner, and it also can instill a significant amount of confidence in patients who may be otherwise reluctant to work with an NP instead of an MD or a DO.
OB/GYN nurses play a vital role in women’s healthcare, and this specialty allows you to work with women of all ages and at all points in their life experiences. While you can’t oversee births as the primary physician, you can help patients through their pregnancies as well as with routine screenings and ongoing health concerns.
Considering working as a nurse practitioner? Check out our Ultimate Guide to the Nurse Practitioner specialty here!