How an MSN education can be used to improve women’s health

Women’s health is a broad topic in the overall health care conversation, both in the United States and around the world. It’s also a primary focus of many nurses who pursue careers to either directly or indirectly improve women’s health after earning a Master of Science in Nursing. Given the immense scope of women’s health, there’s no shortage of positions of influence for ambitious MSN degree holders to pursue, whether that’s a nurse practitioner who works in a center that provides services specifically for women (mammograms for instance) or a research-focused nurse in public policy who crafts initiatives to improve women’s access to those same services in developing nations.

There are other opportunities to consider, like nurses who become certified midwives and assist women through pregnancy, and one common thread uniting them is the MSN. Working to improve the quality of women’s health and secure a healthier future for women across the globe often requires nurses to gain a postgraduate degree (like certification as a midwife, for example). The skills and knowledge imparted from such online programs help nurses better understand women’s health from practice to policy, readying them for a chance to take on the very real issues facing women’s health today.

Here’s more information on those trends and how earning an MSN education can help you improve women’s health in different settings and different populations.

Alzheimer’s, reproductive health are concerns for women

Women are often at the same risk for serious health complications like cancer, heart disease, diabetes and other chronic conditions as men. However, there are also a number of issues that affect women in particular, leading to specializations in women’s health. This spectrum spans everything from the clearly unique needs women have in reproductive health, to lesser known disparities afflicting women related to mental well-being and cognition. According to data cited by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

  • Women are twice as likely as men to be affected by depression, with one in five experiencing it sometime during their lives.
  • Of the number of American adults age 65 or older living with Alzheimer’s disease, two-thirds are women. Not only is the disease itself an issue for women’s health, so too are real-world conditions it creates. Around 60 percent of the 15 million Alzheimer’s caregivers in the U.S. are women.

Access to medical services is another overarching theme to women’s health. A 2014 Kaiser Family Foundation survey found among women ages 18 to 64, more than 1 in 4 (26 percent) delayed seeking care because of the cost. Of male respondents, 20 percent said the same. The disproportionate effect was seen also in the share of women with problems paying medical bills (28 percent) versus the number of men in the same position. The amount of women saying they did not get a recommended test or treatment (20 percent) or did not take a prescribed medication (22 percent) further underscored the gaps in utilization of and access to care (14 percent and 12 percent of men responded similarly, respectively).

In order to address these challenges women face in their health, MSN holders can consider some of these following career directions.

Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner

As the name may imply, a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner (WHNP) is an MSN-prepared nurse practitioner with an expressed focus in women’s health. Nurses in the WHNP role attend to the needs of patients across a woman’s lifetime and can be found employed in different settings, from primary care to hospitals. Some of the duties and services that individuals interested in becoming a WHNP should be aware of include:

  • Providing adolescent care.
  • Administering pap smears, human papillomavirus (HPV) screens and mammograms.
  • Treating urinary tract infections, incontinence and infections.
  • Educating patients on menopause and aging concerns like osteoporosis.
  • Providing fertility evaluations and contraceptive care.
  • Treating general health problems (e.g. high blood pressure, diabetes).

WHNPs are also among the main providers patients seek out for well-woman visits. These appointments are recommended, routine medical check-ins women should pursue to keep up their overall well-being. Well-woman visits can be used by patients to ask questions about menstruation, their sex lives or changes they’ve noticed in their bodies. As professionals generally focused on women’s health, WHNPs are found in a number of different care settings. According to the Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health, a national association, WHNPs work in varied places including: community health centers, university hospitals, student health centers, high schools, nursing homes, assisted living communities, clinics and in their own private practices.

Certified nurse midwife

WHNPs treat patients over their lifetimes, and accordingly this means they may be asked to provide care for pregnant women, or during the pre and postnatal phases. Certified nurse midwives (CNM) treat patients throughout their lives as well, but are especially interested in providing and promoting women’s health services during pregnancy, childbirth and throughout the whole of maternity.

CNMs are licensed, registered nurses who hold a graduate (and oftentimes postgraduate) degree and have passed assessments for credentialing by a recognized authority, like the American College of Nurse Midwives (ACNM). CNMs are employed in various settings including physician practices, hospitals, primary care, academic institutions and private practice.

As they are intimately involved in a woman’s reproductive health, CNMs have a host of responsibilities that put them at the forefront of women’s health. For MSN holders interested in the position, it’s important to know that CNMs:

  • Provide comprehensive gynecologic and maternity care.
  • Play a key role in preventing maternal and infant mortality.
  • Monitor fetal development and nutrition.

Research-focused nurse

Delivering care is not the only way MSN-prepared nurses can address women’s health in their profession. Many nurses pursue a Master of Science in Nursing as part of a research-focused career that they use to investigate particular women’s health issues, as well as find solutions or answers to their questions and concerns. For instance, the ACNM pointed out that midwives can research various points, including: cost-effectiveness of nonmedical interventions, HIV/AIDs, contraceptive methods, depression in new mothers, and parent and child safety.

Being a MSN-holding nurse interested in research doesn’t mean that academic studies have to take up all of your time. Indeed, many nurses conduct research as part of their jobs (whether in a hospital, private practice or university) and continue to see and treat patients. However, for those nurses mostly involved in research, getting an MSN is important because it places you on the track to earn a doctorate degree in nursing. There are two such degrees in nursing: the Doctor of Nursing Practice is for clinical nurses, while the Doctor of Philosophy in Nursing prepares nurses to take on a primary and active role in nurse research.

Being involved in research also prepares a nurse to take on responsibilities in reviewing or crafting policy. Such activities are also well-suited for nurses in clinical practice, who see the real-world effects of initiatives, or the gaps that need to be addressed by new policies, like those expanding care to women in rural areas, or improving quality of care in developing nations.

Consider University of San Francisco for your MSN

Women’s health is a dominant topic in health care for good reason, and nurses who want to make a difference for the better in serving women’s health needs can consider earning a Master of Science in Nursing as a step in that direction. For individuals interested in a postgraduate degree, consider the University of San Francisco’s online MSN program, where students can further their careers.

Recommended reading:

Understanding The Key Differentiators Between A Bsn And Msn Degree

3 Ways To Gain More Nursing Experience After You Graduate

Sources:

https://www.kff.org/womens-health-policy/press-release/new-survey-documents-womens-health-care-coverage-and-early-experiences-with-the-affordable-care-act/

http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/improving-womens-health-2013.aspx

https://www.npwh.org/pages/about/NPfacts

http://www.midwife.org/About-the-Midwifery-Profession

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