General HealthWomen's Health

How Nurses Meet Modern Women’s Health Needs

There is no getting away from the fact that a woman’s anatomy, hormonal dynamics, and reproductive role all create their own specific health needs and challenges. In other words, the biological differences between men and women can lead to women needing certain specialist types of health care at points during their lives. 

Of course, there are multiple and varied steps that women can take to protect, improve, and repair their health. This includes taking advantage of the support of nursing professionals who are trained to focus just on women’s health issues.

Though women do have their own health needs and risks, there is evidence that they must be doing something right! Even though both men and women are living longer these days, there is still a sizable gender gap. Women out-live men in many countries, not just the US, despite having childbearing and birth to contend with. 

The reasons for this are hotly debated and theories include the differences in chromosomes and hormones between men and women. Some argue that men are more prone to risk-taking behavior, work stress, poor diet and lifestyle choices, and substance issues.

There certainly appears to still be a reluctance among men to seek out medical help when they have concerns and even to attend routine tests and checks. According to one report on this topic, “US research shows that men with health problems are more likely than women to have had no recent contact with a doctor regardless of income or ethnicity.” One of the biggest reasons men give for their reluctance to seek medical help is embarrassment, so it could be argued that it all comes down to women being more pragmatic. 

Women and mental health

It is important to acknowledge that the difference between men and women in health terms is not just a simple matter of biology. Other factors can lead to women having different types or levels of ill health.

Even in the modern era, when many partners share household responsibilities, women are still disproportionately the ones caring for children and maintaining their daily living conditions. This is often in tandem with having a career. 

According to one report, up to 81% of all care givers – informal and formal – are women. It may not be just their own children they care for either. They may also be looking after elderly relatives as part of their everyday tasks.

The caring role that women carry can bring with it challenges to their mental health, energy levels, and self-care. Women are also faced with the specter of post-natal depression, and the emotional rollercoaster some women experience during menopause.

What are women’s health risks and concerns?

The biology and societal roles of women combine to create special health issues for them. Fortunately, healthcare providers fully appreciate this, and there are now many specialty services created specifically to cater for their needs and risks. This in turn then requires nursing professionals who have chosen to focus on the field of women’s healthcare.

Here are some of the specialty services that this healthcare entails. 

Sexual and reproductive healthcare 

The most obvious health matter that women need bespoke care and services for, is their sexual and reproductive health. From puberty through to menopause, women face a myriad of changes and challenges, that may require help from medical professionals. This includes specialists in hormonal issues and changes, and healthcare services that focus on fertility, contraception, pregnancy, and menopause.

Cancers that affect women

There are other health challenges specific to women, or more likely to affect women. A sobering illustration of this is the number of women affected by certain types of cancer each year. Though breast cancer can impact on men too, it is a disease that most commonly affects women. It is also the second most common cause of death from cancer across the globe.

Another thing that women need to be highly conscious of, is cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that in 2023 in the US an estimated 13,960 new cases of invasive cervical cancer would be diagnosed, resulting in more than 4,000 deaths. Fortunately, having nursing professionals dispense Pap tests has had a significant impact on screening and survival rates for cervical cancer.

Early detection is vital to survival rates from all forms of cancer that affect women. Getting vaccines, screenings, and mammograms are among the ways to reduce the risk of breast cancer and cervical cancer. There are other ways to avoid other forms of cancer too, like wearing suntan lotions to prevent skin cancer.

Are women getting the healthcare help they need?

There is a lot of education and publicity advising women on the things they can do to protect their health. This includes encouraging them to engage with screening services that can spot disease at an early stage. However, there is some concern that the help they need is not always accessible or used enough.

This is part of a wider picture of insufficient resources to address health needs. According to a CNN report; “the US remains a poor outlier in overall women’s health – in part because of maternal health, an area that experts agree deserves more attention worldwide.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) evaluates women’s health needs globally, but some of the issues it highlights apply to the US specifically. It mentions that in some ways, women are “disadvantaged by discrimination rooted in sociocultural factors”. Examples of this according to WHO is women’s vulnerability to contracting HIV/AIDS, and their risk of malnourishment due to poverty and having children to feed.

Against this rather bleak picture, there are also more affluent women with better access to healthcare support. However, they could lead busy, high-pressured lives, and find it hard to make time to address their healthcare needs until they become critical.

With all of this in mind, women need to be more determined to access healthcare services. This needs to be part of an overarching aim to protect their health through their diet, lifestyle, and sufficient self-care in general.

There is also a need for health and social care providers in the US to continue to increase their women’s care services and make them as readily available as possible. For this to happen, they need to recruit nursing professionals who specialize in women’s health. 

Choosing women’s health nursing as a career

This complex picture of women’s health needs and challenges partly explains why the demand for nurses who specialize in this field is so buoyant. In fact, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nursing in general is a profession experiencing a strong growing need for more applicants. Between 2021 and 2031, there will be an estimated 203,200 registered nursing openings every year. The nursing profession is highly diverse and there are a lot of different specialties individuals can pursue in a wide range of settings. 

So, how can individuals decide if they want to become a nursing professional in women’s health? There are various ways to specialize in women’s health matters once an individual decides to become a nurse as either a first or second career.

The starting point is always to find the best nursing specialties to match the personality, ambitions and preferences of the individual. As a result, when they commit to online programs, such as a Second-Degree Distance Hybrid Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Holy Family University, they have a clear direction in mind. Programs like this can ensure that students become competent and compassionate nurses in a medical field that brings them the most job satisfaction. 

Deciding whether to focus on women’s health or some other niche can involve other considerations too, of course. It is natural for anyone starting their career in nursing to want to know which roles command the best salaries and other perks. However, neonatal and midwife nursing roles are also attractive for many new starters. Individuals may be particularly interested to note that a certified nurse midwife is one of the highest paid jobs in this profession.

There are many other jobs designed specifically to provide nursing care to women.

Women’s health nurse practitioners 

These healthcare professions provide general medical care for women of all ages. They can also be based within medical specialties that experience significant numbers of female patients, such as mental health, urology, cardiac care, and domestic/sexual abuse clinics.

A women’s health nurse practitioner (WHNP) would also support women patients from diagnosis and treatment, through to their recovery or management of chronic illnesses. They need to be versatile and able to practice equality too, as they could be providing healthcare services to biological, intersex, and transgender women.

WHNPs often play a preventative role too, providing valuable guidance and testing for adolescent healthcare through to women in geriatric care settings. Disease prevention and early detection is a key part of being a professional entrusted with keeping women healthy. Hospitals are not the only place patients could find WHNPs. They are also based in private practice offices, clinics, and universities.

Due to the diverse nature of their roles, WHNPs certainly need to have excellent listening and problem-solving skills, alongside their professional qualifications. This includes having the patience and communication skills needed to answer questions and soothe people in what can be distressing or worrying circumstances.

One of the reasons becoming a WHNP is so appealing to many nurses, is that it is a healthcare role that offers a great deal of flexibility. The wide range of vacancies in women’s health services includes full and part-time roles, as well as internships, at various levels of skill and experience. One of the main niche roles that WHNPs would fulfill, would be nursing jobs connected to gynecological healthcare.

OB/GYN nurses

One of the most common areas of women’s health that needs a steady supply of nursing professionals is obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN).

The tasks these specialist nurses could be doing daily include providing advice and guidance on the best birth control for their patients and giving HPV vaccines. Nurses in this field also prepare and deliver pap smears, conduct sonograms, and support patients who are undergoing hormone treatments. 

OB/GYN nurses could also be required to help women patients before and after surgeries, such as hysterectomies. They may even need to triage patients within emergency departments at hospitals or provide oncology care for specific forms of cancer.  

Labor and delivery nurses

Labor and delivery nurses tend to be hospital-based specialized registered nurses (RNs), working within obstetrics departments. These specialist nurses guide and support mothers throughout the entire childbirth process, and the newborn through their first few hours.

Nursing professionals in this field are tasked with such things as helping women through the antepartum, intrapartum, postpartum, and neonatal stages of having a baby. They would also be responsible for vital tasks such as tracking the fetal heartbeat. Specialist labor and delivery nurses would also administer epidurals, assist with C-sections, and help women to time and breathe through their contractions.

There is also a niche role within women’s health nursing called a perinatal nurse. These are highly trained and knowledgeable in the field of pregnancy. They guard both the mother’s and the fetus’ health, especially when there is a heightened risk of miscarriage or serious health issues for the woman.

Perinatal nurses also do routine pregnancy checks and health protection steps, such as ensuring the expectant mother is getting all the right nutrition, performing blood tests, dispensing Lamaze instruction, and assisting in the delivery.

Labor and delivery nurses, as well as perinatal nurses, have another vital role in protecting women’s health. They need to keep their patients and their physicians up to date and know exactly when to enlist specialist help. 

Certified nurse midwife

This is another more advanced niche within specialist nursing with a high salary role. Certified nurse midwives lead in delivering babies when the woman is experiencing a low-risk, healthy pregnancy, with little supervision from obstetricians. To take on this role and level of responsibility, the nursing professional would need a master’s degree and a great deal of birthing experience.

Mental health and wellness nursing

This is another nursing specialty that may involve focusing specifically on women’s health matters. For instance, qualified nurses could be responsible for general mental health and wellbeing support for different groups of women. They could also be specifically tasked with providing miscarriage care and support, or services related to menopause-related health and management.

How to become a WHNP

Women’s health nurse practitioners – whatever area of healthcare they focus on – can potentially earn more than RNs as they tend to have considerable responsibility in their daily tasks.

So how do interested individuals qualify to be a WHNP?

Usually, they first need a bachelor’s degree in nursing to become a registered nurse. This provides an in-depth grounding in the science-related topics that underpin modern healthcare, including physiology, microbiology, psychology, and pharmacology. 

Next, they would complete a master’s degree in nursing or a Doctor of Nursing practice degree. This provides opportunities to acquire far more specialist skills and knowledge. For example, students could gain insights into preventive and general women’s healthcare, prenatal and postpartum care, and reproductive healthcare.

Who is this role best for?

As awareness of the health issues that affect women grows – along with the availability of treatments to improve health outcomes for women – the demand for nurses in these specialty fields will also increase. This can make it an attractive career option for anyone who wants to change direction from an existing job role. Of course, both men and women can be nurses that specialize in women’s healthcare fields. 

However, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost 87% of all registered nurses in the US in 2022 were women, and clearly, they would potentially be the gender most likely to focus on their own health issues.

Even for those who aren’t interested in women’s health nursing as a career path, this article will still have provided a lot of food for thought. At the very least, this article has highlighted how self-managing health as a woman includes being determined to make full use of the services these professionals provide.

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