Specialty Spotlight

Specialty Spotlight: Women's Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nursing


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What is your niche? Is it pregnancy and diabetes? Perinatal loss? Journal clubs? Preterm birth? There is something of interest for every nurse interested in this field.  

Sharing insights into the this field is Joan Edwards, RNC, MN, CNS, president of the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN), and assistant clinical professor in the undergraduate baccalaureate nursing program at Texas Women’s University in Houston.  

Edwards is also a perinatal clinical nurse specialist and has spent most of her practice in perinatal and women's health nursing within acute care settings.  

What do you enjoy most about women’s health, obstetric and neonatal nursing?  

I’ve always loved the content area and the fact that I can be such an integral part of childbirth—a sentinel event in the life of a woman. I can help her to cope, equip her to work with the contractions and labor process, advocate for her and her family and give her choices from which she can make an informed decision regarding her individualized care. Women never forget their birth experiences and I derive great pleasure from helping a woman and her family make it the best memorable experience possible—or even make a perinatal loss experience one that is full of compassion and thoughtful care.  

What can a new nurse in the women’s health, obstetric and neonatal, or labor and delivery, specialty expect in the first few months on the job?  

If he or she chooses a place of employment carefully, a new nurse can expect to receive a well planned didactic and clinical preceptorship that will equip him or her to safely care for neonates, childbearing women or women with lifespan health care issues. He/she will be able to join with other nurses that have a passion for the specialty area of women’s and/or neonatal care and have the opportunity to join a premier nursing specialty organization with more than 22,000 members in the United States, Canada and around the world. Association of Women's Health, Obstetrics and Neonatal Nurses (AWHONN) sets the standards for this specialty of patient care.  

Local AWHONN chapters and local AWHONN members are available to mentor and educate in addition to the structured preceptorships obtained from places of employment. Networking will help the new graduate to realize he/she is not alone. We are just a phone call, e-mail or meeting away.  

What is the most challenging thing about being a new women’s health, obstetric or neonatal nurse?  

Staying current! We’re in an information explosion age. It’s so important to stay current on the latest research and care issues for our patients, families and the nursing profession. But this is also one of the most intellectually stimulating facets of being a nurse!  

What advice can you offer a new graduate looking for a job in one of these specialties?  

Make sure the preceptorship is structured with the inclusion of didactic and clinical. Make sure the facility utilizes AWHONN standards and staffing guidelines. Check to see if the manager or director is an AWHONN member and is “involved.” Also, don’t ever underestimate the importance of networking with your peers and with nurses experienced in your specialty area. Get involved and join your specialty organization on a local, state and national level. Continue to add to your knowledge base either formally through additional college or university courses or through workshops, conferences, conventions and educational materials/publications.  

Finally, find your niche! Is it pregnancy and diabetes? Perinatal loss? Journal clubs? Preterm birth? Decide what you are interested in and excel at it. Become an expert in that area and be a resource for your peers, your patients and their families.  

For more information, visit the AWHONN Web site.  

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