Obstetricians/gynecologists, often abbreviated to OB-GYNs, are physicians who are trained to provide medical and surgical care for disorders that affect the female reproductive system, to deliver babies, and to provide care for the unborn fetus and the newborn. There are approximately 30,000 physicians who specialize in obstetrics/gynecology in the United States.
Obstetrician / Gynecologist Career History
Obstetrics and gynecology were recognized medical disciplines in the United States by the middle of the 19th century. However, these two fields developed separately throughout history and differently across cultural boundaries.
Female midwives were the first individuals to perform obstetric work. It was not until the 17th century that European physicians became involved in childbirth. Aristocrats and royalty allowed these physicians to attend the births of their children, and eventually the practice spread to the middle classes.
Gynecology evolved separately from obstetrics but was practiced in Greco-Roman civilization and possibly earlier. Despite their separate early histories, the similar nature of obstetrics and gynecology forced the disciplines to merge. Both fields were advanced by the invention of the forceps used during delivery, anesthesia, and antiseptic methods used during gynecologic surgery and childbirth. The method of cesarean section as an alternative to natural childbirth was also a major advancement in early medical practice.
Fertility, the promotion of healthy births, and prenatal care define the scope of obstetric and gynecologic advances now seen in the 21st century. Hormonal contraceptive pills were introduced in the 1950s and helped to regulate women’s fertility, while the development of amniocentesis and ultrasound allowed for more accurate prenatal diagnosis of birth defects.
Obstetrician / Gynecologist Job Description
The specialty of obstetrics and gynecology can be divided into two parts. Obstetrics focuses on the care and treatment of women before their pregnancy, during the pregnancy, and after the child is born. Gynecology is concerned with the treatment of diseases and disorders of the female reproductive system. Because the areas overlap, the specialties are generally practiced together. Preventive measures and testing make up a large part of an OBGYN’s practice.
Obstetricians/gynecologists provide many different types of health services to women, from prenatal care to Pap tests to screening tests for sexually transmitted diseases to breast exams and birth control. With specialization, the OBGYN’s practice may focus on pregnant patients, cancer patients, or infertile patients.
Disorders that OBGYNs commonly treat include yeast infections, pelvic pain, endometriosis, infertility, and uterine and ovarian cancer. The doctor prescribes medicines and other therapies and, if necessary, schedules and performs surgery.
When an examination and test indicate that a patient is pregnant, an OBGYN sets up regular appointments with the patient throughout the pregnancy. These visits make up a crucial part of any woman’s prenatal care, helping her learn about her pregnancy, nutrition and diet, and activities that could adversely affect the pregnancy. In addition, the patient is examined to see that the pregnancy is progressing normally. Later in the pregnancy, the frequency of visits increases, and they become important in determining a birthing strategy and any alternate plans. An OBGYN will deliver the baby and care for the mother and child after the delivery.
Obstetrician / Gynecologist Career Requirements
You can prepare for a future in medicine by taking courses in biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Courses in computer science are a must, as well, since the computer is changing the way medicine is communicated and shared by medical professionals. Also important are courses such as English and speech that foster good communication skills.
In order to earn an M.D., you must complete four years of medical school. For the first two years you attend lectures and classes and spend time in laboratories. You learn to take patient histories, perform routine physical examinations, and recognize symptoms. In your third and fourth years, you are involved in more practical studies. You work in clinics and hospitals supervised by residents and physicians and you learn acute, chronic, preventive, and rehabilitative care. You go through what are known as rotations, or brief periods of study in a particular area, such as internal medicine, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery. Then you must complete a minimum of four years in residency, three of them entirely in obstetrics and gynecology, with a one-year elective.
After completing a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, a specialist in obstetrics and gynecology may pursue additional training to subspecialize in critical care medicine, gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, or reproductive endocrinology.
Certification and Licensing
Certification by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) is highly recommended. In the last months of your residency, you take the written examination given by the ABOG. Candidates for certification take the final oral examination after two or more years of practice. You must have successfully passed the written portion of the certifying exam before you are eligible to take the oral portion. The ABOG also offers certification in the following subspecialties: maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, and gynecologic oncology.
Communication skills are essential, as most of your time is spent with patients, talking to them and listening to their histories and problems. The intimate nature of both the patient’s condition and the examination requires that an OBGYN be able to put the patient at ease while asking questions of an intimate nature.
Exploring Obstetrician / Gynecologist Career
One of the best introductions to a career in health care is to volunteer at a local hospital, clinic, or nursing home. In this way it is possible to get a feel for what it’s like to work around other health care professionals and patients and possibly determine exactly where your interests lie. As in any career, reading as much as possible about the profession, talking with a high school counselor, and interviewing those working in the field are other important ways to explore your interest.
Approximately 30,000 physicians specialize in obstetrics/ gynecology in the United States. Most obstetricians/gynecologists are in private solo or group practices, although some work for public health agencies, women’s organizations, and university hospitals and clinics. Obstetricians/ gynecologists who work for public health agencies and clinics are active in preventive health care and work in these settings as administrators, consultants, and planners.
A growing number of physicians are partners or salaried employees of group practices. Organized as medical groups, these physicians can more easily afford expensive medical equipment, insurance costs, and other business expenses.
There are no shortcuts to entering the medical profession. Requirements are an M.D. degree, a licensing examination, a one- or two-year internship, and a period of residency that may extend as long as five years.
Upon completing this program, which may take up to 15 years, OBGYNs are then ready to enter practice. They may choose to open a solo private practice, enter a partnership practice, enter a group practice, or take a salaried job with a managed-care facility or hospital. Salaried positions are also available with federal and state agencies, the military, including the Department of Veterans Affairs, and private companies. Teaching and research jobs are usually obtained after other experience is acquired.
Advancement opportunities for an obstetrician/gynecologist comes by way of acquiring more skill and knowledge and increasing the size of the practice. Going back to school to learn a subspecialty is one way of advancing; however, it also means a serious investment, both of time and finances. Involvement in professional organizations and societies may lead to committee appointments and chairs, which are markers of respect by one’s peers.
Salaries for obstetricians/gynecologists vary according to the kind of practice (whether he or she works individually or as part of a group practice), the amount of overhead required to maintain the practice, and the geographic location. According to Physicians Search. com, OBGYNs receive starting salaries that range from $110,000 to $210,000. Those with three years of experience earn an average salary of $248,294. Salaries range from $184,045 to $350,455.According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2005 the median annual salary for OBGYNs was $145,600. The lowest paid 10 percent earned $95,960 and the highest paid 10 percent earned $247,348 or more, annually. Fringe benefits for OBGYNs typically include health and dental insurance, paid vacations, and retirement plans.
Obstetricians/gynecologists work long, irregular hours. They may be paged at any moment to rush to the hospital to deliver a baby or handle a medical emergency. On a typical day, an OBGYN might have to travel from his or her office to the hospital several times in one day. An OBGYN might start the day by reviewing patient charts at the office and then head to the hospital to perform surgery and make rounds. After returning to the office, an OBGYN might see patients during the afternoon and then finish the day by updating medical records, phoning patients, and reading journals to keep up with new developments in the field.
It is still possible for an obstetrician/gynecologist to have a relatively normal life outside of the world of obstetrics and gynecology. Unlike a trauma surgeon, the OBGYN knows which obstetrics patients are likely to deliver and which gynecological patients are at risk for some emergency.
Obstetrician / Gynecologist Career Outlook
According to the Occupational Outlook Handbook, the employment of all physicians in almost all fields is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through 2014.
The number of physicians in training has leveled off and is likely to decrease over the next few years. Future physicians may be more likely to work fewer hours, retire earlier, have lower salaries, or practice in rural or under-served areas.
The demand for OBGYNs has not abated. In fact, some experts predict that there will be shortages of these professionals as OBGYNs continue to leave the field on account of soaring malpractice insurance premiums and smaller Medicaid reimbursements. Additionally, the Chicago Tribune reports that the number of unfilled OBGYN residencies increased from 12.8 percent in 1999 to 22.9 percent in 2003 as medical students who were already burdened with high student loan debt avoided the field and focused on more lucrative specialties. Opportunities should be especially good for OBGYNs who are willing to work in rural or other underserved areas.
For More Information:
- American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- American Medical Association