An obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) is a medical doctor who offers care to female patients regarding reproductive health and family planning (menstrual cycle, birth control, prenatal care, delivery, etc.). To prevent major illness, OB/GYNs administer pap tests, pelvic examinations, breast examinations, and mammograms. They are trained to assist patients with serious needs, including fibroid tumors, caesarean births (c-section), and preterm labor.
Technically obstetrics and gynecology are two different fields, but many doctors who go into these fields practice both. Gynecology focuses on reproductive health outside of pregnancy, while obstetrics focuses on reproductive health during pregnancy. Usually patients will see the same doctor for non-pregnancy and pregnancy care.
Why Become An OB/GYN
OB/GYNs are essential healthcare providers for women. They not only educate women on sexual and reproductive safety, but they ensure that women prevent and find appropriate treatments for precancerous and cancerous issues of the cervix, uterus, and ovaries. Sexuality and childbirth are important aspects of a woman’s life, and an OB/GYN can help a woman make the best decisions regarding her reproductive wellness.
OB/GYNs must be competent surgeons and doctors, who are capable of making serious and timely decisions. They are problem solvers, good communicators, and should have a great deal of empathy for their patients.
Most OB/GYNs become so because of prenatal care and delivery. It is an intimate relationship they forge with their patients, and welcoming a new life (or lives) into the world is an amazing experience.
Work environment varies for most doctors, but because of an OB/GYN’s responsibility to deliver babies, their work alternates between a hospital setting and their clinics. Their practice can be private, where they work solo or with other healthcare providers. OB/GYNs may teach medical students or choose to work in family planning clinics. Some OB/GYNs work for clinics open to the public that serve low-income individuals.
Pregnancies and deliveries are unpredictable, so an OB/GYN’s schedule is often erratic and their hours are long. They work in rotations with other providers to be on call, and they can work overnight, weekends, and holidays, and their hours vary from early mornings to late nights.
OB/GYNs may see anywhere from $45,000 to $60,000, a year, throughout their residencies. After they become fully trained and licensed, their salaries typically rise to a range between $200,000 and $250,000, annually. According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary in 2012 for an OB/GYN was $301,737. Note: Malpractice insurance for their particular field is higher than most and can exceed six-figures, depending on the geographical region of a practice.
OB/GYN Career Outlook
Although the outlook for all physicians is higher than most other professions, the outlook for OB/GYNs is exceptionally so. Between the irregular schedule and long hours, and cost of malpractice insurance, there is an incredible shortage of native U.S. and U.S.-trained OB/GYNs. The need in this field will only continue to grow.
Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree. Completing pre-med school courses is recommended to gain admission into medical school. Courses like chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biology, mathematics, statistics, English, and even liberal arts courses are essential to pre-med preparation.
Students must pass the M-CAT (Medical College Admission Test) to get into medical school. A high test score and high grade point average (GPA) will improve a candidate’s chances of getting into medical school. It is also recommended to volunteer and find leadership opportunities to add to your resume of experience.
Step 2: Earn a medical degree. OB/GYNs can either complete a Doctor of Medicine degree (M.D.) or a Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine degree (D.O.). These degrees take 4 years to complete and will follow up with a residency. Medical school is designed to prepare doctors for general practice, but courses pertinent to the practice of an OB/GYN are immunology, cells and tissues, infectious diseases, and the reproductive system.
Step 3: Complete a residency program. Residents who seek certification in obstetrics and gynecology can either enter into a program just for this practice (four years) or complete a year of general medicine prior to an OB/GYN residency. During a residency, doctors complete coursework and clinical training. It is through clinical practice that residents gain hands-on experience in obstetrics, gynecology, and emergency care. Residents are also involved in research. During the fourth year, residents will register to take the written certification examination, administered through the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG), in which they will become registered residency graduates.
Step 4: Obtain a license. Licensure requirements vary from state to state. All states require candidates to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE).
Step 5: Become board certified. Aspiring OB/GYNs must take the written certification examination to practice. Once this is completed and licensure is obtained, it is necessary to take the oral certification examination. The ABOG administers both examinations. At this point, OB/GYNs can narrow their focus on a subspecialty if they choose, such as reproductive endocrinology and fertility, female pelvic health and reconstructive surgery, or maternal-fetal medicine and gynecologic oncology.
Step 6: Complete a fellowship. To become a fellow, it is necessary to have completed the above steps. A fellowship typically lasts three years and is an opportunity to practice medicine in a specialty (obstetrics and gynecology, or another subspecialty).
Beyond completing a fellowship, it is necessary to maintain a medical license through renewal. Educational opportunities approved by the American Board of Medical Specialties and the ABOG can provide continuing professional development and specialty certification for OB/GYNs.