While OB/GYNs play a crucial role during pregnancy, they serve a multifaceted role in women’s health, promoting and maintaining women’s reproductive health throughout their lives. Therefore, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that the first OB/GYN visit take place between the ages of 13 and 15. 

But what are these healthcare providers, and what do they do?

Let’s delve deeper into what an OB/GYN doctor is, what they do, and how to become one. Join us in exploring how different OB/GYN specialties cover different aspects of women’s care and find out more about when to schedule an appointment.

What Is an OB/GYN?

An obstetrician-gynecologist or an OB/GYN is a specialized doctor who focuses on female reproductive health. Their double specialization in obstetrics and gynecology gives them the expertise to assist women from puberty through menopause, encompassing various aspects of women’s well-being. They mainly focus on reproductive health, pregnancy, and childbirth. OB/GYNs also diagnose and treat multiple reproductive health issues, including endometriosis, pelvic pain, hormonal disorders, breast cancer, infertility, and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

The Difference Between Obstetrics and Gynecology

Although obstetrics and gynecology have a somewhat symbiotic relationship and a degree of overlap, there are distinctions in focus and responsibilities. Obstetrics primarily focuses on providing care to women during pregnancy, childbirth, and the postpartum period. Obstetricians are trained to manage concerns such as ectopic pregnancies, problems with the placenta, or high blood pressure. Moreover, they address any complications that may arise during childbirth. On the other hand, gynecology focuses on all other aspects of women’s reproductive health, including pelvic pain, menstrual problems, infertility issues, infections, and cancer. These specialties intersect to provide comprehensive care for women from adolescence through pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and beyond. 

What Does an OB/GYN Do?

Specializing in women’s health allows OB/GYNs to diagnose and treat various health conditions affecting women. Their scope of practice features an array of duties and responsibilities, including:

  • Prenatal care: OB/GYNs monitor the health of pregnant women from the initial prenatal visit to delivery and manage high-risk pregnancies;
  • Gynecological exams: They perform pap tests, pelvic exams, and other medical procedures to diagnose gynecological disorders and diseases;
  • Family planning services: OB/GYNs can provide family planning services, including contraception and pregnancy spacing advice;
  • Infertility treatment: They can provide a variety of infertility treatments such as surgery, medication, and assisted reproductive technology;  
  • Menopause care: OB/GYNs also help patients address and manage menopause symptoms, including hot flashes, vaginal dryness, and mood changes, through menopausal hormone therapy (MHT). 

Qualifications and Training of OB/GYNs

The educational and training path to becoming an OB/GYN is extensive and rigorous. It typically takes 12 years after completing high school to become one. Although the journey can be challenging and demanding, it’s a rewarding career path worth the sacrifice. This journey involves completing requirements such as:

  1. Earning a bachelor’s degree: While there are no set major requirements, a science degree (biology, psychology, or chemistry) or a pre-med program is beneficial for preparing for medical school. Before applying to a medical school, students also need to get a good score on the MCAT.
  2. Graduating from medical school: The next step toward an OB/GYN career is completing four years of medical school. During medical school, students learn more about numerous medical conditions and engage in clinical rotations.
  3. Completing a four-year residency program: During the Obstetrics & Gynecology residency program, students learn more about women’s reproductive health, fetal development, gynecological surgeries, and more. 
  4. Pursuing fellowship training: After completing the OB/GYN residency, OB/GYN doctors can expand their knowledge and skills in a subspecialty. 
  5. Obtaining board certification and licensure: To practice, OB/GYNs must obtain a medical license from the state they work in and become certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG). These credentials ensure that all OB/GYNs showcase competency and commitment to patient care. 
Qualifications and Training of OB_GYNs

Subspecialties of OB/GYN 

OB/GYN is a diverse field with several subspecialties, each covering an important area of women’s health. Here are the OB/GYN subspecialties administered by ABOG. 

Gynecologic Oncology

Gynecologic oncologists are experts in identifying, treating and managing cancers affecting the female reproductive system, including uterine, vaginal, ovarian, cervical, and vulvar cancer. These specialized doctors can provide treatments such as surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and immunotherapy. 

Perinatology (Maternal-Fetal Medicine)

Perinatology (maternal-fetal medicine) is an OB/GYN subspecialty that focuses on managing health concerns before, during, and shortly after pregnancy. Perinatologists are crucial in managing high-risk pregnancies. They also provide prenatal care when congenital disorders and diseases may cause complications during pregnancy or delivery. Perinatologists often work closely with obstetricians to ensure the health of both the mother and baby. 

Female Pelvic Medicine and Reproductive Surgery

Female pelvic medicine and reproductive surgery (urogynecology) involves the diagnosis and treatment of pelvic floor disorders in women. Specialists in this field address various pelvic floor disorders, including urinary incontinence, lower urinary tract disorders, childbirth-related injuries, and pelvic organ prolapse. They can provide both conservative and surgical treatments to treat these issues. Non-surgical treatments include botox and collagen injections.

Family Planning

Physicians specializing in this subspecialty provide confidential and non-judgemental services for reproductive and sexual health. They also offer guidance and support to ensure people make informed decisions about their bodies. Family planning specialists can provide various services, including:

  • Full-scope contraceptive care;
  • Pregnancy termination;
  • Preconception counseling;
  • Miscarriage management;
  • Contraceptive counseling.

Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility

This surgical subspecialty of obstetrics and gynecology focuses on addressing infertility issues in both men and women. Reproductive endocrinologists specialize in diagnosing and treating hormonal disorders that affect fertility, as well as providing assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as in vitro fertilization (IVF). They also utilize fertility preservation procedures such as sperm banking and egg freezing to keep a person’s ability to have children. 

When to See an OB/GYN

There are many reasons for scheduling an appointment with an OB/GYN, which include:

  • Pregnancy confirmation and pregnancy care for monitoring the health of both the mother and baby;
  • Pelvic pain accompanied by feeling bloated or heaviness in the abdomen, and fever and vomiting in more severe cases;
  • Well-woman exam (annual checkup), which consists of a Pap smear, breast exam, and pelvic exam;
  • Irregular vaginal bleeding, including bleeding after menopause, bleeding while pregnant, and unexplained bleeding between periods;
  • Managing menopause symptoms such as night sweats, hot flashes, and vaginal dryness;
  • Managing and treating bladder control problems or urinary tract infections (UTIs).

Skills Required for OB/GYNs

OB/GYNs must communicate effectively with their patients, families, and other healthcare professionals. This includes speaking clearly and explaining medical terms and treatment issues in a way their patients will understand. They must also be emotionally resilient when dealing with emotionally taxing medical cases. OB/GYNs must also possess a high degree of manual dexterity and superb hand-eye coordination when performing surgeries. Other duties also include the ability to make decisions in high-risk situations and be detail-oriented to provide accurate medication and treatment depending on the changes in the patient’s condition. 

Job Outlook and Innovations in OB/GYN

The job market for OB/GYNs is promising, with BLS projecting a 2% growth in employment, with 23,400 openings each year in the 2022–2032 period. What also makes a career in OB/GYN promising and worthwhile are the recent advancements and medical innovations reshaping how women’s health issues are diagnosed and treated. Technological advances in obstetrics and gynecology include wireless electronic fetal monitoring, robotic systems for conducting gynecological procedures such as endometriosis and cervical and ovarian cancer, and more. Besides technological advancements, there’s progress in minimally invasive surgical techniques leading to quicker recovery and reduced risk of complications. Lastly, through advancements in the use of preimplantation genetic testing, the health and viability of embryos are ensured. 

Key Takeaways

Understanding the role of OB/GYNs is instrumental for women’s overall health and well-being, as they provide comprehensive care throughout their lives. OB/GYNs aren’t just doctors; they can be partners in women’s health, as they provide pregnancy care, regular screenings, treatment of menstrual disorders, diagnosis of cancers, management of menopause symptoms, and infertility treatment. 

So, prioritize your reproductive health and take proactive steps to ensure your overall well-being by regularly visiting an OB/GYN.

FAQ

What is the purpose of seeing an OB/GYN?

The purpose of seeing an OB/GYN is to ensure the overall health of the female reproductive system. This includes seeing an OB/GYN for pregnancy care, treating menstrual disorders, menopause challenges, and other reproductive health concerns.

Why is it important to have an OB/GYN?

Having an OB/GYN is important as they can serve as your partner in maintaining and monitoring your overall health. Furthermore, visiting your OB/GYN on a regular basis allows you to get educated about reproductive health, get regular testing for early detection and prevention of gynecological issues, and help you with family planning. 

Can you be a gynecologist without being an obstetrician?

Yes, you can be a gynecologist without being an obstetrician. However, you can be an obstetrician only if you are a gynecologist.