Healthcare for women is a growing industry, and doctors must understand the unique health differences between men and women in order to provide excellent care. Women’s reproductive health is a major consideration in the course of any treatment, and health issues related to reproduction account for nearly one-third of all health problems women experience from ages 15-44. If you’ve considered entering the field of women’s health or would like to help women stay healthier, you may want to consider becoming an OB-GYN. If you’re not familiar with this career path, read on to learn more about what is an OB-GYN and what they do in the medical field.
An OB-GYN, or an obstetrician-gynecologist, is a doctor who specializes in women’s reproductive health. OB-GYNs help women make informed decisions about their reproductive health, including preventing or inducing pregnancy, maintaining general reproductive health, making healthy choices during and immediately after pregnancy, and treating conditions and diseases of the reproductive organs.
OB-GYN is a combination of two distinct branches of medicine:
Obstetrics refers to the focus of all care related to pregnancy, including medical care received during while a woman is pregnant and during and after childbirth. This can include any necessary surgeries, tests, or medicines needed to track and assess the health of the woman and her unborn child. Once the baby is born, any medical care provided to the infant falls under the guidance of a pediatrician and is no longer considered part of obstetrics.
Gynecology refers to the focus of all other female reproductive care, not including pregnancy. This branch includes the diagnosis and treatment of any conditions or diseases of any part of a woman’s reproductive system, including the breasts, vagina, uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes. Maintaining a healthy reproductive system and preventing disease is also an important aspect of this branch of care.
If a doctor becomes a certified OB-GYN, he or she is qualified to perform medical care in either of these branches. However, some doctors choose to specialize and focus primarily on the work of one field or the other.
Since obstetricians primarily care for pregnant women, they routinely meet with female patients to track and assess the care of their unborn babies. These visits can include consultations, measurements, tests, and ultrasounds. Obstetricians, or OB doctors, will also deliver babies in a hospital setting and be available for consultations and decision-making while a patient is in labor. Since woman may be in labor for many hours, and complications can arise quickly that can jeopardize the health of the woman or her baby, an obstetrician must be prepared to work long hours and make quick decisions about the best way to protect the health of both a mother and her baby.
Much like an obstetrician, a gynecologist will meet with female patients for consultations, tests, and a variety of procedures. Doctors who focus only on gynecology will make recommendations and treat conditions that affect a woman’s reproductive health when she is not pregnant. Recommendations, tests, and procedures for this branch of OB-GYN care could include:
• Pap smears
• Ultrasounds to check for tumors or other conditions
• Birth control (including tubal ligations)
Certified OB-GYN doctors can perform any of the activities under either field of obstetrics or gynecology. While some OB-GYNs prefer to stick primarily to one discipline or the other, most OB-GYNs will perform whatever care is needed to meet the changing needs of their female patients. Pregnant woman can experience some reproductive system issues that aren’t directly related to her pregnancy, so there will likely be some overlap between the obstetrics and gynecology fields throughout a woman’s care. In order to provide the best patient experience, a strong OB-GYN doctor should feel comfortable providing guidance in handling these health issues without referring the patient out to another doctor.
Depending on her age and overall health, a woman may visit an OB-GYN for annual checkups or specific reproductive goals. If she is experiencing pain or other symptoms that indicate a potential issue within the reproductive system, a woman may visit her OB-GYN for tests, treatment, and follow up. OB-GYNs can treat a variety of conditions, including:
• Abnormal cervical cultures
• Abnormal bleeding or pelvic pain
• Fibroids or breast lumps
• Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
• Sexual malfunctions or disorders
• Hormonal imbalances
• Ovarian cysts
• Urinary tract or yeast infections
• Fertility disorders
• Ectopic pregnancy and miscarriages
• Cancer prevention and screenings
• Pregnancy prevention
According to the ABOG, there are four officially recognized sub-specializations doctors can choose within the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
• Gynecologic Oncology
Doctors with this specialization are primarily concerned with the diagnosis and treatment of gynecological cancers, including ovarian cancer, breast cancer, uterine cancer, and cervical cancer.
• Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility
Doctors with this specialization are highly experienced with hormone levels and the endocrine system. Patients who are having trouble conceiving a child may visit a reproductive endocrinologist for infertility treatments, including in vitro fertilization or hormone therapy.
• Maternal-Fetal Medicine
Doctors with this specialization treat women with high risk pregnancies and other complications during maternity. Women who are diagnosed with gestational diabetes, high blood pressure, or other medical conditions that can complicate pregnancy will likely be referred to a maternal-fetal specialist. These doctors also treat other surgical complications, such as premature labor or high-risk cesarean sections.
• Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery
Doctors with this specialization treat a variety of complex pelvic floor and urinary conditions, including chronic urinary tract infections, urinary and fecal incontinence, and overactive bladder. Most of these conditions are experienced by aging women, and women with additional medical issues, such as diabetes, are at greatest risk. Treatments can include a combination of pelvic floor exercises, medicine, and surgery.
If you are considering a career in obstetrics and gynecology, it is important to understand the physical and mental requirements of this career pathway. OB-GYNs can work in a private practice office or in a hospital setting, although many doctors will spend at least some time in both settings. Depending on any chosen subspecialties and the typical patient makeup, OB-GYNs can be expected to work very long hours under stressful conditions. However, this career can also be very rewarding, both financially and emotionally. OB-GYNs are often responsible for saving lives of both mothers and babies, and they are uniquely positioned to experience the miracle of birth.
Across all locations and industries, the average OB-GYN in the Unites States earned $238,320 annually in 2018. This median wage is slightly higher than the average wage for all physicians and surgeons, which was $208,000 in the same year. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for OB-GYNs can vary greatly based on geographical location and place of employment. For example, OB-GYNs in the Detroit, MI area earned an average of $172,880 per year, while OB-GYNs in the Denver, CO area earned an average of $285,290 per year.
Doctors should also consider the type of industry when making career decisions. For example, OB-GYNs employed by Colleges, Universities, or Professional Schools earned an average of $167,760 per year, while those employed in Medical and Diagnostic Laboratories had the highest earnings by industry, with average annual earnings of $281,680.
Job Growth in the field of obstetrics and gynecology is still strong, with 500 new jobs projected from 2018-2028. While this only amounts to 2% growth rate overall, there is still significant room for new doctors entering the field. In fact, much of the small overall percentage growth rate can be attributed to a 10% decrease in the growth rate of self-employed OB-GYNs. During this same time period, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting a 37% increase in employment at outpatient care centers and a 26% increase in employment at medical and diagnostic laboratories.
For aspiring physicians who enjoy helping women to maintain and improve their reproductive health, becoming a doctor who specializes in OB-GYN care is a natural fit. OB-GYNs play an important role in helping to improve the overall quality of women’s health, and making this important contribution to the healthcare field helps to bring future generations of doctors into the world.