How to Become a Perinatologist

By Sid Karpoff; Updated July 05, 2017
Pregnant woman reclining on the bed with a female doctor sitting beside her
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A perinatologist is a specialized physician who cares for women and their fetuses during high-risk pregnancies. They also are known as maternal-fetal medicine doctors. Perinatologists work closely with their patients' obstetricians and focus on gestational diabetes, genetic issues and complications of multiple fetuses. Perinatologists first train as obstetricians before moving into specialized training in perinatology.

Education and Training

It takes It takes at least 14 years to become a perinatologist. After four years of undergraduate study and four years of medical school, aspiring perinatologists complete a four-year residency in obstetrics and two to three years of advanced fellowship training in an accredited perinatology residency program. They perform advanced diagnostics using high-level ultrasound, chorionic villus sampling, and fetal transfusion.

Licensing Is a 3-Step Process

Perinatolgists, like all doctors, must be licensed in the states where they wish to work. Each state's requirements are different, but they require proof of successful completion of all three steps of the United States Medical Licensing Examination, or USMLE. Step 1 ensures that applicants can apply scientific concepts to the practice of medicine; Step 2 tests medical students and graduates on how well they gather information from patients, do physical examinations and communicate with patients and colleagues; Step 3 is the final exam and tests a physician's ability to apply clinical science in the unsupervised practice of medicine.

Board Certification Shows Advanced Skills

After licensing, voluntary board certification shows that the doctor meets standards to be certified as an expert in obstetrics and perinatology. To become board certified, a licensed doctor must pass a written and oral exam by the American Board of Medical Specialties within seven years of completing residency training. To remain board-certified, doctors must reapply every 10 years.

Working Environment Includes Offices and Hospitals

Perinatologists, like obstetricians, can have unpredictable schedules because their patients' conditions can change rapidly and dangerously. While perinatologists do not often deliver babies, they may need to see a patient in the hospital when a woman in a high-risk pregnancy develops an acute condition and needs immediate treatment. For more routine matters, perinatologists see their patients in office and clinic settings.

About the Author

Sid Karpoff's 25-year career as a financial editor began after more than a decade as a daily newspaper reporter and copy editor specializing in personal finance and workplace issues. His master's degree in comparative urban studies is from Antioch University and his Brooklyn College bachelor's degree is in political science.