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The obstetrician-gynecologist, or OB/GYN, is the cornerstone of women’s health care. Specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, some OB/GYN doctors exclusively attend to expectant mothers, while others oversee the unique medical needs of teenage girls and women of all ages. To become an OB/GYN, you must complete years of education and residency. In the long run, you can reap the rewards of a comfortable income and enjoy the satisfaction of helping people live healthy, fruitful lives.
Who Are OB/GYNs?
An OB/GYN doctor may specialize in women’s health issues, pregnancy issues or both. Obstetricians provide health care for pregnant women and those who want to conceive a child. Obstetricians often deliver babies and attend to their mothers in the days and weeks following delivery. Gynecologists treat women with conditions and diseases specific to the female anatomy, including menopause, pelvic pain, urinary tract issues and uterine conditions, but do not treat pregnant women or deliver babies. Under the OBGYN umbrella, obstetricians and gynecologists may choose to practice general obstetrics or gynecology, or specialize in areas such as gynecologic oncology or maternal-fetal medicine.
OB/GYNs must juggle a wide range of duties and responsibilities. They conduct physical examinations and diagnostic studies to determine a patient’s condition or illness. OB/GYNs create general health and therapeutic plans for their patients and write orders for medical tests. A gynecologist may serve as the primary doctor for some patients, which requires dealing with common illnesses typically treated by a family physician or internist.
Of the estimated 18,600 OB/GYNs operating in the United States, more than 14,000 work in private practices, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Others work in medical schools, hospitals or health clinics. Some full-time OB/GYNs work more than 40 hours per week; obstetricians often work irregular and unpredictable hours based on baby delivery duties.
OB/GYN Education and Residency
Typically, you must complete a bachelor’s degree before qualifying for admission to medical school. Many aspiring doctors choose an undergraduate program that can lay a scientific foundation for medical school, such as chemistry or biology. Undergraduates seeking a career in medicine also can expand the interpersonal skills they will need to work with patients by taking coursework in disciplines such as communications and social science.
Medical schools are competitive, with rigorous admissions requirements. Typically, you must submit letters of recommendation, undergraduate transcripts and information about your nonacademic activities, such as volunteer work, club memberships and sports participation. You must also appear for an interview before the school’s admissions committee and pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a standardized exam used to evaluate your knowledge of science, as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills.
Medical school programs take at least four years to complete. Medical school coursework includes medical ethics, biochemistry, medical law and anatomy, along with laboratory classes and practical diagnostic exercises. After graduating from medical school, you must enter a residency program, typically at a hospital, for three to four years of practical training attending patients. Many medical schools include residency placement as part of their program. During the residency program, OB/GYN residents can hone their skills in obstetrics and gynecology, working with patients under the instruction of experienced doctors.
OB/GYN Medical Licenses and Certifications
All U.S. states require surgeons and physicians to obtain a license before they can practice medicine. Before applying for a license, you must graduate from medical school, complete your residency and pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination, a three-step test administered in all 50 states and U.S. territories.
The law does not require board certification in obstetrics or gynecology, but obtaining certification in a specialty can help you land your first job or bolster the prestige of your practice. To obtain certification, you must complete your residency, hold a medical license and pass an examination administered by a qualified organization, such as the American Board of Physician Specialties or the American Board of Medical Specialties.
OB/GYN Pay and Employment Outlook
In 2017, physicians and surgeons could expect a median wage of around $208,000, according to the BLS. The median wage is the income in the middle of the pay scale. OB/GYN pay ranked third highest among all physicians, after anesthesiologists and surgeons, with a median income of more than $235,000, or around $20,000 per month. An obstetrician or gynecologist salary often depends on where an OB/GYN works. The highest paid OB/GYNs work for medical laboratories, while the lowest earners work at colleges and universities.
Rural areas and low-income communities have the greatest need for physicians working in all types of medicine. The BLS projects the need for OB/GYNs to grow by 16 percent through 2026, the highest growth rate among all physicians and surgeons. However, changes in health-care policy, health insurance costs and health-care availability could affect growth rates in all areas of medicine. When considering any medical profession, pay close attention to changes in nationwide health-care policy.
- UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine: Obstetricians and gynecologists: What's the difference?
- UC Davis Medical Center: Resident Roles and Responsibilities - Obstetrics and Gynecology
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Obstetricians and Gynecologists
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Physicians and Surgeons
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Work Environment
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: How to Become a Physician or Surgeon
- Association of American Medical Colleges: About the MCAT Exam
- United States Medical Licensing Examination: Who is USMLE?
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Pay
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics: Job Outlook