Obstetricians and gynecologists (OB/GYNs) specialize in women’s health, providing general medical care as well as the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of diseases and disorders of the female reproductive system. They also guide women through pregnancy and childbirth.
Obstetricians and gynecologists focus on ailments that affect the female anatomy, like cervical cancer, urinary tract disorders, and hormonal imbalances. For their pregnant patients, OB/GYNs provide counseling, instruction on proper prenatal nutrition and care, assistance with childbirth, and postpartum care.
With their advanced knowledge of complications that can occur with pregnancy, obstetricians and gynecologists often serve as consultants to surgeons and oncologists. Some OB/GYNs specialize in endocrinology, infertility, gynecologic oncology, or female pelvic reconstructive surgery.
Obstetrician and Gynecologist Job Summary
- The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts very good employment growth in this field, especially in rural and low-income areas.
- Acceptance to medical school is a highly-competitive process.
- While earnings are among the highest of all occupations, OB/GYN careers require substantial education and training: typically, four years of undergraduate school, four years of medical school, and three to eight years of internship and residency.
- Obstetricians and gynecologists work long, irregular hours.
Work Environment for Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Most obstetricians and gynecologists work independently in private practice, in groups, or for healthcare organizations. Group practices allow OB/GYNs to enjoy more time off, share administrative expenses, and provide backup care for their patients.
Obstetricians and gynecologists are assisted by nurses, physician’s assistants, and aides. They often supervise administrative staff, like medical secretaries or office administrators.
OB/GYNs frequently work long days and irregular hours. BLS records show that in 2008, 43% of all physicians and surgeons were on the job for 50 or more hours per week. Many obstetricians and gynecologists regularly travel between their offices and hospitals. OB/GYNs are often on call, answering patient concerns by telephone and handling emergencies in hospitals or birthing centers.
Obstetricians and Gynecologists Education and Training
Becoming an obstetricians or gynecologists (OB/GYN) takes dedication. Entering the field requires eight years of education beyond high school, plus three to eight additional years of internship and residency. In addition, continuing education throughout the OB/GYN’s career is usually required.
Medical school admission is competitive. Premed students must complete undergraduate work in physics, biology, mathematics, English, organic and inorganic chemistry, social sciences, and humanities. Entry into medical school for aspiring obstetricians and gynecologists requires at least three years of college; however, the majority of applicants hold bachelor’s degrees, and many have advanced degrees.
To be accepted to medical school, applicants must submit transcripts, scores from the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), and letters of recommendation. A candidate’s character, personality, leadership ability, and extracurricular activity are also examined. Interviews with the admissions committee are standard for most schools.
In the first two years of medical school, students learn in classrooms and laboratories. Typical courses include anatomy, biochemistry, physiology, pharmacology, psychology, microbiology, pathology, medical ethics, and medical law. The next two years see students working with patients under a physician’s care. Rotations in internal medicine, family practice, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, psychiatry, and surgery offer students experience in the diagnosis and treatment of a variety of illnesses.
After medical school, graduate MDs enter a residency in their specialty. This is a paid internship, usually in a hospital.
In 2008, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) accredited 129 medical schools. The American Osteopathic Association accredits schools that award D.O. degrees; in 2008, there were 25 accredited schools.
All 50 states and U.S. territories require physicians to hold licenses. Like all other physicians, obstetricians and gynecologists must pass the U.S. Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE). Eligibility to take the USMLE requires that physicians graduate from an accredited medical school.
Board certification in a specialty, like obstetrics and gynecology, may take up to seven years in residency training, plus another exam. For certification in a subspecialty, physicians usually need another one to two years of residency.
Individuals wishing to become obstetricians/gynecologists must have a desire to serve women, self-motivation, and the ability to handle pressure and long hours. Physicians must also have a good bedside manner, and good decision-making skills. Additional education is usually required throughout an OB/GYN’s career, so an interest in lifelong learning is important.
Obstetrician and Gynecologist Job Figures, Projections, Outlook, and Earnings
Obstetricians and gynecologists held about 20,380 jobs in May 2009, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Most of these positions were in physicians’ offices. A small number work primarily in medical and surgical hospitals, with the rest employed by outpatient care centers, colleges and universities, local government, and specialty hospitals.
Employment in this field is expected to grow much faster than other occupations, due to the growing population, expansion of healthcare-related industries, and increasing demand from consumers for high levels of healthcare.
BLS reports for May 2009 list the average annual wage for obstetricians and gynecologists as $204,470, with even the lowest 10% earning $99,520. The middle 50% of OB/GYNs earn between $199,717 and $290,051*, while those at the high end of the scale earn upwards of $350,000.**
*Source: Salary.com, July 2010
**Source: PhysiciansSearch.com, July 2010