How to Become an OB/GYN Doctor
OB/GYN stands for obstetrics and gynecology, which is a specialty with a combined focus on pregnancy, delivery, and female sexual and reproductive health. Most recognize OB/GYNs as the doctors who deliver babies or perform gynecological exams; however, few realize the variety of surgical services that these medical professionals provide, from Cesarean sections to fibroid removal. In addition, obstetrics/gynecology is one of the main physician specialties to provide family planning services.
OB/GYNs may work in a variety of health care environments, from large teaching hospitals to family planning clinics. The mixture of work varies according to the practice choices of the physician.
Some OB/GYN doctors receive specialized training in gynecologic oncology and perform surgery exclusively. Many OB/GYNs practice both obstetrics and gynecology, often with the same patients. Others choose to pursue one of the two fields specifically; technically, obstetrics and gynecology are two separate specialties that we commonly combine since many doctors practice them both. Obstetrics and gynecology both focus on the health of a woman's reproductive organs, with obstetricians specializing in reproductive health during pregnancy and gynecologists focusing on the health of those same organs outside of pregnancy.
Because of the unpredictable nature of labor and delivery, the work schedule can be highly variable, with significant amounts of overnight call and unusual work schedules.
Since obstetrics and gynecology are medical specialties, future OB/GYN doctors will need both undergraduate (Bachelor’s) and medical school degrees. Medical school admissions officers are looking for excellent grades, volunteer work, research experience and high marks on the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test). The type of undergraduate degree (BS, BA, AB, etc.) or the academic major is not important, but high performance is essential. Therefore it is best to choose a field that one enjoys and can presumably do very well in. Classes in science and math are required of all applicants.
Medical school lasts four years and includes didactic (classroom) and clinical rotations. Strong performance in classes and on board exams will enable students to have more options in where they match for residency. It is always important to do well in the third year OB/GYN clinical rotation and also to choose at least one sub-internship in the field prior to applying for residency.
After completing an MD degree and matching to an OB/GYN program successfully, residents must complete a four-year residency-training program. During this time residents will earn a relatively low salary ($45,000 annually) and care for patients under the supervision of more senior physicians. Courses include gynecology, obstetrics, and benign gynecological surgery (female sterilization, fibroid removal, etc.). Those interested in pursuing a career in gynecological oncology (focusing on surgery and treatment of cancers of the female reproductive organs) must complete a three-year fellowship after finishing OB/GYN residency.
Licensing and/or Certification
OB/GYNs need a license to practice medicine. This can be obtained (and maintained) from their state medical board. Most OB/GYNs will seek board certification from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. This credential requires the candidate to pass a board certification examination. Licensure requires successful completion of three United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE) board exams.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Even though we have been doing it for millennia and have gotten much better at it recently, labor and delivery is still a stressful, risky time for the mother and baby. Therefore OB/GYNs must be able to work thoughtfully and skillfully under pressure. They must also be suited to working highly variable work schedules. Because it is a hybrid specialty, of sorts, OB/GYNs should enjoy practicing both medicine and surgery. This requires a good bedside manner and clinical acumen along with dexterity, precision, and surgical skill.
Opportunities for Advancement
OB/GYNs begin their post-training career in a high salary position. Advancement comes through academic promotion (if working at a university hospital) or to more senior levels in private practice. Most OB/GYNs would consider advancement in their profession to be having more control over their practice (for instance, choosing gynecology over obstetrics) or over their work schedules (such as fewer on-call hours).
During residency training, an OB/GYN’s annual salary may range from $45,000 to $60,000. Salary will increase with each year of training. After residency is completed, the starting salary is generally between $200,000 and $250,000 per year. In 2010 the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median salary for physicians in obstetrics/gynecology was $281,190. It is important to note that OB/GYN malpractice insurance premiums are among the highest for physicians. The listed salaries do not take into account these insurance costs, which can reach six figures for a single provider.
There is currently a shortage of practicing US-born, US-trained OB/GYNs. This is due in large part to the difficult lifestyle of the profession and the high cost to maintain malpractice insurance. Therefore the employment outlook in this field is exceptionally high, especially in certain geographical regions.