How to Become an OB/GYN Doctor
A physician specializing in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN) focuses on female sexual and reproductive health, pregnancy, and delivery. While many recognize OB/GYNs as the physicians who deliver newborns or perform gynecological exams, OB/GYNs also perform a wide variety of surgical procedures, from Cesarean sections to uterine fibroid resection. In addition, obstetrics and gynecology is one of the primary medical specialties to provide family planning services.
As with many other specialties in medicine, OB/GYNs can practice in a wide variety of settings, ranging from smaller outpatient clinics to large teaching hospitals and academic medical centers. Thus, the percentage of time spent in clinic versus the operating room also varies according to the OB/GYN’s particular choice of practice setting.
For a given OB/GYN, the particular work schedule can also vary based on the medical focus and/or subspecialty training. For example, OB/GYNs who elect to remain actively involved in labor and delivery may find themselves taking a large amount of overnight call and working unpredictable hours, given the nature of pregnancy. As another example, OB/GYNs who have chosen to subspecialize in gynecologic oncology will typically find themselves spending the majority of their time in the OR as opposed to the clinic, but will often work more predictable hours.
It should be noted that, technically, obstetrics and gynecology are two separate specialties that many laypeople consider to be one and the same. While it is true that obstetrics and gynecology both focus on the health of a woman's reproductive organs, obstetricians specialize in reproductive health during pregnancy, whereas gynecologists focus on female reproductive health outside of pregnancy. Many OB/GYNs practice both obstetrics and gynecology, although some choose to pursue one of the two fields independently of the other.
The first step towards any medical practice is the successful completion of an undergraduate bachelor degree, followed by a doctorate of medicine degree. In college, the particular subtype of undergraduate degree (BS, BA, AB, etc.) and one’s academic major are of minor importance. However, stellar academic performance is a requisite. Therefore, it behooves applicants to choose a major/degree that they enjoy and in which they excel. Pre-medical courses in general chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology are required of all applicants.
Application to medical school is competitive, requiring a robust application that preferably demonstrates experience in research, leadership and volunteering, in addition to high academic performance. Additionally, applicants must study for, complete, and score highly on the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT), a massive cumulative examination that assesses basic scientific knowledge.
Medical school is four years long and essentially split into two components: a two-year curriculum of didactic (classroom) lectures, followed by two years of various clinical rotations. As with undergraduate study, a high level of academic rigor is required in medical school in order to maintain a wide breadth of options when applying for residency training. OB/GYN is a moderately competitive specialty, particularly at the more prestigious institutions; it required strong grades, high medical board scores, and preferably research in a topic related to one’s future medical specialty.
Following the successful completion of medical school, students are awarded the MD degree and press on to complete a four-year residency training program. During this time, OB/GYN residents will earn a relatively modest salary ($45,000 annually), and will care for patients under the supervision of more senior “attending” physicians (those who have completed the full spectrum of training and can practice independently). Clinical training during residency will include all aspects of outpatient and inpatient gynecology and obstetrics, including gynecological surgery (such as fibroid removal, for instance). Additional post-residency training can be obtained in subspecialty fields such as reproductive endocrinology or gynecologic oncology through the successful completion of a three-year fellowship.
Licensing and/or Certification
All physicians require a full medical license to practice medicine independently, and this can be obtained by application to the state following the successful completion of medical school and the United States Medical Licensing Examinations (USMLEs). Additionally, most OB/GYNs will seek board certification from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology. In order to obtain board certification, candidates must pass a two-day board certification examination.
Necessary Skills and Qualities
Given the stressful nature of pregnancy and delivery, OB/GYNs must be able to work thoughtfully and skillfully under pressure. Those wishing to actively practice obstetrics must also be suited to working highly variable work schedules. Finally, given the hybrid nature of this specialty, OB/GYNs should enjoy practicing both medicine and surgery. This requires a strong bedside manner and clinical acumen, in addition to dexterity, precision, and surgical skill.
Opportunities for Advancement
Following the completion of residency, OB/GYNs can choose to start their own practice; join an existing group and work towards becoming a partner; or become employed through a hospital or large academic medical center. If the candidate chooses the latter, advancement comes through academic promotion. In hospital-based practice, promotions may allow for more administrative duties and increasing control over their practice. This may manifest as the ability to practice strictly gynecology rather than obstetrics, for instance.
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Salary and Job Outlook
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The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics states that the median salary for all physicians, including OB/GYNs, is over $187,200. Per Salary.com, the average starting salary for OB/GYNs ranges between $200,000 and $250,000 per year. As of 2012, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the median salary for all OB/GYNs was $301,737. 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.
Overall for all physicians, the Bureau of Labor Statistics anticipates job growth of 18% from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than average job growth. 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 and particularly robust in certain geographical regions.