What is an OB-GYN?

Zawn Villines    
by Valinda Riggins Nwadike
| Procedures | Specialist areas | When to see an OB-GYN Qualifications | Takeaway
An obstetrician-gynecologist,
or OB-GYN, is a healthcare professional that specializes in female reproductive
People trained as OB-GYNs
specialize in both obstetrics and gynecology:

  • obstetrics involves working
    with pregnant women, including delivering babies
  • gynecology involves the female
    reproductive system, treating a wide range of conditions, including sexually
    transmitted infections (STIs) and chronic pain
In this article, we look at
what an OB-GYN is, what procedures they can carry out, their qualifications,
and when someone should see them. We also discuss how a person can become an
is an OB-GYN?
AN OB-GYN is a doctor who has
broad and specific training in obstetrics and gynecology.
OB-GYNs provide a wide range
of preventive care services, including pap smears, STI testing, pelvic exams,
ultrasounds, and blood work.
They can answer a person’s
questions about pregnancy, sex, reproductive health, infertility, and numerous
other topics.
Though recommendations vary
with age and change over time, many women see their OB-GYNs at least once a
year. Some use these physicians as their primary or only doctor.
A Montefiore news release
reports that many may see their OB-GYNs as their primary care doctors.
Researchers surveyed women about their use of various physicians, finding that
56 percent aged 18 to 40 visited only an OB-GYN on an annual basis. Even some
women with a chronic condition primarily saw an OB-GYN.
procedures can they perform?

OB-GYNs are trained surgeons
who can perform a wide range of procedures, including:

  • cesarean sections
  • instrumental deliveries during
  • a hysterectomy
  • removing growths, such as
    ovarian cysts and uterine fibroids
  • surgery to repair pelvic organ
OB-GYNs can also perform a
wide range of routine and in-office procedures, including:

  • pap smears to test for
    cervical cancer
  • STI tests
  • fertility treatments, such as
    egg retrievals for IVF or egg-freezing
  • pelvic ultrasounds to check
    the pelvic organs and monitor pregnancy
  • infertility treatments and
  • management of urinary issues,
    such as urinary tract infections and urinary incontinence
  • treating common problems, such
    as anemia
  • breast exams and breast health
    management, including mammograms and other breast cancer screenings
OB-GYNs may also address
general health needs, such as screening for mental health issues, filling
prescriptions for common ailments, performing blood work for common diseases,
and referring people to specialists.
areas do they specialize in?
OB-GYNs can choose from a wide
range of specialties. Some opt to specialize only in obstetrics and care for
pregnant women. Others only offer gynecological care and do not deliver babies.
Some OB-GYNs choose to focus
on a specific aspect of the field. For instance, an obstetrician might
specialize in vaginal births after cesarean delivery (VBAC).
Some also treat women using a
holistic approach, or osteopathic perspective. This care often prioritizes
natural or traditional remedies. The American Osteopathic Association certifies
osteopathic doctors, including osteopathic OB-GYNs.
OB-GYNs may also specialize in
an area that requires additional training, expertise, and accreditation, such

Maternal-fetal medicine

Maternal-fetal medicine
specialists treat high-risk pregnancies. They specialize in the health of the
mother and the baby, and may also oversee complicated or high-risk deliveries,
such as the vaginal delivery of a baby in the breech position.

Reproductive endocrinologists

Reproductive endocrinologists
are infertility specialists. They diagnose infertility problems and develop
treatment plans. Many offer in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedures.

Gynecologic oncologists

Oncologist is the medical term
for a doctor that specializes in cancer treatment. Gynecological oncologists
treat cancer of the reproductive organs, such as ovarian and cervical cancer.
Female pelvic specialists

Female pelvic medicine
specialists and reconstructive surgeons focus on injuries to and disorders of
the pelvic floor and related structures. They may treat incontinence, provide
pelvic floor physical therapy, or perform surgery to repair prolapsed pelvic

When should someone see an

The American College of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommend that a person should first
visit an OB-GYN between the ages of 13 and 15.
This visit will establish a
relationship between the teenager and the doctor. The doctor will not typically
perform a pelvic exam if the individual has no medical problems and is not
sexually active.
A person should have their
first pelvic exam and pap test around the age of 21 or when they first become
sexually active.
ACOG also recommend that all
women see their gynecologist annually for a well-woman visit. The specific
tests a person needs at each visit vary with age, lifestyle, and health risk
People should see their OB-GYN
if they think they might be pregnant or for any reproductive system issues,

  • STD testing
  • suspected pregnancy or
  • pregnancy complications
  • pain during sex
  • pain or other symptoms
    associated with urination
  • suspected infertility
  • to ask questions about sexual
    or reproductive health
Which qualifications do they

The American Board of
Obstetrics and Gynecology certifies all OB-GYNs in the United States.
After graduating from high
school and college, a person takes the following steps to become an OB-GYN:
Graduate from medical school
The first 2 years of medical
school focus on general medical education, including human anatomy and
physiology. In the final 2 years, medical students spend much of their time in
clinics or hospitals, as apprentices for doctors.
After medical school, the
individual may practice medicine under the supervision of a more senior doctor.
This is called a residency. During a residency, a doctor chooses their
specialty. An OB-GYN residency typically lasts 4 years and gives a doctor the
chance to observe and perform a wide range of procedures.
Speciality examination
After completing a residency,
a doctor can take specialty board examinations. OB-GYNs must take and pass a
day-long oral examination. After a further 2 years, they must also take an oral
exam during which six different doctors ask them questions.
Board certifications
OB-GYNs who pursue additional
board certifications may need to take other board examinations.
Ongoing development
Additionally, doctors must
meet state licensure requirements. This usually means completing a certain
number of continuing education credits each year.
Most OB-GYNs are active and
engaged members of their profession who may have additional qualifications.
Some teach at medical schools
or supervise residents. Many publish research or comment on other doctors’
academic publications. Some attend or speak at professional conferences, while
others may support patient or consumer organizations.
An OB-GYN is a doctor who
specializes in pregnancy and female reproductive health. They can perform a
wide range of procedures, including sexual health screening, cancer screening,
and pregnancy-related problems.
Women who cannot access an
OB-GYN may be able to seek gynecological care from a primary care physician
(PCP). Nurse-midwives are an excellent option for low-risk pregnant women, but
they cannot perform surgery.
According to a 2018 article,
the United States is currently facing a critical shortage of OB-GYNs, with
fewer medical students choosing this specialty.
The American Congress of
Obstetricians and Gynecologists report that there is a “minimal or modest
shortage of OB-GYNs that will increase in the future if past standards
Raising awareness about the
importance of this specialty may help to reverse this shortage.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.