What's the difference between obstetricians and gynecologists? While OB/GYN is considered one specialty, obstetrics focuses on taking care of women during the pre-conception period, during pregnancy and childbirth, and immediately after delivery, whereas gynecology focuses on all women's health issues, including the reproductive organs.
Here's what you can expect with training and career progression, including the difference between paths for obstetricians and gynecologists.
Those going into the OB/GYN field will complete a residency in that area after medical school graduation. During the four-year residency-training program, residents will learn about a woman's stages progressing through pregnancy, including the woman's health before conception, labor and delivery, and postpartum health and care. Residents are usually also taught about genetics, genetic counseling and issues surrounding prenatal diagnoses. In addition to obstetrics and gynecology, residency rotations might include ultrasonography, reproductive endocrinology, infertility, family planning, gynecologic surgery and gynecologic oncology.
Residents can subspecialize and continue with fellowship training in the four areas approved by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (urogynecological surgery, maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology and infertility and gynecologic oncology). There are also fellowships outside of those areas, such as family planning, pediatric and adolescent gynecology and breast health. The fellowships usually adds another two to four years to the training time.
In practice, the difference between obstetricians and gynecologists is what the doctor chooses to focus on, because the doctor would have received residency training in both. If you're practicing solely as a gynecologist, you would not deliver babies or follow women through their pregnancy. Doctors only practicing as an obstetrician would not treat women for health issues outside of pregnancy. Some physicians practice as an OB/GYN, fulfilling both roles, no matter what phase of life the patient is in. Gynecological issues might include cancer screening, hormone management, urinary tract issues, breast health and the health of other reproductive organs. Some OB/GYNs and gynecologists act as a woman's primary physician, in place of an internist or family practitioner.
As in other medical specialties, OB/GYNs have options to practice in many settings, such as private practices, community practices, academics and hospitals. Given the nature of labor and delivery, obstetricians have a reputation for working long and unpredictable hours. That is changing, as many practices share calls between physicians, and some hospitals have laborists and hospitalists who can take over some of that work. Doctors finishing residency without continuing with a fellowship can go straight into practice.
By Deborah Abrams Kaplan