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What is an OB GYN and what do they do?

Posted by Callie Torres
July 15, 2021

What is an OBGYNAn Obstetrician Gynecologist (often shortened to the term Ob Gyn) is a DO or MD doctor that specializes in the care of diseases and disorders of the female reproductive system. Ob Gyns treat health conditions in patients that affect menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, the pelvic floor, and the internal reproductive and external reproductive organs. Ob Gyns can work in a variety of settings including a clinic, hospital unit, and a surgical center. Ob Gyns interview patients, diagnose health conditions, prescribe medications, perform in office procedures, and operate in reproductive surgical centers. The field of Obstetrics and Gynecology is very wide and diverse. Some Ob Gyns treat and take care of all different types of reproductive health issues in women, and other Ob Gyns choose to specialize into one particular medical area of focus termed a fellowship.

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  1. What does an OB GYN do?
  2. What services does an OB GYN provide?
  3. What in office procedures are performed?
  4. Obstetrician vs Gynecologist - What's the difference?
  5. What education and training is required?
  6. What are the sub-specialties of Obstetrics and Gynecology?
  7. Do OB GYNs perform pelvic surgery?
  8. Obstetrics and Gynecology news
  9. What is the job outlook for OB GYN specialists?

What does an Ob-Gyn do?

Obstetrician gynecologist doctors treat a wide range of health conditions that affect women both young and old. The specialty focuses on the care of female reproductive health, pregnancy and childbirth. Many Ob Gyn reproductive doctors split their time between taking care of women in the hospital unit and taking care of women in the clinic. In the hospital, Ob gyn doctors oversee child birth, perform surgery on patients, and round on hospitalized patients.

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In the clinic, Ob Gyns see women for wellness health care exams, pregnancy check-ups, pelvic dysfunction disorders, infertility treatment, urinary issues, pelvic pain, sexually transmitted infections, and birth control options. Obstetrician gynecologists also perform small medical procedures in office, such as intrauterine device insertion, and utilize the latest technology like ultrasound.

What medical care does an Ob Gyn provide?

As previously mentioned, Ob Gyns treat a wide range of medical health conditions that affect women in both the Gynecology field and Obstetrician field. The top five most frequently encountered health conditions that Ob Gyns treat include:

  • Pregnancy and childbirth
  • Abnormal uterine bleeding
  • Menopausal health concerns
  • Vaginitis
  • Pelvic pain
female obstetrics doctor with patient


ob doctor with pregnant lady


What is an Ob Gyn able to do in office?

In-office medical procedures are usually minor health procedures that a physicians performs in office that do not require the extensive medical care and oversight of a surgical center. There are several in-office health care procedures that obstetrician gynecologist physicians do. This includes:

  • Insertion and removal of intrauterine conception devices
  • Pap cancer smears
  • Breast exams
  • Biopsy sampling
  • Ultrasound health examinations
  • Insertion and removal of pessaries to treat pelvic floor dysfunction

What is the difference between an Obstetrician and Gynecologist?

Many Ob Gyn doctors choose to practice both obstetric and gynecologist medicine. Obstetrics is the branch of medicine that aims to provide medical health care for patients that are pregnant. This includes providing care from before pregnancy even begins to after childbirth has occurred. Obstetricians will measure and ensure adequate growth and health of the baby, oversee health of the mom, monitor important laboratory testing, and help to plan for childbirth. 

The second half of medicine that Ob Gyns practice is Gynecology. The field of Gynecology focuses on providing health care that involves female reproductive tract. Gynecologists provide reproductive medical care including the following:

  • Providing pap test screenings for cervical cancer
  • Treating menstrual dysfunctions
  • Diagnosing and providing care for urinary dysfunctions
  • Prescribing different birth control options
  • Managing pelvic floor disorders
  • Caring for ovarian disorders and cancer
OBGYN doctor talking with patient


obstetrics with baby heart monitor


What are the educational steps to becoming an Ob Gyn?

To become an ob gyn, one must complete a very rigorous educational path. To begin, one must obtain a bachelor's degree from a college. After that, one must earn a four-year medical degree from either an Osteopathic Medical Program (D.O. degree) or an Allopathic Medical Program (M.D. degree). Students are formally doctors after graduation, but their education is not complete. One must match into an obstetrics and gynecology residency training program after graduating from medical school. Obstetrics and gynecology residency last four years and is linked to at least one hospital. After completing residency, ob gyns have the option of completing a fellowship in a specific field of study. The majority of fellowships for an Ob Gyn lasts less than three years and allow participants to specialize further in a certain area of Obstetrics or Gynecology

Can OB GYNs sub-specialize into medical areas such as Reproductive medicine?

Similar to other physician professions, Ob Gyns can choose to subspecialize into a certain facet of medicine. This requires the Ob Gyn doctor to spend at least a year studying the particular medical area they want to focus on. This time is termed a fellowship. After completion of an Ob Gyn's fellowship, they must pass a board certification exam in order to be fully accredited in that Medical subspecialty. A few of the Ob Gyn's fellowship options includes:

  • Gynecologic oncology- This specialty (often shortened to the term gyn onc) allows for a gynecologist to focus on treating cancer of the female reproductive tract. Gynecologist oncology doctors perform surgery on gyn cancer tumors, oversee chemotherapy medications for gyn cancer, and work with other medical specialists such as radiation doctors to help manage cancer cases.
  • Maternal and Fetal Medicine- This specialty (often called MFM) focuses on providing care to women who are pregnant. Maternal and fetal medicine obstetricians provide care to women with high risk pregnancies and to women with pregnancy complications. They also provide care for women who are pregnant with more than one baby
  • Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility- In this specialty, Ob Gyns focuses on providing reproductive medical care to women who have difficulties getting pregnant. This includes treating endocrinology conditions that may affect reproductive fertility in women.

Is an OB GYN a pelvic surgeon?

Yes, an Ob Gyn is a pelvic surgeon. The most frequent surgery that an Ob Gyn (that is not subspecialized) performs on patients is caesarian section (c section). Cesarian sections affect the health of the mother and are necessary for several reasons. These include:

  • Malposition of the unborn baby
  • Improper position of the placenta (placenta previa)
  • Vessels overlying the opening of the cervix (vasa previa)
  • Twin or triplet pregnancies
  • Infections such as herpes or HIV
  • Labor that does not progress, meaning it is too slow or taking too long
  • Fetal distress
  • Fetal birth defect
  • Very large fetal weight

Other common surgeries that Ob Gyns Perform include:

  • Hysterectomy (with or without oophrectomy)- the removal of the uterus with or without ovaries
  • Myomectomy- removal of benign leiomyoma tumors (also called fibroids)
  • Pelvic support surgery- usually done to correct organ prolapse
  • Oophrectomy- removal of ovaries
  • Salpingectomy- removal of fallopian tubes
  • Endometrial ablation- removal of the lining of the endometrial cavity, often done to correct heavy periods
physician looking at ultrasound


sonography at ob-gyn office


What are the newest medical innovations in Obstetrics and Gynecology? 

One of the most feared complications during childbirth is postpartum hemorrhage, loss of an excessive amount of blood which can be life threatening. Previously, medications, blood products, health procedures, and even hysterectomies were needed to prevent further loss of blood. Non-surgical options used to be limited to a uterine balloon that could be inflated to try and tamponade the blood flow. However, this was rarely used as it infrequently staunched postpartum bleeding. Recently the health innovation of a vacuum induced tamponade device for postpartum hemorrhage has helped to provide another non-surgical means of treatment. This device allows Ob Gyns to use negative pressure in the uterus to cause the uterine muscle to close off the bleeding blood vessels. This minimally invasive means of treating postpartum hemorrhage has few complications and is low tech, allowing areas with low resource availability a new option of treatment.

Another innovation in obstetrics and gynecolology is the ability to provide fetal therapy while in utero. This technological advancement allows for Ob Gyns to provide medical fetal treatment while still in the uterus, without disrupting or causing birth. Medical complications like twin-twin transfusion syndrome (which involves one twin is receiving the majority of the blood supply), and spina bifida (a malformation syndrome of the spinal cord) are now able to be treated prior to birth.

What is the job outlook for OB-GYNS?

The future job outlook for Obstetricians and Gynecologists predicts an increasing shortage of doctors, and a career path that will continue to be in demand. The primary medical organization for gynecologist obstetricians is The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (ACOG). According to an article by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) there is currently a shortage of Ob/Gyns that will increase in the future, based on past standards continuing.  As of 2017,  the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) also reported that half of America’s counties lack a single Ob Gyn doctor. In 2020, ACOG announced a US shortage of over 8,000 obstetricians and gynecologists. This staggering necessity will only increase, as the US is projected to be short 22,000 obstetricians and gynecologists by 2050. 

OB GYN Medical Specialty Guide

Posted by Callie Torres

Callie Torres is a Captain in the United States Air Force and a chief resident at Wash U/Barnes Jewish Hospital in St Louis. She is a freelance writer with many published medical articles as well as multiple peer-reviewed medical publications

Topics: Medical Practice

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