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How To Become an OB GYN Physician

Updated on October 27, 2012

What is an OB GYN?

OB GYN stands for obstetrician gynecologist. In general, these medical doctors take care of women throughout their lives.

Obstetrics is the practice of caring for women during pregnancy, labor and delivery.

Gynecology refers to the care of the reproductive system of women.

What Does an OB/Gyn Do?

Some OB GYN physicians practice both obstetrics and gynecology, while some choose to focus on one or the other.

Obstetricians care for pregnant women. They see mothers-to-be throughout their pregnancies and manage the labor and delivery. Some obstetricians will take care of pregnant women with high risk pregnancies and some will deliver under routine circumstances. Obstetricians perform cesarean section surgery and may perform other procedures as well to aid women with conception and maintenance of the pregnancy.

Gynecologists may provide medical services to women throughout their reproductive lives. Regular exams help detect disease and cancer. Gynecologists provide contraceptive advice, prescriptions and procedures.

Premedical and Medical School

Most people don't know in high school or even college that they will become obtetrician/gynecologists. But, if you are headed for medical school, the premedical requirements usually include certain prerequisite science classes and a high GPA.

Medical school, for those who are accepted, is then four years of intense study. All medical students must learn the basic sciences that provide the core of knowledge for the practice of medicine. Students are then introduced to clinical medicine and become 'student doctors'. In this role, medical students follow residents and more senior physicians in order to gain knowledge about the various medical specialties. As students are exposed to various fields of medicine, they start to form ideas about their own interests and aptitudes. OB GYN is one of the basic specialties that students rotate through early in their clinical rotations, usually near the beginning of their third year. Once you have decided to become an obstetrician-gynecologist, you can elect to spend more time on the ob gyn service, if you wish.

Sometime during the 3rd year or early 4th year, you need to decide which specialty you would like to pursue. Usually, you then try to do more clinical rotations as a student doctor in your chosen field. You will then interview for residency spots in that specialty. In the last half of the 4th year of medical school, you will find out where you have been 'matched' to do your OB GYN training if that is your chosen field.

Upon graduation from medical school, the degree of M.D.- Medical Doctor (or D.O for Doctor of Osteopathy) is awarded. You are a doctor upon graduation from medical school.

A student becomes a doctor upon graduation from medical school, but their training is far from over.
A student becomes a doctor upon graduation from medical school, but their training is far from over. | Source

Obstetrics and Gynecology Residency

After medical school, the OB GYN residency lasts four more years. During this intense, stressful time, resident physicians learn the science and art of their specialty. Clinical obstetrics in an office setting, as well as emergency surgical procedures to deliver babies and stop bleeding are among the skills that must be mastered. The hours can be long and the sacrifice requires a serious commitment for those who choose this field of practice.

In the beginning, residents are supervised closely as they learn to examine and treat women for reproductive health and throughout their pregnancies. Each year, they learn new and more in-depth concepts, diagnoses and therapeutic interventions, including surgery of the reproductive organs. They also gain more and more independence as the residency goes on, so that they are ready to practice on their own when residency is over.

Some surgical procedures performed by OB GYN doctors include:

  • Cesarean section
  • Hysterectomy
  • Fertility procedures
  • Surgeries for urinary incontinence
  • Biopsies of pelvic reproductive organs
  • Operations for cancer of pelvic reproductive organs
  • Laparoscopic procedures to diagnose and treat pelvic pain

Fellowship Training for OB GYNS

After finishing an OB GYN residency, the physician may choose to do further subspecialty training called a fellowship. This can last up to four years. The accredited fellowships for OB GYN docs are:

  • Maternal-Fetal Medicine: The care of high risk pregnancies
  • Gynecologic Oncology: Treatment of cancers of female reproductive system
  • Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility: Fertility specialists
  • Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery: Surgical specialty

Board Examinations and Certifications

The first exam taken on the official path to becoming a doctor is the MCAT, the medical college admission test. This is taken before applying to medical school. Your chances of even receiving interviews rests largely on the results of this test. There are other factors that will be considered, but many schools have a minimum score before you even make the cutoff for consideration.

Once in medical school, tests are common and lengthy. Official licensing exams start with the USMLE- the United States Medical Licensing Exam. The USMLE is given in three steps. The first step is taken during medical school, usually after the second year. The second step is taken during the fourth (final) year of med school. Step 3 most often is taken during or after internship (the first year of residency) and sometimes during the second year of residency.

After residency, a physician wants to become board certified in their specialty. To do this, a board examination must be taken and passed. In OB GYN, the board exam is given in two parts, a written test and a verbal exam. The written test is taken after completion of the residency, followed by the oral examination within a few years. After passing all of these tests, the doctor will be considered to be board certified.

Board certification expires within six to ten years and the doctor must take the recertification exam to maintain the right to say they are "board certified".



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    • Marcy Goodfleisch profile image

      Marcy Goodfleisch 

      5 years ago from Planet Earth

      Few people realize the extensive training physicians need - and they also don't always understand that a doctor is not a doctor is not a doctor. Each part of our bodies takes special training, and even age groups have their own speciality training.

      Voted up!


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