Obstetrician or Gynecologist (OB-GYN)

Obstetrics and gynecology (OB-GYN) are focused on women’s health. But while OB-GYN is considered a singular specialty, it houses two distinct fields. Obstetrics revolves around women’s health issues related to pregnancy, including pre-pregnancy, delivery, childbirth, and post-delivery. Gynecology, on the other hand, pertains to all other women’s health issues across the lifespan. OB-GYNs may practice in both areas, but some physicians who specialize in OB-GYN may lean towards either obstetrics or gynecology. 

Obstetrics and gynecology is a complex medical field, requiring extensive study and understanding of reproductive physiology, and including the social, cultural, environmental, and genetic factors that can influence disease in women. It can take over 12 years of postsecondary education and training to become a generalist OB-GYN, and even longer to subspecialize. But this is also a rewarding career, in both a monetary and personal sense: OB-GYNs are very well paid, and they make a difference in their patients’ lives on a daily basis. 

OB-GYNs are advanced medical specialists, but they’re also staunch advocates. Professional organizations like the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG) are committed to increasing access to high-quality and safe healthcare for all women, and they advocate for changing the culture of medicine and eliminating racial disparities in women’s health outcomes. OB-GYNs play a critical role in the physical, mental, and social wellbeing of the patients in their communities. 

Currently, there are not enough gynecologists to serve all the women who need one. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), there was a projected shortage of 9,000 obstetrician-gynecologists in 2020, and by 2050, that number is expected to rise to 22,000. This shortage is primarily driven by an aging workforce, with roughly 35 percent of gynecologists being over the age of 55. 

This specialty field of primary care is essential to women’s well-being. Continue reading to learn what it takes to become a gynecologist and discover some of the top programs training these valuable doctors. 

OB-GYN Degree Types & Subspecialties

Obstetricians and gynecologists will need an advanced medical degree, either as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (DO). Around 90 percent of obstetricians and gynecologists are generalists, and begin their careers after earning their medical degree and completing a four-year residency. However, some go on to pursue fellowships and certifications in subspecialty areas. These subspecialties are split into two categories: subspecialties that are boarded by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG), and those which are not.

Boarded Subspecialties:

  • Gynecological Oncology
  • Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery
  • Maternal-Fetal Medicine
  • Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility
  • Critical Care Medicine
  • Complex Family Planning
  • Hospice and Palliative Medicine

Non-Boarded Subspecialties:

  • Pediatric and Adolescent Gynecology
  • Menopausal and Geriatric Gynecology
  • Minimally-Invasive Gynecological Surgery

Admissions Requirements for OB-GYN Programs

Medical schools break down their admissions process into several steps. For primary applications, they will often require students to submit a strong GPA for undergraduate and post-baccalaureate coursework, a competitive MCAT score, a short personal statement, and several letters of recommendation. For secondary applications, medical schools often request several essays on a variety of assigned topics. If a candidate progresses past the secondary application level, they will be invited for an interview. 

For OB-GYN residency programs, applicants will need to have earned an MD and passed the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). They will then need letters of recommendation, a short personal statement, and a targeted resume. Candidates will apply to residency programs through the Electronic Residency Application Service (ERAS) and National Resident Matching Program (NRMP); residency programs will reach out to applicants for interviews if interested. 

OB-GYN Program Accreditation

In the US, the Liaison Committee on Medical Education (LCME) verifies the standards and practices of medical schools (MD programs), and the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) accredits residency and subspecialty programs in obstetrics and gynecology. Undergraduate degrees will generally be regionally accredited. 

Additionally, the Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) accredits doctor of osteopathy (DO) programs.

On-Campus Premedical Programs for OB-GYNs

Texas State University (BS Biology)

Texas State University offers a BS in biology program that prepares students for entrance into medical schools and other graduate programs. Students will gain access to more than 50 faculty members who specialize in areas such as cell and molecular biology, microbiology, physiology, and genetics. In addition to the general curriculum, students are encouraged and supported in engaging in internships and undergraduate research.

  • Location: San Marcos, TX
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: SACSCOC
  • Tuition: $24,100 per year

New York University (BS Biology)

The Department of Biology at NYU is home to world-class laboratories and expert faculty. The standard bachelor’s in biology program provides a broad background, with the laboratory, quantitative, and reasoning skills needed for today’s biology-focused careers. Graduates from this program have a strong record of success in gaining admittance to their target medical schools.

  • Location: Manhattan, NY
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: MSCHE
  • Tuition: $56,500 per year

University of Washington (BS Biology)

The Department of Biology is the largest undergraduate major on the University of Washington Seattle campus. The BS in biology program branches out into several curricular options, including general biology; molecular, cellular, and developmental biology; and physiology. The four-year program combines didactic coursework, fieldwork, research, and internship opportunities. 

  • Location: Seattle, WA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: NWCCU
  • Tuition: $39,906 per year

On-Campus Medical Programs for OB-GYNs

Oregon Health & Science University, School of Medicine

The MD program at Oregon Health & Science University’s School of Medicine prepares students for the adaptive world of 21st-century medicine. The curriculum presents medical science in an interdisciplinary format, focusing initially on scientific principles, then progressing to disease processes, and ultimately the clinical management and care of patients. Students will also learn narrative medicine: an opportunity to look beyond just the science of disease and see, too, the human component.

  • Location: Portland, OR
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: LCME
  • Tuition: $68,184 per year

University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

The MD program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine features active, participatory learning with a problem-based approach. Students gain an early introduction to the patient and community, integrating clinical science with the social and behavioral aspects of medicine. The curriculum can also be supplemented with an area of concentration that provides students with an opportunity to explore their future career plans.

  • Location: Pittsburgh, PA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: LCME
  • Tuition: $61,428 per year

Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

The MD program at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine prepares students to practice 21st-century medicine. The first phase of the program provides a comprehensive medical education, contextualized through early clinical experiences; the second and third phases focus on intensified clinical training through clerkships and electives, with an increased emphasis on professional development and future career. Notably, nearly two-thirds of Feinberg students match into top 25 residency programs. 

  • Location: Chicago, IL
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: LCME
  • Tuition: $62,000

University of Pennsylvania – Perelman School of Medicine 

Medical students at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine receive a strong foundation in obstetrics and gynecology. They attend lectures, review case studies, and participate in rounds in women’s health during reproductive and post-reproductive years. 

One aspect that sets Penn State apart is its state-of-the-art simulation center, where students can safely learn hands-on techniques without needing to practice on patients. Skills gynecology students practice in the simulation center include pelvic exams, suturing, venipuncture, and more. 

Clerkships are available to students who want more experience in gynecology while still in medical school. This six-week rotation encompasses a wide variety of skills and procedures. Clerkship is also an excellent way to get to know the staff who will make decisions about residency. 

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: LCME
  • Tuition: $59,910 per year

Rowan University – School of Osteopathic Medicine

Students completing their doctor of osteopathy education at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine will have the opportunity to perform rotations in the obstetrics and gynecology department. During medical school, students will learn osteopathic medical principles and how to apply those skills to women’s health. Students will interact with infertility, cancer, and other conditions. 

Not only will students learn preventative care, but they will also learn gynecological surgical techniques. Hands-on training happens at two local hospitals and two clinics.  

  • Location: Stratford, NJ
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: Commission on Osteopathic College Accreditation (COCA) 
  • Tuition: $41,339 per year

Online or Hybrid Premedical Programs for OB-GYNs

Drexel University (Post-Baccalaureate)

The hybrid post-baccalaureate pre-medical certificate program at Drexel University is designed for aspiring medical professionals who have non-science undergraduate degrees. Taught by the faculty of the Drexel College of Medicine, the curriculum covers chemistry, physics, biology, and organic chemistry, and also offers optional courses in MCAT preparation, molecular biology, and special topics in pre-medicine. The two-year, part-time program consists of 32 credits.

  • Location: Philadelphia, PA
  • Duration: Two years
  • Accreditation: MSCHE
  • Tuition: $1,018 per credit

Colorado State University (Post-Baccalaureate)

Colorado State University offers a suite of online, post-baccalaureate, pre-medical courses for students interested in boosting their medical knowledge and the strength of their medical school applications. While there is no set curriculum culminating in a certificate, students can mix and match between the specific classes they want. Options include biochemistry, genetics, physiology, histology, and microbiology. 

  • Location: Fort Collins, CO
  • Duration: Varies
  • Accreditation: HLC
  • Tuition: $476 per credit

Harvard Extension School (Post-Baccalaureate)

Harvard University’s Harvard Extension School offers a part-time, on-campus premedical program that prepares students to demonstrate their competency to medical school admissions committees. Students will receive an individualized curriculum, counseling, and guidance through the medical school application process. The program consists of between 20 and 32 credits. After completion of the on-campus premedical program, students can enroll in Harvard Medical School’s online HMX courses at a discounted rate.

  • Location: Cambridge, MA
  • Duration: One to two years
  • Accreditation: NECHC
  • Tuition: $480 per credit

On-Campus Residency & Fellowship Programs for OB-GYNs

University of California, San Francisco – School of Medicine

The gynecology and obstetrics residency program at the University of California, San Francisco School of Medicine is ranked number one in the nation by US News & World Report. While the medical students in this program are required to perform rotations in all specialties, aspiring gynecologists will have the opportunity to complete rounds in the country’s top program. Building relationships with staff and professors in this program can be critical to obtaining one of the ten coveted residency spots at this prestigious program. 

Women’s health is woven throughout every component of a student’s education at UCSF. Students also have the opportunity to choose electives in women’s health and participate in fieldwork and research. UCSF has also adopted a required anti-racism curriculum all students must complete. 

  • Location: San Francisco, CA
  • Duration: Four years
  • Accreditation: LCME
  • Tuition: $55,036 per year

Johns Hopkins University – School of Medicine

The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine has one of the top gynecology residency programs in the country. Students who attend this medical school will participate in rotations with top doctors and residents in gynecology. 

Medical students can also apply for the student clerkship in gynecology. These eight clerkship positions provide students with more in-depth experience and education in gynecology with rotations at three hospitals. Completing a clerkship also helps students be competitive in residency application, and they can show dedication, interest, and additional skills in this field.   

Only eight or nine students are offered residencies in gynecology at Johns Hopkins each year. This program encompassed gynecology and obstetrics, giving residents well-rounded experience in well-woman care, fertility, oncology, and labor and delivery. Residents are also required to continue their didactic education with Friday classes that teach patient-centric evidence-based practices. 

  • Location: Baltimore, MA
  • Duration: Four years (residency); three years (fellowships)
  • Accreditation: LCME
  • Tuition: $54,900 per year

Michigan Medicine

Residents at Michigan Medicine’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology are trained by a mix of generalists and subspecialists to become OB-GYN experts. The elective experience begins as early as the second year and continues through to the fourth. Michigan Medicine is also one of the few institutions in the US that offers OB-GYN fellowships in every subspecialty approved by the American Board for Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG). 

  • Location: Ann Arbor, MI
  • Duration: Four years (residency); three years (fellowships)
  • Accreditation: ACGME (fellowships)

Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis

The fast-paced, four-year OB-GYN residency at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis provides educational, surgical, and research opportunities for highly motivated candidates. The program provides a mix of accessible faculty, complex clinical services, and extensive subspecialty exposure. 

Fellowships are also available in complex family planning, gynecologic oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, reproductive endocrinology and infertility, and female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. 

  • Location: St. Louis, MO
  • Duration: Four years (residency); three years (fellowships)
  • Accreditation: ACGME (fellowships)

How Long Does It Take to Become an OB-GYN?

Including high school, it typically takes at least 16 years to become a generalist OB-GYN, and 19 years to become a subspecialist OB-GYN. While some accelerated programs do exist, they’re both competitive and rare; instead, it’s more common for the timeline to practice to lengthen through the inclusion of post-baccalaureate programs and internships.

How to Become an OB-GYN: Step-by-Step Guide

Step 1: Graduate from High School (Four Years)

The first step to becoming an OB-GYN is to graduate from high school. In addition to a strong GPA, aspiring OB-GYNs should also seek out involvement in volunteer opportunities, advanced placement courses (particularly those with a STEM focus), leadership roles, and extracurricular activities. 

Step 2: Complete a Bachelor’s Degree Program (Four Years)

At the undergraduate level, aspiring OB-GYNs will need a bachelor’s degree, preferably in the biological or physical sciences. Internships and/or work experience in health professions is a bonus, as is involvement in extracurricular activities and taking on leadership roles within student organizations. 

Step 3: Gain Additional Experience (Optional – Timelines Vary)

After graduating from university, many aspiring OB-GYNs seek out additional experience before applying to medical school. Post-baccalaureate premedical programs can strengthen one’s science background, and even compensate for a non-STEM-related undergraduate degree. Working in a laboratory or hospital can also give aspiring OB-GYNs valuable hands-on experience and exposure to the medical field. 

Step 4: Study for the MCAT (Timelines Vary)

Before applying to medical school, aspiring OB-GYNs will need to take the Medical College Admissions Test (MCAT), a standardized entrance exam used by medical schools to evaluate applicants. The test is made up of four sections: physical sciences, biological sciences, verbal reasoning, and writing. 

Often, admissions boards will place as much importance on MCAT scores as they do on GPA scores; it’s not uncommon for aspiring medical students to study 10 to 15 hours a week over the course of four to six months in preparation for the exam. 

Step 5: Earn a Medical Degree (Four Years)

After taking the MCAT, aspiring OBGYNs will need to earn their medical degree, either as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) or Doctor of Osteopathy (DO); the former is more common. An MD program lasts four years and is typically split between a pre-clinical phase (two years) and a clinical phase (two years). 

However, curriculums will vary from medical school to medical school, with some taking a more integrated and multidisciplinary approach wherein clinical training and patient interaction begin right away. By the end of their third year, most medical students have chosen a specialty area or a patient population they wish to work with, and they’ll begin to apply to residency programs (see Step 7 below). 

Step 6: Obtain a License (Timelines Vary)

OB-GYNs will need to be licensed in order to practice. Generally, aspiring OB-GYNs will begin the licensure process as early as their second year of medical school, with Step 1 of the United States Medical Licensing Exam (USMLE), which covers the sciences fundamental to medical practice. 

The Step 2 exam usually comes in the third or fourth year of medical school and measures clinical knowledge and skills. 

The final part of the licensure process, the Step 3 exam, usually occurs after graduating from medical school and takes place during the first or second year of residency training. 

Step 7: Complete a Residency (Four Years)

After earning a medical degree, aspiring OB-GYNs will need to complete residency training in obstetrics and/or gynecology, which gives residents hands-on experience in clinical and research settings, in addition to didactic training. Often, one’s medical school will have helped students begin the application and matching process. 

Applications begin with the submission of a resume, letters of recommendation, a personal statement, medical school transcripts, a licensing exam transcript, and a Medical School Performance Evaluation (MSPE); after this initial application process, applicants will interview with potential residency matches.

Step 8: Earn Board Certification (Optional – Timelines Vary)

After finishing their residency, many OB-GYNs become certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG). Typically, the application process begins in the fourth year of one’s residency. 

Candidates must first pass a qualifying exam, which is a written test that ensures one has the requisite knowledge and skills necessary for the medical and surgical care of women. Then, applicants will need to collect cases that reflect their care. Finally, candidates must pass a certifying exam, an oral test which is given by a team of well-respected national experts to judge an applicant’s ability to treat different conditions.  

Step 9: Complete a Fellowship (Optional – Three Years)

OB-GYNs who wish to subspecialize often complete a fellowship in their subspecialty area. These programs function similarly to residencies, providing hands-on clinical and research experience in the specific area and patient population that the OB-GYN has chosen to specialize in. Fellowships in obstetrics and gynecology typically last three years. 

Step 10: Maintain All Certifications and Licenses (Ongoing)

Even after beginning their practice, OB-GYNs will need to maintain all their certifications and licenses, often through the completion of continuing education. Full details for the OB-GYN specialty and for its subspecialties are available on the ABOG website. 

What Does an OB-GYN Do?

OB-GYN, as a specialty, includes two main areas: obstetrics and gynecology. Obstetrics deals with pregnancy, the delivery of newborns, and the monitoring of newborn health; gynecology covers the broad spectrum of issues related to women and reproductive health. Physicians who specialize in OB-GYN may practice across both obstetrics and gynecology, or they may focus in one area over the other. 

Typical tasks of an OB-GYN, an obstetrician, or a gynecologist may include:

  • Offering preventive counseling and health education
  • Diagnosing and treating reproductive health issues
  • Conducting cancer screenings
  • Providing primary care health services
  • Maintaining patient records and medical histories
  • Monitoring child and mother health
  • Performing blood tests and ultrasounds
  • Contributing to medical research
  • Referring patients to other specialists

OB-GYN Certifications and Licensure

After graduating from medical school, aspiring OB-GYNs will need to pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination (USMLE). OB-GYNs, like all medical doctors, need to be licensed in any state that they plan to practice in; additional information can be procured from the American Medical Association

Once licensed, and after completing their residency, OB-GYNs will need to become board-certified through the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG): this consists of both a qualifying exam and a certifying exam. 

OB-GYNs who choose to subspecialize may also seek out board certification for that subspecialty through ABOG; after earning their original board certification and then completing a fellowship in their subspecialty area, they will need to pass both a qualifying and certifying exam. Specialty certifications are available in female pelvic medicine and surgery, oncology, and reproductive endocrinology, and infertility.

How Much Does an OB-GYN Make?

According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020), there were an estimated 18,900 obstetricians and gynecologists working, with a mean annual wage of $239,120. Obstetricians and gynecologists working in outpatient care centers and physician offices typically earn more than those working in hospitals or the offices of other health practitioners; but geography can play a significant factor in an OB-GYN’s salary, too.  

According to the BLS (May 2020), the percentiles for wages are:

  • 10th percentile: $82,330
  • 25th percentile: $175,410
  • 50th percentile (median): >$208,000 per year
  • 75th percentile: >$208,000 per year
  • 90th percentile: >$208,000 per year

Please note that the BLS does not give specific figures for ranges in excess of $208,000.

OB-GYN Career Alternatives

Here are some alternatives to a career as an OB-GYN. 

Become a Nurse Practitioner

Nurse practitioners (NPs) are holistically-focused, highly trained medical professionals who are playing an increasingly important role in the healthcare landscape. Able to perform many of the same tasks as a physician, NPs can also specialize in a number of areas, including women’s health.

  • Typical Education: Doctor of Nursing Practice (DNP)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Association of Nurse Practitioners (AANP)

Become a Primary Care Physician

Primary care physicians are medical doctors who diagnose, assess, and treat a wide variety of medical conditions. Often a patient’s first point of contact, PCPs typically specialize in family medicine, general internal medicine, or general pediatrics. 

  • Typical Education: Doctor of Medicine (MD)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Board of Family Medicine (ABFM)

Become a Physician Assistant

Physician assistants (PAs) can perform many of the same tasks as primary care physicians: examining patients, diagnosing diseases, prescribing medicines, and writing referrals to specialists; however, they do so under the supervision of a physician. PAs can also specialize in a wide range of areas, including family medicine or pediatrics.

  • Typical Education: Master of Science in Physician Assistant Studies (PA)
  • Licensing or Certifying Organization: National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA)
Matt Zbrog

Matt Zbrog

Writer

Matt is a writer and researcher from Southern California. He’s been living abroad since 2016. Long spells in Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America have made the global mindset a core tenet of his perspective. From conceptual art in Los Angeles, to NGO work on the front lines of Eastern Ukraine, to counterculture protests in the Southern Caucasus, Matt’s writing subjects are all over the map, and so is he.

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