Obstetrician, gynecologist, and OBGYN: Three titles that are easily confused. Although they all have something in common (they serve women), they all play different roles in their care of patients. They are all well educated in a wide range of women’s health issues, but each has unique specializations. We’ll cover them in the order that you, as a woman, would likely be visiting them.
Gynecologists and Gynecology
Gynecologists have at least 8 years of training and are certified by an examining body, such as the American Board of Gynecologists and are registered by a professional organization such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. They are well versed in gynecology, the study of women’s health and reproductive system. Because this is their specialty, many women choose to see gynecologists over family doctors for all well-woman visits or for health issues pertaining to women’s health. Gynecologists treat all patients that have female reproductive organs, whether or not they identify as a woman.
Most patients begin visiting a gynecologist in their early teens and continue to visit them for the rest of their life. It’s recommended for women to visit a gynecologist once a year for their wellness exam, and then as-needed as concerns arise regarding their reproductive system, including concerns about their pelvis, vulva, vagina, or uterus.
Conditions Commonly Treated by Gynecologists
On top of performing yearly wellness exams, gynecologists consult, treat or serve women in the following:
- General health care and preventative medicine, including the diagnosis and treatment of headaches, lower back pain, mood changes, and acne
- Emergency care relating to gynecology
- Sexuality and health issues relating to same-sex and bisexual relationships
- Sexual dysfunction
- Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
- Issues relating to pregnancy, fertility, menstruation, and menopause
- Family planning (i.e. contraception, sterilization, and pregnancy termination)
- Problems with the pelvic region, vulva, vagina, or uterus, including ligaments and muscles
- Urinary and fecal incontinence
- Any benign conditions of a woman’s reproductive tract, including ovarian cysts, fibroids, breast disorders, vulvar or vaginal ulcers
- Cancers of a woman’s reproductive tract, breasts, and pregnancy-related tumors
- Premalignant conditions, such as cervical dysplasia and endometrial hyperplasia
- Congenital abnormalities of the female reproductive tract
- Pelvic inflammatory diseases
When to See a Gynecologist
It’s recommended that a woman starts visiting a gynecologist from the age of 13 to 15 years, and continues to see one throughout her lifetime. If possible, staying with the same gynecologist for years is recommended, as they will be able to best understand your body over time with their personal experience treating you. A long-standing relationship with your gynecologist helps in situations where you are discussing sensitive topics, as there is trust and familiarity to lean on.
Obstetricians and Obstetrics
Obstetricians are doctors with specialist qualifications in providing medical care to women during pregnancy, during birth, and after birth. They have the training and skills necessary to manage complex or high-risk pregnancies and births.
During pregnancy, you’ll typically see an obstetrician only when it’s necessary, such as for routine checkups or if there are concerns. Typically, a woman with a high-risk pregnancy will see an obstetrician more often. The obstetrician will conduct or refer you for all of your routine tests and checkups, check your baby’s growth and position, and help you to prepare for labor and birth. They are usually the medical professional who performs your ultrasounds throughout your pregnancy.
During labor and birth, your obstetrician will likely not be present unless you have any complications or emergencies. They will be standing by if intervention is necessary, but will leave most of your care to other medical professionals such as midwives at this time.
After you give birth, your obstetrician will probably check in with you before you leave the hospital and then will request you to book an appointment with them for 6 weeks or so after you’ve given birth.
To keep it simple, an OBGYN is a doctor that has studied both obstetrics and gynecology, meaning they can serve female patients from puberty through menopause. An OBGYN can do it all, from providing contraceptives to screening for gynecological cancers, to delivering a baby, to performing major surgeries that women may need.
Most OBGYNs are generalists, but some choose specialties. These specialties may include:
- Maternal-fetal Medicine: Special care for high-risk pregnancies and related medical conditions, including chronic or gestational high blood pressure, blood-clotting disorders, gestational diabetes, and premature labor.
- Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility: Addressing issues related to infertility, glands, and hormones of the endocrine system. They perform assisted reproductive procedures, including in vitro fertilization, gamete intrafallopian transfer, zygote intrafallopian transfer, and embryo transfer.
- Gynecologic Oncology: Specialty in diagnosing and treating cancers of the female reproductive system, including cancers of the uterus, cervix, ovaries, and vulva.
- Female Pelvic Medicine and Reproductive Surgery: Focused on treating women with disorders of the muscle and connective tissue on the pelvic floor, such as urinary or fecal incontinence, vaginal or urinary tract infections, overactive bladder, bladder pain, and pelvic organ prolapse.
What This Means for You
Depending on where you’re at in life, you can choose whether a gynecologist, obstetrician, or OBGYN is right for you. If you aren’t sure, schedule an appointment with us to discuss where you’re at in your stage of life and we can help you see the right doctor that fits your needs!