Gynecologists are doctors who specialize in women's health in general, especially in relation to the female reproductive system.
These specialists have also been trained in obstetrics (pregnancy and childbirth) but their main concerns are issues ranging from menstruation and fertility to sexually transmitted diseases and hormone disorders.
In the US, gynecologists also have a role, as general physicians, in the overall primary care of women, referring their patients to other specialists when appropriate. Some women in the US consult their gynecologist first with a health problem, rather than seeking advice from a general practitioner.
Use this page for more detailed information about gynecologists, their training, and the medical conditions and surgical procedures they are involved with.
Contents of this article:
What is gynecology?
Gynecology is a specialist branch of medicine practiced by obstetrician-gynecologists, who treat patients who were born female or have female body parts (whether or not they identify as women). Obstetrician-gynecologists are physicians - medically trained doctors - who have undertaken specialist training in obstetrics and gynecology.1
Gynecologists specialize in the female reproductive system, but also care for women's overall health.
A gynecologist is a doctor who treats medical conditions and diseases that affect women and female reproductive organs. (Gynecologists are also trained in obstetrics - the care of women going through pregnancy and childbirth, which overlaps with gynecology.)2
Statistics published in May 2014 by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics reveal that there are 21,740 people employed in the US as obstetricians and gynecologists (excluding thousands more who are self-employed). Their mean average annual salary was $214,750, and their mean hourly rate $103.25.3
Every year, the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology examines more than 30,000 obstetrician-gynecologists and sub-specialists in the field for re-certification.4
The specialism of obstetrics and gynecology (spelt gynaecology in the UK) is often abbreviated to OB/GYN or ob-gyn, and - especially in the UK - 'obs and gynae' or O&G.2
All gynecologists certified in the US first graduated from an "acceptable medical school" - they are fully trained medical doctors with a license to practice. In addition to this, after leaving medical school and choosing to become gynecologists, they have followed an ob-gyn residency program for their specialty training.5
Gynecologists-in-training go through four years of specialization during the residency program. Fully qualified gynecologists have therefore had at least eight years of medical study and training.5
The four years of specialist training include, among other things, the following areas of study:5
- Preconceptional health (for people trying to become pregnant)
- Care during pregnancy, labor and childbirth
- Postpartum care (care of a person after they have given birth)
- Genetics, genetic counseling for some parents when planning a family, and diagnosis of conditions in the baby before birth (prenatal diagnosis)
- Female general health, including hormones, organs and tissues of the reproductive system (ovaries, uterus, vagina, external genitalia), breasts and sexual function
- Screening for female cancers (although ob-gyn specialists in the US also screen other cancers, or are responsible for referring to other specialists).
The training also means gynecologists are qualified to manage female hormonal disorders and treat their infections. There is also surgical training enabling many gynecologists to do operations that correct female pelvic, reproductive or urinary tract problems, including cancers of the ovaries, uterus, cervix, and so on.5
Gynecologists in the US are also consulted by many women as the main point of care for their overall wellbeing - so the four years of specialization also includes training on preventive medicine, including:5
- Routine examinations and tests (health screening)
- Overall medical care for women, not solely concerned with their reproductive systems.
Before a gynecologist can be listed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, they must sit a further examination, in addition to their eight years of general medical and specialist training, which enables them to achieve full certification from the American Board of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ABOG).5
ABOG certification is awarded after success in two tests, one written - a multiple-choice test covering a long list of obstetric and gynecology topics - and one oral. The half-day oral test includes a selected review of the gynecologist's first year of clinical cases - so fully qualified, board-certified gynecologists all have experience of treating women, and have undergone a total of nine years or more of medical and gynecological training.5
After the four years of specialist training and the further year to become certified as gynecologists, some go on to specialize even further, after completing one of the following subspecialty fellowships, which run for three years, including one year doing research:1
- Female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery (helping people who, for example, have pelvic organ prolapse, fecal or urinary incontinence, or other urinary disorders)
- Gynecological oncology (mostly managing cancers of the uterus, ovary, cervix and vulva)
- Maternal-fetal medicine (care for those who experience complications during pregnancy, including diabetes, kidney disease or preterm labor)
- Pediatric and adolescent gynecology
- Reproductive endocrinology and infertility (fertility specialists, including those who offer in vitro fertilization, IVF).
How to check a gynecologist's credentials
Anyone wishing to check the registration of their gynecologist practicing in the US, or to find a new one in their area, can use the online directory maintained by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).6
Searches can be by state, zip code, or doctor's last name, and all gynecologists who have chosen to be listed in the directory must be fellows of the ACOG, have an active US license to practice medicine, and have certification from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.6
Do women prefer to see female gynecologists?
A survey undertaken in 2002, of 537 women living in the US, in Brooklyn, New York, explored their preferences for a gynecologist's sex, because there had been a "reported increase in women's desires to have female medical providers." The results, published in the Journal of Women's Health & Gender-Based Medicine, showed that:7
"Only a minority of these women feel strongly about their preference, and women with male providers are as satisfied as are women with female providers."
A slight overall majority of women who were asked in New York preferred a female gynecologist, but this varied by religious group, with the proportions preferring a woman specialist breaking down as follows:7
- 56% of Protestants
- 58% of Catholics
- 58% of Jews
- 74% of Hindus
- 89% of Muslims.
On the next page we look at common conditions treated by gynecologists, common procedures performed by them and when you should see a gynecologist.