Obstetricians focus on pregnancy and related health issues, while gynecologists focus on general reproductive health. These two types of medical professionals work together closely. In some cases, these doctors may have certifications in both obstetrics and gynecology, under the OB/GYN title. Doctors with both certifications can handle everything from general reproductive health to the delivery of a baby. Some OB/GYN doctors also act as primary care physicians for people with vaginas.
What Do Obstetricians and Gynecologists Do?
Obstetricians and gynecologists are qualified to do different things. Obstetricians are licensed to handle:
- Fertility treatment
- Pregnancy healthcare
- NICU care
- Vaginal and cesarean section births
- General post-natal care
Meanwhile, gynecologists handle healthcare including:
- Reproductive wellness checks
- Cervical and breast cancer screenings
- Urinary tract problems
- STI treatment
- Treatment for uterine conditions
Doctors with both qualifications can choose to take on both sets of responsibilities for their patients. Not every obstetrician also acts as a gynecologist, and vice versa. If you are unsure of what your doctor can treat, ask them or check their certifications on the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology website.
Education and Training
Gynecologists and obstetricians are both medical doctors who are specifically trained in the treatment of the uterus, vagina, and general reproductive system. Gynecologists specialize in the standard care for the reproductive system. Obstetricians, on the other hand, specialize in all aspects of pregnancy, from prenatal to after delivery. As with most physicians, these doctors attend medical school to receive their certification in Internal Medicine or Pediatrics.
After graduating from medical school, OB/GYNs then complete:
- A four- or five-year residency period in which the physician studies gynecology and obstetrics specifically.
- An exam to be certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology in their chosen specialty.
Reasons to See a Gynecologist or Obstetrician
How often you need to see a gynecologist is determined by several factors such as age, health history, and whether or not you are pregnant. You may visit this type of doctor for:
In most cases, people with a cervix should start getting pap smears at age 21. Every three years afterwards, you should get another. A gynecologist is most likely to be trained to administer this important cancer screening.
A gynecologist can help you decide the right contraception based on your health history and lifestyle, and can write a prescription if needed.
A gynecologist can help diagnose and treat sexually transmitted diseases, or STDs. If you have any abnormal discomfort or unusual discharge after sexual activity, a gynecologist can help you identify the cause and help resolve the problem.
OB/GYNs and obstetricians are specifically trained to help handle the specific health concerns of pregnancy.
What to Expect at the Obstetrician or Gynecologist
A visit to the gynecologist will start with a health check (blood pressure, weight, temperature). You may also have blood and urine tests.
The gynecologist will ask about your health history and then perform a breast exam as well as a pelvic exam. If you need a pap smear, the gynecologist will use a special swab to take a sample of your cervical tissue.
When you are pregnant, a visit to the obstetrician will also start with a health check (blood pressure, weight, and a urine sample to check for signs of preeclampsia or gestational diabetes). The doctor will listen to your baby’s heartbeat and feel your belly to check the baby’s size and position. You may also have other tests depending on your health history and any conditions you may have.