While many families share a primary care doctor who has the skills and abilities to treat both men and women, there are certain conditions, or situations, when a women's health physician can provide more in-depth and specialized care. Health conditions, diseases or disorders affecting the reproductive system in females of any age are often cause for a primary care doctor to refer a patient to a women's health physician. These specialists assist women suffering from a wide range of health conditions, as well as offering preventative screenings and care.
The American Congress of Obstetrics & Gynecology recommends that all women have an annual check-up and screening to ensure good health, and that an adolescent girl's first visit with a women's health physician take place between the ages of 13 and 15 years. These visits typically center on screenings, preventative health care, and counseling.
What is a Women's Health Physician?
Generally speaking, a women's health physician would be any type of physician who has specialized in medical care required specifically by females. Doctors who specialize solely in women's healthcare include:
OB-GYNs - These physicians provide care related to the reproductive system in pre-pubertal, reproductive, and post-menopausal years. They may specialize in surgical procedures and will care for women who require emergent obstetric care or gynecologic pathological care.
Gynecologic Oncologists - These professionals are specialists in cancers affecting the reproductive system. In addition to diagnosing and treating cancers, they may perform surgical procedures, palliative care and various types of therapies.
Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgeons - These specialists focus on various disorders of the genitourinary system as well as pelvic defects or disorders.
Reproductive Endocrinologists and Fertility Specialists - Women seeking assistance conceiving a child and carrying a child full-term, may seek out these specialists. Reproductive endocrinologists often focus on hormonal disorders affecting fertility, while fertility specialists treat a wide range of reproductive issues that may also be related to various other systems within the body. Those medical professionals who have specialized in surgery may also utilize surgical procedures to treat infertility.
Maternal-Fetal Physicians - These professionals treat women who require high-risk obstetric care and those suffering from a variety of pregnancy complications. They may also treat fetuses who have been diagnosed with various disorders through prenatal screenings, including, performing surgical procedures, ultrasonography and other treatments.
Among other responsibilities, each of these specialists are trained to:
With ever-increasing technology and knowledge in the field of women's healthcare, it is becoming clearer just how important specialized doctors can be when it comes to preventing health issues, and catching various conditions as early as possible. While it is a controversial issue, most women's health physicians will recommend a yearly wellness check.
OB-GYN Kenneth Edelman says a yearly wellness check is more than just having a pap test, which is what many women equate it with. "A regular visit with an OB-GYN builds the foundation of health and wellness for women in the fight against a wide-range of health conditions for women of all ages." In addition to the notorious pap test, these visits may include various screenings, general blood tests, nutritional and weight-related health checks, counseling for a variety of topics, and more.
Educational Path of Becoming a Woman's Health Physician
Whether an individual chooses to specialize in a specific area of women's health, such as fertility or endocrinology, the starting path is typically the same as that of an OB-GYN. This educational path usually includes eight years of post-secondary education, including medical school and an internship and residency.
Step by Step Educational Path of a Women's Health Physician
Once the student has passed, he or she generally has three years to decide which medical school to attend, as most will require the scores to be less than three years old.
There are currently more than 140 excellent medical schools throughout the US, and although each will have a slightly different process, the first two years are usually spent in academic studies. Future physicians improve their basic science knowledge with in-depth classes like pharmacology and anatomy, and gain additional knowledge involving medical ethics, patient care practices and guidelines. During the second half of medical school, students take a more active role with their education, doing clinical rotations and working with real patients under the care of licensed physicians.
Doctors in any field are required to obtain a medical license in the US. In order to obtain a medical license, individuals must pass the United States Medical Licensing Examination, which is divided into sections that are completed at various times in a doctor's educational process.
There is a growing need for qualified women's health physicians throughout the US. In fact, in some states, there are fewer than 100 OB-GYNs to serve the entire state. Specialists in women's health are often more difficult to find. Those interested in this field should have no problem finding an adequate client base, no matter where they decide to practice.
These professionals can work in a wide variety of settings, including hospitals, outpatient care centers, clinics, private offices, and in group practices. In these settings, doctors meet with patients to evaluate their situation, and may consult with, and collaborate with other physicians to determine the best treatment route. Certain specialists may also meet with case managers and nurses who assist patients in various treatment processes. All women's health physicians, especially those with surgical training, have the option of contracting with local hospitals to care for patients in emergency circumstances.
Employers interested in hiring women's health physicians value the following qualities:
To increase the chances of getting hired, women's health physicians should consider the following:
The annual salary of a women's health physician is dependent upon various things, including their specialization, their location, experience, and more. Surveys completed by the American Medical Group Association showed that reproductive endocrinologists earned a median salary of $336,352 per year in 2012. Medscape's Physician's Compensation Report stated that in 2013, OB-GYNs and women's health physicians earned a median salary of $243,000, while those in gynecological oncology earned closer to $413,500 per year.
Starting a Private Practice
Private practices are appealing to women's health physicians for a number of reasons, but there are also some disadvantages that doctors should consider. With the national shortage of OB-GYNs and other women's health physicians, having a successful private practice is feasible in any location. However, financial obligations make private practice difficult for some physicians. Medical malpractice premiums are higher for OB-GYNs than most other subspecialties, at approximately 40 percent of income. Due to the financial responsibilities, many doctors in women's health industries will opt to become part of a physician's group.
Though the financial responsibility is a difficult disadvantage to overcome, there are many benefits to private practice. Doctors have the ability to schedule their own hours, and can be as flexible as they want, and they have the ability to set the guidelines in all areas for their practice. This is especially important in women's health care, when really getting to know the patient and her background is essential to quality care.
Dr. O'Keeffe, Executive Vice President of the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, offers some excellent advice for those going into private practice. In addition to tips like developing strategic plans, learning to contract for coding, staying on top of collecting, and measuring performance, he says, "Today's medical profession is business-oriented. A successful practice needs to be run like a business but the medical side must dictate business practices."
Working as a women's healthcare physician can be extremely rewarding. The massive growth rate for this career (more than 24 percent) and the shortage for excellent women's healthcare professionals all over the US, creates an excellent platform for those interested in this career. Stellar compensation, job security, and stability combine to create an excellent climate in the healthcare industry for women's health professionals.