When people ask me why I chose to specialize in obstetrics and gynecology, I respond, “Do you want the short answer or the real answer?” Many people think it must be so wonderful to deliver babies — and yes, it is. But there’s so much more to our field than that.
As you begin to experience different clinical rotations in medical school, you may find yourself wondering if you have what it takes to be an OB-GYN. Start by asking yourself the following three questions.
1. Do You Want Long-Term Relationships With Your Patients?
I graduated residency in June of 1993. In November, I delivered my first patient’s baby as a private practitioner (she’d followed me from the resident clinic). Twenty-seven years later, she’s still my patient. In fact, many of the babies I delivered 20-something years ago are now my patients. In addition, I have whole families I take care of — sisters, mother, aunts, cousins, daughters, all bringing me into the fold of their traditions and relationships.
Part of what it takes to be an OB-GYN is the ability to foster these relationships and help your patients through life milestones, including dating, marriage, pregnancy and menopause. This can also include supporting them through divorce, miscarriages, loss of a parent or their own cancer diagnosis. My favorite part of the office is finding out what college my patient is going to, what new job they got or what their children are up to — along with being there to hold their hand when they tell me their mother died or they’re worried about their daughter being sexually active. Because I know them this intimately, I can better serve their needs medically.
2. Are You Interested in Combining Surgery and Medicine?
Another skill you need as an OB-GYN is the versatility to switch contexts, say from delivering a baby one minute to doing a hysterectomy the next — and then running over to the office for the afternoon.
Women’s health is a complex and wide-ranging field, and you need to hone your surgical skills and stay up to date on the latest findings. When I started practice, for instance, we were just beginning to use laparoscopy. I could never have imagined that we would be able to perform a full hysterectomy laparoscopically or robotically 10 to 15 years later.
At the same time, many of my patients think of me as their primary care doctor. They have known me through their pregnancies and have never been sick, so as they age through menopause and need primary care screening, they look to me. If you’d rather not be in a field with this kind of breadth, consider a specialty in women’s health such as maternal-fetal medicine, urogynecology or reproductive endocrinology.
3. Can You Manage an Unpredictable Schedule?
Of all the specialties in medicine, an OB-GYN may have the most unpredictable schedule. Babies come at all hours of the day and night, so you have to be prepared to work whenever you’re needed.
Most obstetricians practice with others, so they share in a call schedule. In my career, I have participated in many call schedules, from every other night to what I have now, a nine-person call group. There are pros and cons to different-sized call groups, but the larger the group, the more patients you’re covering and the less likely you’ll be to know the patient you’re delivering. My call is 24 hours on weekdays and 48 hours on weekends. Even if I’m not at the hospital with a laboring patient, I’m still available for phone calls from patients with questions or concerns, and those calls may come at any time, including 3 a.m.
I didn’t know that I would be a single mother with two young children when I chose OB-GYN. Being an OB-GYN means juggling office hours, surgery and delivering babies, all of which includes working nights, working weekends and potentially dropping whatever you’re doing at a moment’s notice to go deliver a baby. If you need a nine-to-five job, this specialty may not be for you.
Follow Your Passion
Whatever specialty of medicine you choose, consider that you’ll be in practice for 30-plus years. It’s important to think about what you have a true passion for. What excites you, and what will keep you interested for years to come?
The “real answer” to why I went into OB-GYN is that I believe in the power of women’s health. I believe in giving women the tools to care for their bodies and their reproductive health. I believe that in most families, the woman is the main caregiver, and if I can teach that woman the importance of good health and how to best take care of herself, she can pass that knowledge on to her household, her family and her community. I am watering the roots of a strong and wide-reaching tree.