Obstetrics and gynecology, better known by the shorthand OB/GYN, is a branch of medicine devoted to female sexual and reproductive health. Due to the stigma and mystery that often times surrounds the OB/GYN field, men and women alike remain in the dark about all of the various things these physicians do.
Here are five facts you may not have known about obstetrics and gynecology.
1. There are four subspecialties in the OB/GYN field.
Each subspecialty has its own certification exams administered by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG), and physicians can become certified in one or more of them. The four subspecialties are:
- Gynecologic Oncology: This specialty is focused on the consultation and comprehensive management of patients with gynecologic cancer. It requires physicians to have thorough knowledge of major cancer treatments, diagnosis, and complications of oncology.
- Maternal/Fetal Medicine: Probably the most well-known subset of gynecology, this branch focuses on the care and consultation of patients with complications of pregnancy, both benign and otherwise. It requires physicians to have knowledge of obstetrics, medical and surgical complications that mother and fetus may face, current approaches to diagnosis and treatment, and newborn adaptation.
- Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility: This specialty is all about the management of complex problems relating to reproductive endocrinology and infertility. Physicians must have extensive knowledge regarding the diagnosis and treatment of endocrinology and fertility disorders.
- Urogynecology/Reconstructive Pelvic Surgery: Perhaps the least well-known of the four, this subset is concerned with the health of the female urinary tract and surgery as treatment. Physicians must be prepared to be aware of complex benign pelvic conditions, lower urinary tract disorders, pelvic floor dysfunction, and reconstructive pelvic surgery.
Certification is valid provided the primary certification in obstetrics and gynecology is up-to-date.
2. The science of birth has been written about for thousands of years.
Much like death and taxes, birth is a pretty certain aspect of being human. It can come as no surprise that it’s been written about for thousands of years. There are texts dating back from the 5th century B.C.—around the time of Hippocrates, who also wrote about early forms of physical therapy—and even before that discuss obstetrics in detail. Records include the best practices for childbirth as well as postpartum care.
3. The first obstetric textbook was a bestseller.
Move over, New York Times bestsellers, you’ve got company: Der Schwangern Frauen und Hebamen Rosengarten. Come again, you may say? Shortened to the much more manageable Der Rosengarten—the Rose Garden, for us English speakers—was a textbook published in 1513 by Eucharius Rosslin, a German apothecary. While the book includes his own theories regarding childbirth—including illustrations depicting a birth chair, a lying-in chamber, and the positions of a fetus in utero—Rosslin also included information concerning birth from writers from antiquity, like Muscio and Soranus of Ephesus, both ancient Greek authors of treatises of gynecology.
4. Cesareans are the most common major surgical procedure performed in the U.S.
However, this isn’t necessarily a good thing. While it’s certainly true that C-sections are often times an elective procedure, giving an expectant mother more control when it comes to the birth of the child, this surgery can still result in short and long term health risks, like any other major surgery. Another reason behind C-sections’ rise? With the increased rates of induced labors and other intervention, fetal/maternal distress levels have also risen, often times resulting in an emergency C-section. However, C-section rates also vary from hospital to hospital, meaning that the greatest risk factor for a woman to have a C-section might be the hospital itself, not her own risks or preferences, according to Dr. Neel Shah, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology, and Reproductive Biology at Harvard Medical School.
5. The rate of female OB/GYN residents is on the rise.
While the OB/GYN field is still skewed slightly in terms of male vs. female physicians, current medical students are predominately female—at least in this specialty. Currently, female residents make up 85 percent of students in obstetrics and gynecology. While this is certainly an exciting statistic, it’s not without flaw. “I’m seeing a lot of male medical students who completely disregard OB as an option because they think it’s a ‘female specialty’, which is a huge disservice,” says Brandi Ring, a fourth-year resident at York Hospital. There’s no conclusive science on whether gender plays a role in what specialty a resident chooses to practice, but the numbers remain intriguing.
As you can see OB/GYNs do more than handle pregnancy worries; after all, the majority of any woman’s life isn’t spent pregnant. We hope these facts have provided insight into the world of obstetrics and gynecology.