It’s a question that many of us have asked ourselves while we’re waiting for the doctor:
What does OB-GYN stand for?
And what do they do all day?
Turns out, the term OB-GYN is a mashup of two separate medical disciplines under the umbrella of women’s health.
And there are even more specialties within the field of OB-GYN.
Let’s pull back the curtain and take a closer look.
In this article: 📝
- OB-GYN meaning
- Is an OB the same as a gynecologist?
- Is OB-GYN a surgical specialty?
- What does an OB-GYN do?
- OB-GYN vs. midwife
- Obstetrics and gynecology: The final word
Question: What does OB-GYN stand for?
Answer: It’s a combination of obstetrics and gynecology.
And what’s the full meaning of OB-GYN?
Well, like a lot of medical jargon, the obstetrics part comes from Latin.
It means midwife or one who stands opposite.
Obstetrics is treating women during pregnancy and birth.
These doctors know how to keep both mother and baby healthy.
Their specialist knowledge covers things like the development of the placenta, the baby’s growth, and pregnancy conditions like ectopic pregnancy and preeclampsia.
They’re called obstetricians, or OBs for short.
On the other side of the hyphen, the word gynecology comes from Greek, where gyne means “wife” or “woman.”
This specialism deals with the whole female reproductive system, from puberty to menopause and beyond.
These doctors are called gynecologists.
Is an OB the same as a gynecologist?
It’s not quite that simple.
Doctors interested in specializing in women’s health will all do a four-year residency in OB-GYN after medical school.
They learn about caring for women throughout their lives, including during pregnancy and birth.
All OBs and gynecologists have this same foundation.
After residency, some doctors will then decide to practice either obstetrics OR gynecology.
Others who like the variety will start to practice as OB-GYNs.
Both obstetricians and gynecologists can then train for board exams in one of seven areas:
- Fertility and reproductive endocrinology is about reproductive hormones and treating infertility.
- Maternal-fetal medicine involves caring for mamas and babies during high-risk pregnancies and sometimes treating the baby before they’re born.
- Pelvic medicine involves reproductive organs and the urinary system.
- Oncology treats cancer of the uterus, cervix, and ovaries.
- Critical care provides the best treatment in emergencies.
- Hospice and palliative care works with other specialties to provide patients with the most comfortable and dignified death possible.
- Complex family planning is the newest of the specialties in OB-GYN.
It lets doctors develop expertise in contraception and termination, especially in situations where the pregnancy involves complex medical issues.
The CFP fellowship is an attempt to bring more doctors into this complicated (and often stigmatized) field so that patients can get the high-quality, comprehensive care they need.
It takes another three years to get ready for the board exams.
Don’t sweat it.
If you’re pregnant or have questions about TTC (that’s Trying To Conceive) or fertility treatments, you’ll want to see an OB-GYN or an OB, who can then refer you to an OB-GYN specialist or a high-risk OB-GYN if necessary.
If you’re not pregnant, your first port of call is an OB-GYN or a gynecologist.
Is OB-GYN a surgical specialty?
The training to become an OB-GYN involves quite a lot of surgery compared to some other specialties.
This makes sense because OBs are there during labor and birth.
They’ll also cover hysterectomies and surgical sterilization procedures like tubal ligation.
And if your OB-GYN works in pelvic medicine or oncology, they might spend even more time in the OR.
What does an OB-GYN do?
There’s a lot of variety in the field of women’s medicine.
A day in the life of an OB-GYN will look different depending on whether they work in a hospital, their own practice, or a walk-in clinic.
It also depends on the country.
In some parts of the world (like the UK’s NHS), you’ll often see your GP (primary care physician) or a nurse practitioner with special training if you want to start birth control or get your pap smear.
In other countries, you’ll choose an OB-GYN and see them for all your women’s health-related appointments.
But let’s imagine a day in the life of a local OB-GYN seeing patients at their office.
It might include these elements:
- First, a routine checkup with a pap smear to screen for abnormal cells on the cervix. Some doctors might also offer the HPV vaccine to protect against a virus that can cause cervical cancer.
- Then, a checkup before prescribing the pill to make sure there’s nothing in someone’s medical history that could put them at risk of complications.
- An appointment with someone experiencing irregular, painful periods that might be caused by endometriosis or polycystic ovary syndrome (or the other many period conditions).
- A first prenatal appointment, which might include an ultrasound.
- Writing a referral to a reproductive endocrinologist for someone who’s been TTC for a while.
- A six-week checkup for someone who recently gave birth to check that they’re healing and give advice on where to find support for post-partum anxiety.
- An emergency appointment for someone with pelvic pain and irregular bleeding.
- A blood test to check the hormone levels for someone who thinks they’re in perimenopause and is struggling with their symptoms—you don’t stop seeing your OB-GYN or gynecologist just because your periods stop.
And on top of all this, some doctors may also be on call to go to the hospital to deliver a baby.
Depending on the equipment in their specific practice, an OB-GYN or gynecologist might also be able to do mammograms to screen for breast cancer.
(Important: if you have any problems with your breasts, whether that’s finding a lump or developing mastitis, it’s a good idea to go to either your primary care physician or your OB-GYN — basically whoever will see you first.)
OB-GYN vs. midwife
A midwife doesn’t have the same training as an OB, but they have all the skills and experience to guide you through the amazing time of bringing your baby into the world.
They’ll coach you, monitor you and your little one’s vital signs, and (most importantly) catch your baby.
If you’re giving birth at a hospital, you might choose to have your OB-GYN or an OB with you when you give birth.
But regardless, all through your labor, your midwife will be close by.
You might also see a midwife as part of your routine pregnancy care.
They can give you advice on healthy eating and exercise, teach a birthing or parenting class, or even do home visits before and after birth to offer support.
If you are preparing for a home birth or to have your baby at a birthing center or midwife-led unit, it’s your midwife who will be your go-to person.
You might not see an OB-GYN until your 6-week checkup.
Obstetrics and gynecology: The final word
So what is OB-GYN?
It turns out this is one of the most varied fields in medicine.
And if you’re killing time in the waiting room right now, join us on the Peanut Community to connect with women around the world.