Becoming an OB/GYN is no easy task. It takes years of training and hard work to reach the level of expertise necessary to acquire licensure and provide quality, cutting-edge care.
In this article, we provide you with everything you need to know about how to become an OB/GYN. We also discuss the basics of the profession, such as obstetrician vs gynecologist, OB/GYN roles and responsibilities, and salary/job growth statistics.
OB/GYNs are medical doctors who provide care for women during all stages of their lives, from adolescence to menopause. They are trained to diagnose and treat medical conditions that affect female reproductive systems. OB/GYNs also provide routine health care services, such as pap smears and breast exams. They offer guidance on matters such as contraception, family planning, and menopause.
Because of their unique training and qualifications, OB/GYNs play a vital role in the healthcare of women. Since the profession requires an incredible amount of experience and knowledge, it takes over a decade to become a licensed OB/GYN. Additionally, OB/GYNs often pursue one of several subspecialties, which require further training and certification.
OB vs GYN: Gynecologist vs Obstetrician
While OB/GYN is a single and distinct medical specialty, the profession encompasses two separate specialties: obstetrics and gynecology. OB/GYNs may decide to specialize in one or the other, but many choose to practice both.
So, what is a gynecologist, and what is an obstetrician?
What is an Obstetrician?
An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in caring for pregnant women, their babies, and the female reproductive system. Obstetricians provide care throughout the pregnancy and delivery process, from the initial consultation to postpartum follow-up. In addition to delivering babies, they also offer family planning services and counseling, and they provide care for women experiencing complications during pregnancy. Obstetricians are an essential part of the healthcare team for expectant mothers, and play a vital role in ensuring a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
Other medical professionals help with childbirth, such as nurses and midwives. For more information, check out our article on the subject, Midwife vs. OB/GYN: How They’re Alike but Not the Same.
Gynecologist vs OB/GYN
Gynecologists are medical doctors who specialize in the female reproductive system. They are trained to diagnose and treat conditions that affect the female reproductive system, such as cancer, infections, and infertility. Gynecologists also provide routine health care services for women, such as pap smears and breast exams.
OB/GYNs are medical doctors who have specialized in both obstetrics and gynecology. A gynecologist focuses on routine care of the female reproductive system and does not treat pregnant patients, whereas an obstetrician does not treat health issues outside of those related to pregnancy. An OB/GYN is qualified to provide care for both pregnant and non-pregnant women.
How to Become an OB/GYN
It takes over a decade to become a licensed, practicing OB/GYN. Let’s go through the entire process, step-by-step.
Complete a Bachelor’s Degree
Medical schools require students to successfully complete a bachelor’s degree from an accredited school before matriculating.
What should you study in college if you want to become an OB/GYN? Each medical school has a different set of prerequisite coursework. In general, at least a year of biology, general chemistry, and organic chemistry is expected. A year of lab work is also usually required.
A degree in biology or the sciences is usually recommended, however many medical schools will weigh your general academic performance, healthcare experiences, MCAT score, and application responses more than which major you choose.
Although it’s important to show a strong understanding of the sciences, a well-rounded medical school candidate demonstrates interest and education in the humanities as well. You should pursue courses that personally interest you and help develop strong critical thinking and communication skills. Self-direction, curiosity, and a commitment to learning are all important qualities for a successful medical career — and medical schools look favorably on applicants with these qualities.
Most successful medical school applicants will study and take the MCAT, gain healthcare experience, participate in volunteer work, and begin applying to medical school while enrolled in their undergrad institution.
Acquire Pre-med Healthcare Experience
Medical schools are notoriously difficult to get into and prior healthcare experience is often a prerequisite for admission. To increase your chances of being accepted into medical school, you should begin acquiring healthcare experience early on in your academic career.
Prior healthcare experience shows that you’re passionate about helping others and have a genuine interest in medicine. Healthcare experience also helps make the case that you are capable of handling the rigorous coursework of medical school and possess the communication and interpersonal skills necessary to be a successful doctor.
Healthcare experience may be in the form of volunteer work, job shadowing, or paid employment. Ideally, your pre-med healthcare experiences include patient interaction, mentoring, and hands-on experience. If you expect your career path as an OB/GYN to include work in an academic setting, research internships are also a valuable way to gain experience.
International Medical Aid’s healthcare and pre-med internships abroad are a great way to gain experience in the medical field. Interns shadow doctors, engage in specialized didactic sessions, participate in community health projects, and gain unique global perspectives on doctoring and healthcare systems.
Take the MCAT
The Medical College Admission Test, or MCAT, is a standardized test that is required for admission into medical school. It assesses an applicant’s knowledge of natural, behavioral, and social science concepts as well as critical thinking and problem-solving skills. The MCAT is typically taken during the summer before the applicant’s senior year of college.
The current version of the MCAT includes questions in the following categories:
- Biological and Biochemical Foundations of Living Systems
- Chemical and Physical Foundations of Biological Systems
- Psychological, Social, and Biological Foundations of Behavior
- Critical Analysis and Reasoning Skills
The MCAT is a difficult exam and preparation is essential for success. There are a variety of resources available to help students prepare for the MCAT, including test preparation books, online courses, and private tutors.
If you’d like to learn more about the MCAT, we’ve published several articles about the MCAT that cover things such as how to register for the exam, when to take it, and essential study strategies.
Apply to Medical School
Students typically begin applying to medical school at the end of their junior year. It’s also common for students to apply during their senior year and take a year off before attending medical school.
Applying to medical schools is a time-consuming process and requires submitting transcripts, letters of recommendation, and essays. The majority of medical schools use the American Medical College Application Service (AMCAS), which is a centralized application service that allows students to apply to multiple schools with one application.
Once a medical school receives your AMCAS, they will invite you to complete a secondary application, which is specific to that institution. Secondary applications ask specific questions about your academic and professional background, research interests, personal history, healthcare experiences, interests in doctoring, and more. In general, secondary applications require detailed essay responses that demonstrate why you are a good fit for the school you’re applying to.
If you’d like further clarification regarding medical school applications, check out our blog on understanding the differences between primary and secondary applications.
Applying to medical school requires exceptional organizational and writing skills. Many medical school applicants highly benefit from hands-on, personalized medical school admissions consulting. Admissions consultants can help you develop overall application strategies, craft compelling essay responses, and maximize your chances of being accepted into your top-choice medical schools.
Complete Medical School with OB/GYN Focuses
Attending medical school and completing a Doctor of Medicine (MD) program is required to be a practicing OB/GYN. These years will be filled with intense coursework in the medical sciences, clinical rotations, and hands-on training.
Medical school comprises the essential basic sciences that all physicians must learn, such as anatomy, physiology, biochemistry, pharmacology, and pathology. In addition, medical students must also learn how to provide patient care, diagnose and treat medical conditions, and work with a team of health professionals.
During the first two years of medical school, medical students study foundational medical sciences and courses in doctoring. Increasingly, many medical schools incorporate early experiences with patients and opportunities to explore specialization in the first two years. However, much of the hands-on training and specialization occurs in the last two years of medical school.
In the final years of medical school, students typically complete required clinical rotations in different areas of medicine, such as family medicine, internal medicine, pediatrics, and psychiatry. Electives and concentrations are also pursued in this phase. Future OB/GYN practitioners should elect to take further coursework and sub-internships in obstetrics and gynecology, including labor and delivery, prenatal care, and surgery.
In preparation for residency, medical students also complete the USMLE Steps 1 and 2. Most medical schools dedicate a portion of the final MD curriculum to preparing students for residency. This process can include residency application prep and matching medical schools with residency programs.
Complete an OB/GYN Residency and Pass USLME Step 3
After graduating from medical school, all physicians must complete a residency before acquiring a state medical license and practicing medicine. OB/GYNs are required to complete 4 years of residency.
During residency, OB/GYNs will receive in-depth training and experience in the diagnosis and treatment of women’s health issues. Residents will rotate through different areas of obstetrics and gynecology, including family planning, prenatal care, labor and delivery, ambulatory healthcare for women, disease prevention, and surgery.
Residents typically take the USMLE Step 3 exam during the first or second year of residency. The USMLE Step 3 is a two-day exam OB/GYNs must pass in order to obtain a medical license after residency. Additionally, certification by the American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ABOG), detailed below, can begin in the fourth year of residency.
Finding the right residency program is an important decision for OB/GYN trainees. It is important to consider the program’s location, size, scope of care, teaching resources, and fellowship opportunities. Residents should also choose a program that fits their personal career aspirations.
Matching to a residency is quite competitive. Strong letters of recommendation, a high USMLE 2 score (USMLE 1 is pass/fail), sub-internships, and extracurricular involvement can all increase a resident’s chances of being matched to their preferred program.
Become ABOG Board-Certified
The American Board of Obstetrics & Gynecology (ABOG) is the primary certification board for OB/GYNs in the United States.
ABOG certificates physicians in Obstetrics and Gynecology, as well as four subspecialties: Female Pelvic Medicine and Reconstructive Surgery, Gynecologic Oncology, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility.
In order to become certified by ABOG, OB/GYN practitioners must provide proof of experience and pass a rigorous exam.
ABOG certification indicates that an OB/GYN has met the standards of care for the specialty and is qualified to provide comprehensive care to women. To maintain certification, OB/GYNs must complete Continuing Medical Education (CME), which is undertaken in two-year periods, and Maintenance of Certification (MOC), undertaken in six-year periods.
While you do not have to be board-certified to practice, many states require board certification for licensure.
Obtain a State Medical License
Upon completing medical school and a four-year residency, passing steps 1-3 of the USMLE, and becoming board-certified, you can now become a licensed OB/GYN.
Licensure requirements vary from state to state. However, most states at least require proof of graduation from an accredited medical school, residency training, board certification, and passing scores on the USMLE Steps 1-3.
Specialize through Fellowships
After completing residency and obtaining a state medical license, many OB/GYNs choose to specialize in a particular field of obstetrics and gynecology.
Specialization can be accomplished through fellowships. A medical fellowship is a post-residency program that allows physicians to specialize in a particular area of medicine. They typically take three years to complete.
Fellowships offer in-depth training in a specific area of OB/GYN, such as reproductive endocrinology and infertility, maternal-fetal medicine, gynecologic oncology, or female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery. Completing a fellowship allows OB/GYNs to be eligible for board certification in their specialty.
Continuing Medical Education (CME)
Continuing Medical Education (CME) is a process by which physicians can maintain, build, and improve their knowledge of medical science and practice. Physicians attend educational events to earn credits that count toward their CME requirement.
It is important for all physicians, including OB/GYNs, to participate in CME to maintain their competence and retain their licensure. Additionally, boards and many healthcare institutions require physicians to complete CME to maintain their certification and employment.
OB/GYN Salary and Job Growth
The U.S. News & World Report, ranks OB/GYNs #3 in Best Paying Jobs. The median salary of an OB/GYN is $208,000. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has estimated that OB/GYN job growth will increase by 15.2% between 2016 and 2026.
Salaries typically range from $119,383 to $251,940. Those certified by the American Board of Obstetrics Gynecology report salaries of $120,894 to $270,659.
Salaries will vary based on years of experience, geographical location, and the work setting. Those employed by healthcare organizations tend to earn the most ($272,000 on average). OB/GYNs employed by single-specialty and multi-specialty groups earn on average $252,000 to $264,000 a year. Those working in hospitals have average salaries of $216,000, while academic settings will report a median pay of $212,000. Finally, OB/GYNs working in private practice or outpatient clinics earn on average $206,000 to $208,000 a year.
OB/GYN Roles, Responsibilities, and Skillset
The role of the OB/GYN is to provide comprehensive care for women throughout their lifespan. This includes preventive care, diagnostic services, and treatment for any conditions or health issues. The responsibilities of an OB/GYN include:
- Providing prenatal care to pregnant women
- Assessing and managing high-risk pregnancies
- Delivering babies
- Administering gynecological exams
- Treating conditions of the female reproductive system
- Offering family planning services
OB/GYNs must have strong communication and interpersonal skills to build trust and rapport with their patients. They must also be detail-oriented, as they are responsible for ensuring that all tests and treatments are ordered and carried out correctly. OB/GYNs must be able to work independently, as well as part of a team.
The skillset of an OB/GYN includes:
- Strong clinical skills
- Excellent communication and interpersonal skills
- Ability to work independently
- Knowledge of preventive care services
- Knowledge of diagnostic procedures and treatment options for female reproductive system conditions
To be an OB/GYN, it is important to have certain personality traits such as patience and empathy. This allows you to build trust and rapport with patients, which is essential in delivering quality care.
OB/GYNs frequently have to handle stress and work long hours. They must be able to keep a cool head under pressure and be able to work quickly and efficiently. They need to be able to maintain a high level of care for their patients even when they are tired or under duress.
Overall, the ideal OB/GYN is patient, detail-oriented, compassionate, and able to work under pressure and endure long hours.
The first major challenge for aspiring OB/GYNs is getting into medical school. Given how competitive medical school is, as well as the rigors students face while attending, it’s important to have a compelling application and foundational knowledge of what it’s like to work in healthcare environments.
Pre-med study abroad programs, such as IMA’s healthcare internships, offer students the opportunity to explore unique medical settings, shadow healthcare professionals, and participate in hands-on medical work. Interns gain intensive first-hand experience in the day-to-day work of healthcare professionals, which enriches their understanding of medicine and impresses admissions committees.
Medical School Admissions Consulting
Our website is full of resources to help you navigate the complex journey of entering the profession of medicine. We encourage you to explore our website and use our expertise to help you on your way to becoming an OB/GYN.
Still, getting into medical school is tough work. Even with exceptional academics and mature doctoring ethics, many pre-med students fail to gain admittance into their top medical schools. The competition is stiff, and, unfortunately, it’s not always about your qualifications or how fit you are to become a doctor.
Our medical school admissions consulting provides personalized guidance to help you present yourself in an honest, compelling, and qualified light. We cover everything from reviewing the details of your application to developing an overall application strategy. And, we’re always here to answer any questions you may have about the complex admissions process.
We want to see you become a successful OB/GYN, and our admissions consulting service will give you the best chance of gaining admission into the medical school of your dreams. We’ve helped hundreds of students attend top medical schools — and you’re no exception.
Thank you for reading! We hope you found this information helpful and wish you the best of luck on your journey to becoming an OB/GYN.