How Do You Become An OB/GYN? 4 Doctors Share Why They Chose To Specialize In Reproductive Health
Many women will, at some point in their lives, consult an obstetrician-gynecologist (OB/GYN) or reproductive specialist, for everything from well-women visits, to getting contraceptives, to fertility aid. But the women behind this profession didn't just appear there overnight. Bustle talked to four doctors about why they decided to specialize in reproductive health, what they find rewarding and inspiring about their professions, and how the area keeps surprising them.
Experts believe that the need for female-focused healthcare is growing, and will expand by 6 percent by 2020, according to the National Institute of Health. It's recommended that girls start seeing an OB/GYN in their teen years, so that they get a good grounding in sexual health. And if you have a preference for the gender of your gynecological care provider, you're not alone; 50.2 percent of women prefer a female gynecologist, according to a survey in 2016, while 8.3 percent preferred a male and 41 percent really didn't mind either way. No matter who's taking care of you, though, here are four perspectives on why reproductive healthcare is so important, from the people who've made your reproductive system their life's work.
Why They Became Interested In The Specialty In The First Place
Passion for women's health is the starting point for many professionals who work in the OB/GYN speciality — but they also enjoy the multifaceted aspects of the work. Dr. Sinem Karipcin, who is a reproductive endocrinologist at Conceptions Florida, tells Bustle, "I love being able to help people start families. There is a new world of hormones and genes which is so scientific, and yet we experience the joy of watching an embryo grow."
Dr. Nina Resetkova, who's a reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist at Boston IVF, agrees. Her work, she says, is far-ranging. "I perform reproductive surgery, IVF, IUI (Intrauterine Insemination), and egg freezing, among other fertility related technologies," she tells Bustle. "I also work on clinical research related to fertility outcomes, fertility preservation for transgender patients, and how to provide more cost-effective, patient-friendly medical care. I also work with an amazing team at the Harvard Stem Cell Institute on new technologies to improve laboratories’ ability to select embryos for use in IVF."
For Resetkova, the passion came early. "I couldn’t see myself doing anything else," she tells Bustle. "I did a lot of volunteer work for causes related to women’s health starting in high school and throughout my medical training. I realized early on that building strong families and communities isn’t possible without a dedicated focus on access to women’s health services."
Dr. Sophia Yen, co-founder of Pandia Health and an Associate Professor of adolescent medicine at Stanford Medical School, had a similar experience. "As a young woman," she tells Bustle, "I realized that if I got pregnant, I would want to be able to decide whether or not to continue the pregnancy. So I took a personal interest in reproductive health and reproductive rights and access. I also thought as a teenager that I (and all other teens) should have the right to get confidential reproductive health care to prevent unplanned pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. I like science, I like helping people. so I decided to become a doctor."
For Dr. Margie Corney, head of Women First Gynecology in Virginia, her reasoning had another facet: representation. "As of 2015 the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that in the U.S. the percentage of African-American physicians was only 5.5 percent, even though African-Americans made up 14 percent of the population that time," she tells Bustle. "Well, in 1973, when I earned my undergraduate degree, that percentage was even more minute. There were, near my university, entire urban areas that were overwhelmingly African American but had very few, if any, Black doctors. And good luck being a Black woman and finding a Black female obstetrician or gynecologist." Her conclusion? "My people just were not being served. There was absolutely a need."
The Rewards Of Helping Women's Reproductive Health
When asked what she finds so rewarding about her job, Dr. Corney tells Bustle, "I can’t tell you this; I have to show you." She shows us screenshots of families who update her on the lives of the children she delivered as they grow. "There are very few other careers where people come back to you 25 years later to thank you for the service you’ve rendered for them and to tell you, with gratitude, how things are going," she tells Bustle. "I am delivering their baby, their most precious thing. Notes like this just make me so appreciative that I got the opportunity to go into obstetrics."
For Dr. Yen, the tangible effects she has on women's lives are her favorite part of the job. "Preventing unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases by providing access to birth control and confidential reproductive health care" are, she tells Bustle, the most rewarding parts of the job. Her healthcare practice, Pandia Health, is also working to change women's lives by helping extend their access. "We have brought access to women who live too far away from a pharmacy or doctor or who have no time to run to the pharmacy each month for their prescription birth control," she tells Bustle.
Dr. Karipcin and Dr. Resetkova both highlight the fact that they can change lives and also be part of new scientific breakthroughs. "We witness firsthand the happiness of our patients and how we become a part of their family through this process. And yet it is also equally as rewarding to be at the forefront of science and watch the future of medicine unfold as fertility specialists," says Dr. Karipcin. Dr. Resetkova agrees. "I love that I am able to meet with patients for a substantial encounter and make a focused plan that incorporates who they are, their reproductive goals and their timeline," she tells Bustle.
Educating others also features as a highlight. "I enjoy teaching the next generation of fertility experts, as a Clinical Instructor at Harvard Medical School," Dr. Resetkova tells Bustle, while Dr. Yen is strongly invested in teaching women about the technology that means their periods can be optional. "I love being a woman helping women," she tells Bustle. "I love turning off periods and making women’s lives better. I love how turning off periods decreases anemia, acne, endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer and improves women’s attendance at school and productivity at work."
What They've Found Surprising, Inspiring — And Depressing
Reproductive science is making great leaps forward, and these doctors tell Bustle they are energized and inspired by what was happening in their field. Dr. Corney highlights the "mind-blowing breakthroughs" that are occurring in the CRISPR lab of Professor Jennifer Ann Doudna at UC Berkeley, where gene-editing is becoming a reality. "You can’t imagine the pain of parents I’ve had to tell that their fetus is going to be born with some incurable congenital disease," she tells Bustle. "I may live to deliver the first generation of babies who are completely free from these diseases."
Dr. Karipcin, meanwhile, is excited by the speed of the new science behind fertility technologies. "A few years ago," she tells Bustle, "multiples with IVF was a concern. However, with the single embryo transfer, there is only a 1-2 percent risk of multiples. Ten years ago, we didn’t have many options for fertility preservation for women. Now egg freezing is a very successful and viable option for many women for both medical or social reasons."
They're also inspired and surprised by their patients. "The most rewarding aspect is connecting with patients, and having their confidence," says Dr. Resetkova. "Helping patients achieve pregnancy is an amazing gift, but going on the journey with them to get there is the most incredible part. I have been most surprised by how candid and funny some patients are during fertility treatments! It helps to see the humor and joy even in tough situations."
But there are other elements that are less appealing. Dr. Yen explains that she's been shocked recently by several things. One is ignorance in other doctors about emergency contraception. She says it's been surprising "how few doctors know about Ella," which is a form of emergency contraception that is free under the Affordable Care Act and is more effective than Plan B, and also "how few doctors and people know that Plan B and its generics are not effective in women who have a BMI of 26 or greater." The other is sexism in her own profession. "A new acquaintance from North Carolina was denied birth control by her OB/GYN," she tells Bustle. "He said 'You’re 23 and married, you should be having babies.' That was in 2017."
The challenges of the reproductive healthcare landscape in modern America are growing. But it's good to know that, at the forefront of innovation and patient care, brave and inspiring experts are fighting for women to have the best healthcare possible, and have control of their reproductive destinies.