The main job of any gynecologist is to perform medical exams of women’s reproductive organs, looking out for abnormalities and possible problems and ensuring overall wellness. Gynecologists are medical experts who are specially trained in women’s health. They typically perform routine “well woman” exams and treat any range of conditions or problems that involve the female reproductive system. Many also have expertise is obstetrics, which involves the care of pregnant women and growing fetuses. Women who seek abortions usually also consult gynecologists with obstetric training.
Basic Expertise and Duties
Most medical systems around the world recommend that women of childbearing age visit a gynecologist once a year for what is known as a “well woman” exam. The practitioner will use this exam to take a look at how a woman’s body is maintaining its reproductive capabilities, and to address any problems before they become major issues.
The practitioner will typically focus his or her energy on the vagina, the uterus, and the ovaries. Patients typically undress from the waist down, allowing the expert to examine the organs first from the outside, then internally as well. Gynecologists typically use a device known as a “speculum” to open the woman’s reproductive cavity and collect a small number of cell samples that can be sent off for testing to detect conditions like cervical cancer or sexually transmitted diseases. It is also common for the examiner to insert a few fingers into the woman’s body to manually feel for abnormalities.
Breast exams sometimes also come within the scope of a gynecologist’s expertise. He or she may gently palpate the surface of the breast to look for unusual lumps that may indicate breast cancer. The practitioner will usually also teach the patient how to do these sorts of exams for herself.
A certain amount of patient counseling typically also comes within the job description. Practitioners will talk with women about safe sexual practices, for instance, and will provide overviews of available contraception. This sort of physician is usually authorized to prescribe birth control pills and administer contraceptive injections after discussing the pros and cons with the patient.
Treatment of Particular Conditions
Gynecologists are also in charge of treating a range of known issues or problems that involve the female reproductive system. Urinary tract infections, heavy or painful menstrual periods, and internal cysts and growths are just a few examples. Basically, any issue a woman has with this part of her body, be it simple discomfort or actual disease, is referred to gynecological experts for treatment and, hopefully, a cure.
Overlap With Obstetrics
Women who are pregnant or are trying to become pregnant often have a special set of issues best dealt with by medical professionals trained in the ins and outs of fertility. In nearly all cases, these experts are gynecologists, but they usually also have additional training in a field known as obstetrics. The common acronym OB/GYN is used for a gynecologist with this extra expertise.
People with obstetric knowledge are experts in all things pregnancy and baby related. They are the ones who help women conceive, and they also monitor ongoing pregnancies to make sure that both mom and baby are growing and developing properly. This often involves the prescription of certain vitamins and diet recommendations alongside more hands-on care like regular exams, heart rate measurements, and birth training.
Most obstetrics practitioners are trained to intervene in any number of ways with a pregnancy. They can halt premature labor, for instance, as well as induce it for women who need it. In places where abortion is legal, obstetricians are usually the people to perform these procedures as well.
Obstetricians will typically also assist with the delivery of new babies. They will instruct the mother about what to do and will help her manage the pain associated with childbirth. When needed, they may also intervene in the actual birth if there are complications, and they are usually trained in emergency surgical procedures, like caesarian sections. Treating the mother and baby immediately after birth usually also falls to this expert. He or she will carefully monitor new moms for complications both medical and emotional, and will recommend care and treatment as needed.
Hours and Availability
Gynecologists can work in a wide variety of settings, which greatly affects their schedules and required availability. Those who work as obstetricians delivering babies typically have the most unpredictable schedules, as they must generally be on-call day and night and ready to act whenever their patients go into labor. Specialists on staff with hospitals often have similar situations, as medical care in these settings often never stops. Experts are typically assigned to shifts to minimize disruptions, but these shifts often have irregular hours.
Medical professionals in private practices or devoted clinics are usually in the best position to set their own schedules. These practitioners often have set appointment and exam times, and will usually only break their hours in case of a true emergency.
Required Training and Certification
Becoming a gynecologist is usually a time-intensive endeavor. The requirements vary from country to country, but most of the time, candidates must attend medical school after completing an undergraduate course of study with an emphasis on the sciences. After the basic medical program is complete, students must take on additional training to specialize in women’s health. A few additional years are often required for those who want to practice as obstetricians.
Formal training is often just the beginning. Practitioners must usually also pass a series of board exams and licensing tests in order to begin seeing and treating patients. Different countries and localities have different rules for exactly what is required, but a lot of time and effort is usually involved in staying current with the legal requirements. Most of the time, practitioners must constantly recertify, whether by sitting for more exams or attending educational conferences at regular intervals. The practice of reproductive medicine tends to change with new developments and breakthroughs, and it is important that all professionals stay current and up-to-date.