When it comes to taking care of your reproductive health, you can choose to see an OB/GYN or a gynecologist. Both gynecologists and OB/GYNs diagnose and treat conditions related to female reproductive health; however, there are differences in each qualification’s scope of care. A gynecologist focuses on caring for the female reproductive system but many also serve as primary care providers for women who don’t see doctors regularly. An OB/GYN provides reproductive health care and care regarding all aspects of pregnancy. If you are struggling with infertility, you may choose an OB/GYN because they can offer fertility guidance for treatments like IVF, egg freezing and using clinical-grade fertility supplements.
What Is a Gynecologist?
A gynecologist is a practitioner who specializes in caring for women’s reproductive health. Gynecologists diagnose and treat conditions that affect the vagina, ovaries, uterus, cervix and fallopian tubes. Your gynecologist can perform exams and screenings to ensure your reproductive organs are functioning properly and help you treat issues related to menstruation, sexually transmitted diseases and conditions like endometriosis or PCOS.
What Is an Obstetrician?
An obstetrician is someone who specializes in obstetrics. Obstetrics refers to the care of a woman during pregnancy, including prenatal, delivery and post-natal care. An obstetrician can deliver babies, provide guidance and treatments regarding conception and aid you with post-pregnancy conditions like postpartum depression. A practitioner who specializes in both obstetrics and gynecology is called an OB/GYN. This means that an OB/GYN is qualified to perform the duties of both an obstetrician and a gynecologist.
What’s the Difference Between a Gynecologist and an OB/GYN?
There are several differences between a gynecologist and an OB/GYN. These differences are found regarding their education and training, the scope of practice and patients they typically see.
Education and Training
Both gynecologists and OB/GYNs must complete a bachelor’s degree. Typically, candidates major in fields related to science or medicine, such as biology, chemistry, physics or anatomy. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree, those wishing to become gynecologists and OB/GYN’s must also graduate from an accredited medical school to earn a doctor of medicine (MD) title.
The final steps to becoming a gynecologist or OB/GYN are to complete a residency program, which typically lasts four years, followed by licensure and board certification exams. During this time, an OB/GYN’s education and training diverge. An OB/GYN must train in gynecology, obstetrics, reproductive endocrinology and ultrasonography. OB/GYNs and gynecologists must achieve licensure and pass certification exams to practice. Many OB/GYNs also obtain board certification from the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology.
Scope of Practice
The scope of practice is the most significant difference between a gynecologist and an OB/GYN. OB/GYNs are certified to provide care for two separate areas of women’s reproductive health, giving them a broader scope of practice than practitioners who are only qualified to practice gynecology. Gynecologists can provide you with the following care:
- Perform screenings like pap smears, pelvic exams, and breast exams
- Offer advice on sexual practices
- Prescribe contraceptives
- Diagnose and treat sexually transmitted infections
- Administer human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccines
- Perform tubal ligations and hysterectomies
- Treat menstrual issues like dysmenorrhea and dyspareunia
- Treat conditions such as PCOS and endometriosis
In addition to gynecological care, OB/GYN practitioners offer:
- Guidance regarding fertility therapies
- Preconception care, such as the administration of advanced prenatal supplements
- Prenatal care
- Care during pregnancy such as wellness visits, sonograms and genetic testing
- Childbirth and delivery care, including cesarean delivery
- Care for complications during pregnancy such as ectopic pregnancy or preeclampsia
- Post-pregnancy care, including follow-up exams and guidance for postpartum depression
While there is overlap between the types of patients that gynecologists versus OB/GYNs see, there are a few key differences. Gynecologists specialize in female reproductive health, especially regarding the organs of the reproductive system. They may see patients between the ages of around 11 to 70, the ages at which most women require focused reproductive care.
Adolescents and young adult women who see a gynecologist may receive HPV vaccines, guidance on sexual behaviors, prescriptions for contraceptives and treatment for STIs. Older women receive guidance on issues related to menopause and obtain yearly checkups for their breast and vaginal health. Child-free women may also see a gynecologist rather than an OB/GYN, as they do not need pregnancy-related care.
Because gynecologists don’t provide pregnancy care, many women in their mid-twenties through the late forties choose to see an OB/GYN instead of a gynecology-only practitioner. Although an OB/GYN can provide the same level of care as a gynecologist, they can also offer women in this age group the medical care and resources they need to address fertility issues and to carry a healthy baby to term.
When Should You See a Gynecologist vs. an OB/GYN?
If you are trying to decide between visiting a gynecologist and an OB/GYN, it is helpful to assess your reproductive health goals. A visit to the gynecologist’s office is ideal for women looking for a simple reproductive health checkup, including a pap smear, STI test or a pelvic or breast exam.
If you are seeking care for an existing pregnancy, you will require the care of an OB/GYN. Even if you are not currently pregnant, visiting an OB/GYN is beneficial, especially if your plans include getting pregnant after 40. Your OB/GYN can help you address concerns about later in life pregnancy and suggest ways to improve your egg health, such as taking a high-quality DHEA supplement or a supplement containing CoQ10/ubiquinol.
Visit Your Women’s Reproductive Health Provider Regularly
Choosing between a gynecologist or OB/GYN depends on your reproductive health needs. If you do not require prenatal or pregnancy care, a gynecologist’s qualifications can meet your needs. If you are thinking of getting pregnant after 35 and are looking to get in the best health for reproduction, you will likely benefit from seeing an OB/GYN over a gynecologist.
Whichever type of provider you choose, be proactive about your reproductive health. Schedule an appointment at least once per year so that you and your doctor can address any concerns you have and ensure a clean bill of reproductive health.