The Difference Between an Obstetrician and Gynecologist

OB-GYN is a specialty of medicine that encompasses two distinct fields of practice caring for women’s health issues.

Obstetricians (OB) provide care related to having a baby: during pre-conception, pregnancy, childbirth and immediately after delivery.

Gynecologists (GYN) generally provide care for diseases and functions specific to women and girls, particularly those related to a woman’s sexual and reproductive health issues, from the time of her first period through post menopause.

All physicians at CU Medicine OB-GYN East Denver are board-certified OB-GYNs, who practice in both areas of obstetrics and gynecology.

Looking for complete care? Our OB-GYNs specialize in women’s health for all ages and needs.

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What is an OB-GYN?

Patients often can be confused about what kind of doctor an OB-GYN is and what he or she does. Obstetrics and gynecology are each distinct fields of study related to the sexual and reproductive health of women.

Physicians interested in women’s healthcare train in both obstetrics and gynecology. Some providers will sub-specialize in either obstetrics or gynecology, but an obstetrician-gynecologist, or OB-GYN, deals with both areas of women’s health.

Most gynecologists are also obstetricians. The two specialties began to merge at the end of the 1800s. Most women find it more convenient to have one OB-GYN as opposed to having an obstetrician and a gynecologist. In fact, it may be hard to find such independent practitioners.

All of our physicians are OB-GYNs and are board certified as such (see below). OB-GYNs are specifically experts in women’s reproductive health, pregnancy and childbirth.

What is the difference between obstetricians and gynecologists?

A woman’s needs change throughout life, so it’s valuable to know who to see for specific conditions and issues. While both obstetricians and gynecologists specialize in women’s care, the biggest difference is that the work of an obstetrician mostly focuses on pregnancy, while gynecologists treat other health issues related to a woman’s reproductive organs.

Obstetricians provide care during all the stages of pregnancy, including pre-conception, pregnancy, labor and delivery, and post-pregnancy (postpartum) care.

Gynecologists treat issues related to other areas of women’s reproductive health such as menstruation, sexually transmitted diseases, breast health, incontinence, reproductive injuries, hormonal disorders, certain cancer screenings and some chronic conditions such as endometriosis.

In a comprehensive practice such as CU Medicine OB-GYN East Denver (Rocky Mountain), each OB-GYN treats female reproductive and sexual health issues. Each individual doctor has certain areas of expertise within these two fields, so a patient may need to see multiple OB-GYNs depending on the conditions being treated.

Obstetrician and gynecologist differences in training & board certification

Gynecologists and obstetricians complete four years of medical school, followed by a four year residency program. Residency is when they learn about all aspects of women’s healthcare. After training in both fields, they choose to specialize in either obstetrics or gynecology, but most doctors choose to practice both specialties.

After residency, the OB-GYN applies for a license to practice in the state where they plan to work. Board certification as an OB-GYN, which is granted by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology, involves additional work experience in women’s health. A written and an oral examination are required for board certification.

We are proud that all our physicians are board-certified OB-GYNs. All specialize in providing obstetric and gynecologic care, with three of our doctors further specializing in family planning.

Individuals who want to specialize in an area relating to either obstetrics or gynecology go on to complete a fellowship after residency. The sub-specialty fellowships within women’s healthcare are:

  • Maternal-fetal medicine: high risk pregnancy care.
  • Reproductive endocrinology and infertility: female hormone imbalances and infertility treatment.
  • Family planning: complex contraception management and termination of pregnancy.
  • Gynecologic oncology: management of female cancers (not breast).
  • Urogynecology: treatment of pelvic organ prolapse and/or incontinence.
  • Minimally invasive surgery: expertise in laparoscopic surgery.

A closer look at obstetrics

An obstetrician is an expert in obstetrics, the care of women during and after pregnancy (postpartum) and care for their unborn child. Obstetricians are trained in all aspects of pregnancy, from prenatal care to delivery, handling potential complications that may occur during pregnancy or the birthing process, and care for the mother for a period after birth. Examples of issues an obstetrician can treat are:

  • Ectopic pregnancy, where the fetus develops outside the uterus.
  • Prenatal care.
  • Preeclampsia.
  • Cesarean section.
  • Family planning.
  • Postpartum depression.

If you are planning to become pregnant, you can seek the guidance of an obstetrician to help with the pre-pregnancy phase. This planning can be especially important for women over age 35, women who have had miscarriages in the past, women with a history of complicated pregnancies, and women who are at risk of complications.

A closer look at gynecology

A gynecologist specializes in caring for the reproductive health of a woman from the time she gets her first period all the way to post-menopause. Overall, if it’s not related to pregnancy, a gynecologist is the specialty for women to see if there’s a female health issue.

Treating or diagnosing any condition affecting the reproductive system, such as those with the fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries and vagina, is within the expertise of a gynecologist. Gynecologists also perform recommended screenings for cancer such as pelvic exams, breast exams and Pap smears. They are also trained to perform surgeries involving the reproductive system, such as hysterectomies, tubal ligations, removal of ovarian cysts or endometriosis treatment.

Common reasons to visit a gynecologist:

When to visit an obstetrician and gynecologist (OB-GYN)

Both an obstetrician and a gynecologist provide important care for women. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends that women visit their gynecologist annually for well-women exams and their OB when trying to get pregnant.

That usually means seeing the same provider. While each field is distinctive, most doctors – including all providers at CU Medicine OB-GYN East Denver (Rocky Mountain) – are trained in both areas. This provides women with seamless care throughout their lifetime and needs.

Our perspective

One of the most gratifying parts of being an OB-GYN for most providers is the ability to develop a relationship with a patient and her family over the course of her lifetime. In addition, OB-GYN is the only medical specialty that allows the doctor to diagnose a problem and then be able to perform surgery, if needed. For example, if a patient is diagnosed with a hernia by their primary care doctor, they would be referred to a general surgeon for the procedure, but the patient would not see the surgeon long-term.

OB-GYNs get to provide office care, surgery, prenatal care, vaginal deliveries, cesarean sections, and postpartum care. This diversity of areas of practice is unique in medicine.