America’s Growing Crisis: The Decline Of Ob-Gyns And Its Impact On Women's Health

Published by Healthdor Editorial on April 23, 2024

4 minutes

As America faces an impending shortage of obstetricians and gynecologists. Key factors include an aging physician workforce, increasing burnout, and restrictive abortion laws, reshaping the landscape of medical practice.

Gynecologists - America’s Growing Crisis: The Decline of OB-GYNs and Its Impact on Women's Health

America is on the brink of a healthcare crisis as the number of practicing obstetricians and gynecologists (OB-GYNs) continues to decline. By 2030, the U.S. is projected to have approximately 3,000 fewer OB-GYNs than it currently does, exacerbating an already critical shortage. In 2018, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists already flagged the available number of approximately 50,800 OB-GYNs as insufficient given the national needs. This shortage is particularly alarming in light of an increasing population, with health ministry representatives labeling the trend as a severe concern for public health.

One significant reason behind this decline is the aging demographic of medical professionals. More than half of all U.S. physicians are over the age of 55, with 35% expected to retire within the next five years. This outpaces the entry of younger physicians into the field, leading to a gap in healthcare provision. Dr. Stella Dantas, a representative from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, noted that many doctors are choosing to retire earlier than previous generations, further reducing the workforce.

Burnout and Legal Challenges Compounding the Issue

Burnout among OB-GYNs is increasingly common, attributed largely to the administrative burdens placed on these professionals. Dr. Dantas highlights that many tasks, which are not directly related to patient care, contribute significantly to physician exhaustion. The situation is worsened by legal risks associated with the profession—OB-GYNs are among the most frequently sued medical practitioners, according to a 2023 Medscape report.

Additionally, many seasoned OB-GYNs are pivoting solely to gynecology, avoiding the high-stakes environment of obstetric care. This shift is partly due to the physical demands and high liability associated with childbirth, which disproportionately affects older practitioners who may find the stress and risks unmanageable as they age.

The Impact of Abortion Legislation on Medical Practice

A pivotal factor affecting the shortage is the changing legal landscape, particularly the restrictions on abortion enacted in several states. These laws have a dual effect: they not only decrease the number of practitioners willing to perform abortions but also deter medical students from specializing in OB-GYN. The percentage of OB-GYNs offering abortions dropped from 20% to 18% in just one year, reflecting the immediate impact of these legislative changes.

The National Resident Matching Program's data for 2023 shows a 2% decrease in medical students selecting OB-GYN as their specialty, with the strongest decline in states with the most restrictive abortion laws. A study involving students from Emory University found that 77% would consider the legislative climate of a state when deciding where to specialize, fearing that restrictive laws would impede their training and professional growth.

Ariana Traub, co-author of the study, expressed concerns that students are hesitant to train in states where abortion bans could hinder their education and potentially expose them to legal liabilities. The states with the most stringent abortion laws also report the highest mortality rates among mothers and newborns, indicating a broader public health crisis that could deepen with the continuing decline in OB-GYNs.

As America grapples with these multifaceted challenges, the shortage of OB-GYNs not only highlights issues within the healthcare system but also underscores the broader implications for women’s health across the nation.