We talk a lot about the primary care shortage in our country, but did you know there’s also a women’s health crisis on the horizon? The number of OB-GYNs practicing in the United States is not expected to keep up with demand. Not only is our population growing, practice patterns among physicians in the field are changing, leaving women looking for care. While many are simply adding the OB/GYN shortage to the ever-growing list of healthcare problems in our country, there is a solution to helping women get care – nurse practitioners, of course.
It’s no wonder obstetricians and gynecologists are disappearing from practice. The specialty is one of the most litigious with 42% of OB-GYN docs in one American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists survey saying they had one or more liability claim filed against them. As a result, OB-GYNs are making changes to their practices. Fearing liability, 5% of OB-GYNs stopped practicing altogether, 8% decreased the total number of deliveries and 12% decreased the number of surgeries performed. Fewer MDs performing necessary services and decreasing numbers of physicians in practice altogether contributes to this growing gap of women’s health services.
Not only are OB-GYNs dropping out or modifying their practices for fear of litigation, career norms in medicine are changing. A specialty prone to on-call duties and a stressful practice environment, OB-GYNs are burnt out. More and more of these physicians are prioritizing work-life balance by working part-time or flexible schedules, making care scarce for female patients. The majority of younger OB/GYNs are also female, with stats showing that these providers are more likely to retire early or work part-time compared to their male counterparts. Together, these practice trends spell an impending shortage of women’s health services.
To further complicate the problem, the distribution of OB/GYNs across the country is also inconsistent. While some areas of the nation enjoy ease of access to care, others are in need. According to the American College of Nurse-Midwives, nearly half of counties don’t have an obstetrician/gynecologist and 56 percent are without a nurse midwife.
Physician groups have proposed increasing the availability of residencies for medical students interested in obstetrics and gynecology as a solution to the OB-GYN shortage. This proposal, however, will not be sufficient to alleviate the shortage of providers in our country. Modifying education programs to increase physician numbers takes time, and will not fix the immediate need in our population. This is where nurse practitioners come into play.
In contrast to physicians, nurse practitioners spend far less time on their education. In fact, a nurse may choose to further his or her education and become a women’s health prepared nurse practitioner in as little as one to two years. NPs are positioned to quickly fill the gap of providers in the women’s health field. Furthermore, NPs are more likely than physicians to fill healthcare gaps in underserved areas such as rural locations. Nurse practitioners expect to earn less than their physician counterparts making women’s health nurse practitioners affordable hires for clinics and hospitals.
The bottom-line? WHNPs stand to play a critical role in the delivery of healthcare to women across the country. Given the current OB-GYN shortage, women’s health nurse practitioners are poised to enter a job market with abundant opportunity. If you’re thinking about becoming a women’s health nurse practitioner, the time is right!
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