Millennial women expected to be most impacted by OB-GYN shortage, report says

There’s a growing shortage of OB-GYNs, and millennial women starting families may face the biggest impact, according to a new report.

The shortage of OB-GYNs translates to a potential crisis for women’s healthcare, whether patients are seeking routine women’s health services or pregnancy-related care, according to the report (PDF) from Doximity, the online network for medical professionals.

“The projected OB-GYN shortages across the nation pose serious concerns for women’s reproductive care. This is particularly concerning for millennials, who are already waiting longer to start a family due to a variety of economic and social factors. Older women are at greater risk of complications during pregnancy, which requires more than average visits with an OB-GYN,” said Amit Phull, M.D., vice president of strategy and insights at Doximity.

The study examined data from the Doximity network, including more than 43,000 full-time, board-certified OB-GYNs.

The research found a startling number of OB-GYNs nearing retirement, while there is a serious shortage of younger doctors entering the field. A large portion of OB-GYNs are approaching the average age of retirement in many areas of the country. At the same time, none of the 50 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S. included in the report have at least 30% of their workforce under the age of 40, Doximity said. Overall, only 19% of the nation’s OB-GYNs are younger than 40 years old.

The estimates of a physician shortage continue to climb, as the country will see a shortage of up to 122,000 physicians by 2032, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges, including both primary care and specialties.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) continues to project a shortage of up to 8,800 OB-GYNs by 2020 and a shortfall of up to 22,000 by 2050. In fact, ACOG estimated in 2017 that half of the U.S. counties lack a single OB-GYN.

Looking at the percentage of OB-GYNs nearing retirement age, the number of younger practicing OB-GYNs and maternity workloads, Doximity researchers created a composite index score to identify the U.S. metro areas that have the highest risk of OB-GYN shortages.

Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Miami are at the highest risk of OB-GYN shortages in coming years, while Portland, Oregon, and San Jose and San Francisco in California are at the lowest risk. 

map showing cities where ob/gyn shortage is projected

New to the report this year, Doximity also examined the sharply declining birthrates in the U.S. as published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2018, the U.S. birthrate fell to the lowest number in 32 years, but the drop was particularly pronounced for millennial women. “Lingering financial challenges from the Great Recession combined with a shortage of trained OB-GYN specialists may make the goal of having children even harder to reach for millennial women,” the report said.

The study also found OB-GYN workloads remain high despite declining birthrates. Nationally, each OB-GYN delivers nearly 100 babies per year. However, a Las Vegas OB-GYN, for instance, delivers an average of 145 babies a year.

“OB-GYNs provide critical medical services for women throughout their lives. We hope these findings will help healthcare leaders identify ways to address and mitigate potential shortages at regional and national levels,” said Chris Whaley, Ph.D., lead author of the report and adjunct assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health.