OB-GYN shortage predicted for U.S. in face of coming retirement wave

A pending shortage of OB-GYNs may leave many women searching for a doctor. (Merck KGaA)

With an aging workforce, the country may soon be facing a shortage of obstetrician/gynecologists, according to a new report released today.

One-third of all OB-GYNs in 38 major metropolitan areas are 55 years or older, and a coming retirement wave could leave women searching for doctors, according to a report from Doximity, a social network for physicians and advanced practice clinicians that includes more than 70% of U.S. practitioners.

In many areas of the country, a large portion of OB-GYNs are nearing retirement. The metro areas with the highest percentage of doctors who are 55 and older are Pittsburgh; Virginia Beach, Virginia; Salt Lake City; Cincinnati; and Orlando, Florida.

The report, which draws on the Doximity profiles of more than 30,000 full-time, board-certified OB-GYNs, outlines an impending women’s health crisis based on the perfect storm of high maternity workloads for OB-GYNs with a workforce that is nearing or at retirement age and with an inadequate number of younger doctors in practice.

The report confirms the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists projection of a shortage of 9,000 obstetricians by 2030.

It’s the first study of its kind in which a composite index score was developed to assess how severe the risk of shortages is in each of the 50 largest metropolitan regions in the country based on an analysis of workloads and ages of practicing physicians, according to Doximity.

“It’s impossible to understate the importance of OB-GYNs to women’s health in the United States. From maternity care to screening for cancer and critical primary and preventive care, OB-GYN specialists are at the frontline of women’s healthcare,” Nate Gross, M.D., co-founder of Doximity, said in an announcement.

Some of the reports key findings include:

  • Major metropolitan areas such as Las Vegas, Orlando, Los Angeles and Miami are at the highest risk of an OB-GYN shortage.
  • There’s a shortage of younger doctors. Only 14% of all OB-GYNs in the U.S. are 40 years or younger. The average age is 51, a concerning factor because most OB-GYNs begin to retire at age 59. 
  • Practicing OB-GYNs carry a large workload. Nationally, they deliver an average of 105 births each year. In areas where physicians already carry a larger workload, an increase in retirements could significantly challenge local OB-GYNs to keep up with the demand for women’s health services, the report said.

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“The current workforce in obstetrics and gynecology is aging, retiring early and going part-time at an increasing pace, while the number of patients seeking care is exploding due to healthcare reform and population statistics,” said Valerie Anne Jones, M.D., a retired OB-GYN and member of Doximity's Medical Advisory Board. “Access to maternity care and women’s health services is vitally important, and we need to have infrastructure to support the numbers or these women will have no OB-GYN to turn to despite having insurance.”

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At the same time, the number of family physicians who deliver babies and provide care for pregnant women has declined. A study by the Robert Graham Center for Policy Studies in Family Medicine and Primary Care, which was published in American Family Physician in June, found that the number of family physicians practicing high-volume obstetric care dropped by half between 2009 and 2016.

The coming shortage of OB-GYNs comes at the same time the U.S. is grappling with the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world; efforts to defund Planned Parenthood, which provides health services to many women, are taking place and healthcare leaders fear immigration policies will limit foreign doctors.