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Is a national OB-GYN shortage looming?

A report recently released by Doximity suggests an impending women’s health crisis: specifically, high obstetricians and gynecologists (OB-GYN) maternity workloads, a U.S. OB-GYN workforce that is nearing or at retirement age, and an inadequate number of younger OB-GYNs practicing.

Doximity, a social network for physicians and advanced practice clinicians, developed a composite index score to assess how severe the risk of OB-GYN shortages are in each of the largest 50 U.S. metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs) by population based on an analysis of workloads and ages of practicing physicians.

The study found that the top 10 MSAs at highest risk for an OB-GYN shortage are:

  1. Las Vegas, Nevada
  2. Orlando, Florida
  3. Los Angeles California
  4. Miami, Florida
  5. Riverside, California
  6. Detroit, Michigan
  7. Memphis, Tennessee
  8. Salt Lake City, Utah
  9. St. Louis, Missouri
  10. Buffalo, N.Y.

“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,” said Nate Gross, MD, co-founder of Doximity. “Understanding potential OB-GYN shortages is a key starting point in addressing the problem, and our data shows that we have a growing risk in cities across the country.”

The average age of OB-GYNs is 51 years old, which is concerning, as most OB-GYNs begin to retire at 59. Our analysis found that the average age of OB-GYNs ranged from 52.69 in Pittsburgh to 48.93 in Houston.

Nationally, there is a yearly average of 105 births per OB-GYN. However, the ratio of births per OB-GYN ranged widely from 248 in Riverside, Calif. to 58 in Hartford, Conn. We expect that in areas with a larger workload, an increase in retiring OB-GYNs could significantly challenge the local workforce to keep up with demand for women’s health care services.

Other top findings include:

1. A four-fold variation in maternity workloads: Doximity compared the number of OB-GYNs with the number of births in each of the 50 largest metros.

  • The metros with the largest numbers of births per OB-GYNs are: Riverside, Calif. (248); St. Louis (232); Las Vegas (170); Oklahoma City (147); and Phoenix (145).
  • The metros with the smallest number of births per OB-GYNs are: Hartford, Conn. (58); Richmond, Va. (68); Louisville, Ky. (69); San Jose, Calif. (70); and Birmingham, Ala. (74).

2. A coming OB-GYN retirement wave: In many areas, a large portion of the population of OB-GYNs is nearing retirement age.

  • The metros with the highest percentage of OB-GYNs who are 55 years-old and older are: Pittsburgh; Virginia Beach, Va.; Salt Lake City; Cincinnati; and Orlando, Fla.
  • The metros with the lowest percentage of OB-GYNs who are 55 years-old and older are: Houston; Portland, Ore.; Indianapolis; Columbus, Ohio; and San Jose, Calif.

3. A shortage of younger doctors: Only 14 percent of all U.S. OB-GYNs are 40 years-old or younger, while 37 percent are 55 years-old or older.

  • The metros with the lowest percentage of OB-GYNs who are 40 years-old and younger are: Las Vegas; Buffalo, N.Y.; Detroit; Orlando; and St. Louis.
  • The metros with the highest percentage of OB-GYNs who are 40 years-old and younger are: Oklahoma City; Cincinnati; Houston; Columbus, Ohio; and Minneapolis.

“With 70 percent of all U.S. doctors as members, Doximity’s data set is uniquely positioned to provide insights on the medical profession, not just on the national level, but also at the local level around which provider networks are structured,” said Chris Whaley, PhD, lead author and adjunct assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health.

This report draws on the Doximity profiles of more than 30,000 full-time, board-certified OB-GYNs. In addition to providing care to women during pregnancy and labor, OB-GYNs provide a variety of gynecological care services throughout women’s lives, screen for cancer, and in many cases, provide the only primary and preventive care a woman receives.

“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 health care reform and population statistics,” said Valerie Anne Jones, MD, 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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