In my experience, many young women deserve to know more about the practice of obstetrics and gynecology and what to look for in a quality OB-GYN (obstetrician-gynecologist).
Many women also benefit from a refreshed understanding of the specific methods and standards of care they should expect from their OB-GYN.
I’m writing this article today to help fill that gap and inform young women and their families about what makes a good OB-GYN and how to choose one.
What does an OB-GYN do?
Let’s start with the basics. An OB-GYN, or obstetrician-gynecologist, is a medical doctor who specializes in women’s reproductive health. They provide comprehensive medical care for women throughout various stages of their lives, from adolescence to pregnancy, childbirth, and menopause.
OB-GYN refers to two separate but related fields: obstetrics and gynecology.
Obstetrics involves issues relating to pregnancy and childbirth.
Gynecology involves the female reproductive system.
An OB-GYN is essential for your health
Think of your OB-GYN as a partner in ensuring your health. It’s simply a must to have one in addition to a primary care doctor.
Every woman has different health concerns
Some women want to have children or are already pregnant and want to ensure the health of their reproductive system and overall body. Others might be suffering from conditions like PCOS, endometriosis, or general infertility and are looking to get evaluated for treatment. Some might just want general check-ups or to get on birth control.
Regardless of a woman’s reason for going to a gynecologist, she wants to find a professional she can trust.
You should visit your OB-GYN yearly
If you’ve been putting off finding an OB-GYN because you feel like you’re healthy, now is the time to start your search.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends women see their obstetrician-gynecologist at least once a year for well-woman care.¹
Here’s what you can do to find the right OB-GYN
The most important thing is to find an OB-GYN who is best for you. And who is best for you depends on your specific needs and concerns.
Below, I’ve collected the seven qualities I recommend patients keep in mind when searching for their next OB-GYN.
1. Ask people you trust
Your friends and family are valuable sources for finding an OB-GYN compatible with your needs.
Ask around. The people who know you best can offer personalized insights into your ideal doctor. They can also give you detailed feedback about their experiences.
Consult your primary care physician
Similarly, your PCP knows your medical history and overall health and can direct you to an OB-GYN who is a good fit for you in terms of specialization and personality. Ask them for a recommendation.
2. Check reviews
Reviews and testimonials can tell you what it’s like to see a particular OBGYN. Try Google My Business or one of the many medical-specific platforms.
On the other hand, remember that online reviews, especially anonymous ones, are prone to bias. That’s why I always recommend you first seek out the opinion of someone you trust, like a friend or your primary care doctor.
3. Consider a group practice with a shared philosophy of care
I’m a doctor who believes in stable and established group practices that match what patients might find at an excellent solo practice, the notable difference being the option to choose between doctors who are united under a broad philosophy of care but distinct in their personality and skill set.
Here are two points to keep in mind:
- An established group practice that’s truly focused on its patients will have two to five doctors and will keep those doctors over the long term. Personalized, compassionate, and effective care comes with experience and stability.
- Women can more easily get appointments and communicate with their doctor in a group practice. That appears counterintuitive, but the fact is that a solo practitioner may be preoccupied with the business of medicine rather than the practice of medicine.
Studies have demonstrated that primary care physician practices have low rates of preventable hospital admissions.² So be sure to look for a balance between personalized care and diversity of talent and specialization.
4. Look at their qualifications
Once you have a list of potential OB-GYNs, you should verify their credentials, board certifications, and licenses. Most doctors will have that information on their website. Expect clarity and consistency in the way they describe their practice and what they do for patients.
5. Assess communication and bedside manner
Schedule an initial consultation to evaluate a doctor’s communication style. That way, you can develop a rapport with your OB-GYN, which is vital for your comfort and overall experience.
An OB-GYN should demonstrate a willingness to listen
A doctor who listens will make you feel at ease. They will build trust — which is beneficial for both of you.
Studies show that doctors who engage in active listening with their patients have better outcomes, including patients who are more likely to follow through with treatments.³
It’s okay to prefer a woman
However — if having a male OB-GYN is not a deal breaker, look for a doctor who’s compassionate and committed to helping their patients.
6. Look at the staff and facilities
Your experience at your OB-GYN’s office is about more than just your relationship with the doctor. Find an office that makes you feel at home — both in how the staff works with you and the state of its facilities.
7. Research insurance coverage and affordability
Sounds obvious, but before you confirm any appointment, it’s essential to verify that your new OBGYN will be covered under your medical insurance plan.
Don’t be afraid to ask about the cost of services to avoid any unpleasant financial surprises later.
And if you don’t have insurance, find out if they offer payment plans or options for reduced fees.
You may also want to look at hospital affiliations
Consider the hospitals or birthing centers where your prospective OBGYN practices. You can then find out information about the quality of care and facilities at those institutions.
What to expect at your first gynecologist appointment
You may feel uncomfortable going into your first appointment with your OBGYN. This is completely normal. 64% of women experienced anxiety and fear before or during a pelvic examination.⁴
I find, though, that women who arrive with knowledge about the care they’re receiving are more likely to feel safe and relaxed.
Here’s a little bit about what you can expect to happen during a routine gynecologist appointment:
The doctor will likely start by asking you about your medical history, including your
- existing medical conditions
- reproductive health concerns
You’ll be asked about your menstrual cycle, including its regularity. Your OB-GYN may also ask about your sexual activity, contraceptive use, and relevant lifestyle factors.
The physical exam will vary somewhat depending on factors like your health history and specific concerns. They often involve three steps: a pelvic exam, a breast exam, and a pap smear.
- Breast exam: The doctor will check for any abnormalities or lumps in the breast tissue.
- Pelvic exam: First, the doctor examines the external genitalia. This is followed by the insertion of a speculum into the vagina, which allows the doctor to assess your reproductive and sexual health further. They’ll look for infection, inflammation, or abnormal cervical cells.
- Pap smear: The doctor takes a sample of cells from the cervix, which are used to screen for cervical cancer.
Discussions about Birth Control
If you’re not already using contraception or wish to explore different options, your doctor may discuss various birth control methods and answer any questions.
If you plan to conceive, your OB-GYN will guide you on optimizing your health and provide recommendations.
It’s okay to be choosy
Finding an OB-GYN is a significant decision that impacts your physical, emotional, and reproductive health.
That’s why it’s okay to be picky about who you see. And if you’re not happy with your doctor, shop around after one or several visits until you find someone you’re comfortable with.
1. The Utility of and Indications for Routine Pelvic Examination. Acog.org. Published 2018. https://www.acog.org/clinical/clinical-guidance/committee-opinion/articles/2018/10/the-utility-of-and-indications-for-routine-pelvic-examination
2. O’Laughlin DJ, Strelow B, Fellows N, et al. Addressing anxiety and fear during the female pelvic examination. Journal of primary care & community health. 2021. Accessed July 17, 2023. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7970676/
3. Jagosh J, Donald Boudreau J, Steinert Y, Macdonald ME, Ingram L. The importance of physician listening from the patients’ perspective: enhancing diagnosis, healing, and the doctor-patient relationship. Patient education and counseling. 2011;85(3):369-374. https://www.bch.org/documents/content/importance-of-physician-listening.pdf
4. Casalino LP, Pesko MF, Ryan AM, et al. Small Primary Care Physician Practices Have Low Rates Of Preventable Hospital Admissions. Health Affairs. 2014;33(9):1680-1688. doi:https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2014.0434