The road to becoming a physician assistant OBGYN is the same as becoming a PA. Like most , there are no additional requirements or training you have to undertake to become a physician assistant OBGYN. Some do offer postgraduate programs that you can take to get a certificate in an OBGYN-related specialty, such as a sexual health, perinatal mental health or a surgical gynecology fellowship, but they are optional. Similarly, in Canada, if you decide to enter the field as a physician assistant OBGYN you only need complete your PA program, pass your licensing exams, and apply specifically for physician assistant OBGYN roles. This article will detail more about what physician assistant OBGYNs do, where they practice, and how you can become one.
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A physician assistant OBGYN works alongside OBGYN physicians in support roles, like all physician assistants. They help provide gynecological services to women in both inpatient and outpatient settings. However, a majority (nearly 90%) of physician assistant OBGYNs in the US work in an outpatient setting, with the rest working in inpatient settings such as hospitals, residential care facilities and private clinics.
Physician assistant OBGYNs are particularly important in the US, which has the highest infant mortality rate in the developed world. Pregnant women in the US are also three times more likely to die during childbirth than women from other developed countries, owing to several factors, one of which is lack of access to both primary and prenatal care. Despite the vital need for more physician assistant OBGYNs, only 2% of the nearly 170,000 practicing physician assistants in the US work in this critical field.
However, given the interdisciplinary nature of the PA profession, if you decide to become a physician assistant OBGYN, you’ll also be exposed to other medical specialties including emergency and family medicine. Only recently has the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants (NCCPA) created a specific Certificate of Added Qualification (CAQ) for physician assistant OBGYNs. Previously, there was no OBGYN option, which only highlights how overlooked women’s health is, even at the institutional and professional levels.
The CAQ is not a requirement to practice as a physician assistant OBGYN. Unlike medical graduates who must complete a residency in their preferred specialty to complete their medical training and to get a medical license, physician assistants only need to pass state and national licensing exams after graduation to be able to practice.
Of course, there are several different postgraduate programs available to PA graduates who want to specialize in particular discipline or specialty, such as the ones we listed above.
But PA graduates typically choose other PA residency specialties, such as:
- Family or general medicine (36%)
- General surgery (20%)
- Internal medicine (17%)
- Emergency medicine (10%)
As there are only five postgraduate, physician assistant OBGYN residency opportunities available in the US, if you’re serious about working with obstetricians and gynecologists, you could also train and learn on the job. Depending on the position, your employer and the services they provide, they could also offer you job-specific training before you start working directly with patients.
- Gynecologic Oncology
- Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility
- Maternal Fetal Medicine (High Risk Obstetrics)
- Adolescent Gynecology and Endoscopy
Each of these specialties has different duties and responsibilities associated with it, and the work you do as a physician assistant OBGYN will depend on which specialty you are in, where you work and your patient demographic (adolescent, adult or geriatric). According to the Association of Physician Assistants in Obstetrics and Gynecology, a majority of physician assistant OBGYNs (35%) in the US work in specialty OBGYN group practices, while the other two most popular clinical settings are private practice (17%), and a hospital-setting (17%).
Specialty women’s and sexual health clinics such as Planned Parenthood, community health clinics that offer services to low-income and uninsured patients, and fertility clinics are also common locations for physician assistant OBGYNs to work. The exact services, procedures, advice, and support that physician assistant OBGYNs offer varies between the routine:
- Pelvic and breast exams
- Family planning consultations
- Minimally invasive gynecological procedures
- Contraception and STI education
Which are mostly performed in outpatient settings, as well as secondary care procedures that are more advanced including:
- Offering pre-and post-natal care
- Treating infertility
- Participating in vaginal and cesarian births
- Assisting in gynecological surgeries and operations
Depending on where you practice (outpatient urgent clinic; group practice; community care clinic) your roles can also range from performing pap smears, screening for cervical, uterine and other reproductive cancers, and attending to and managing the symptoms of menopausal and post-menopausal patients.
Given the scope and variety of roles that a physician assistant OBGYNs can take, they have become as essential to OBGYN physicians as they are to women. OBGYN physicians suffer higher rates of burnout (between 40-75%) among their specialty than any other medical specialty, including surgical ones. The reasons for the wider prevalence of burnout amount obstetricians and gynecologists include:
- The high number of patients
- Threat of malpractice suits and patient dissatisfaction
- Business and financial concerns for private practices
OBGYN physician burnout coupled with the high maternal and infant mortality rates in the US make being a physician assistant OBGYN even more important, if you are thinking about . Fortunately, in the US becoming a physician assistant OBGYN does not require any additional training or licensing beyond completing a PA program, passing your national and state licensing exams, and choosing where you want to practice, be it an inpatient or outpatient setting; urban vs rural; private or public hospital.
It bears repeating that you don’t need to take any specific course or postgraduate program to work as a physician assistant OBGYN in either the US or Canada. Getting a postgraduate certificate in any of the programs we listed above is up to you. You can start working as a physician assistant OBGYN without any of these certificates solely on the strength of the four- or five-week rotations most spend on OBGYN and women’s health during the clinical rounds portion of your degree.
However, not all PA schools make OBGYN a required round. The usually do include OBGYN as a required rotation. Except, in Canada, with only four PA programs, only two ( and ) make OBGYN a required course, while the and programs do not.
In that case, you would have to take them as your electives, as well as getting as much clinical experience in various settings through either service-based community outreach programs, as well as volunteer work with different healthcare partners. Except, you can also get hands-on training when you start working as a PA, and you do not necessarily have to become a physician assistant OBGYN right away.
Many PA graduates work in diverse specialties and either decide to focus on one, or continue working in different fields to increase their knowledge. Similar to the way medical students rotate through various specialties during medical school, you can use the beginning of your PA career to explore what other specialties are out there, or, concentrate specifically on building up your knowledge on one, such as OBGYN.
Deciding on whether to pursue a postgraduate certificate for physician assistant OBGYNs can be difficult, but there are few drawbacks, and many benefits. While employment rates for PA graduates in both the USA and Canada are high, with some physician assistant programs in the US reporting perfect or near-perfect employment rates for graduates of their PA programs, getting a postgraduate certificate is more than just about finding a better, high-paying job.
It can also lead to you being a more competent, compassionate and caring physician assistant, able to work in various environments and settings, with the requisite training to address several different conditions and issues. But another reason to get a postgraduate certificate is to improve your career prospects or your current position.
If you have worked as a PA for a few years, and are interested in either:
- Improving or learning new patient skills
- Getting a more senior position
- Having more responsibilities
- Increasing your earning potential
Then getting a postgraduate certificate from any of the programs listed above can help. The majority of these programs do have application requirements, but they are not as strict as . You have to submit letters of recommendation, a , , and sit for an interview where you’ll be asked questions such as, “”. But aside from the personal reasons to pursue additional training as a physician assistant OBGYN, you’ll also be doing a service to your patients.
Given the complexity of the various issues affecting women’s health, getting additional training from expert prorectors and faculty will give you the knowledge to handle more complicated procedures on your own, so that patients do not have to wait for a specialist furthering delaying vital and urgent care. Many of these programs only last 12 months and come with the benefit of introducing you to more physician assistant OBGYNs, a monthly stipend and other financial incentives so you can earn while you study, and also increasing your marketability.
Of course, the type of postgraduate or fellowship you choose should also reflect your general interests in women’s health, as the programs listed above cover many different aspects. One of them is offered by a non-profit – Postpartum Support International – which seeks not only to raise awareness of postpartum depression but to educate caregivers like physician assistant OBGYNs how to treat patients experiencing symptoms of anxiety, stress, and depression after they have given birth.
At the other end of the spectrum is the physician assistant OBGYN offered by the Mayo Medical School at its campus in Arizona. This fellowship is more medicine and surgery-based, so you will learn more about technical skills you’ll be responsible for in an outpatient setting or gain experience in surgical skills, such as laparoscopy, suturing, and using surgical lasers.
1. Take as Many OBGYN Electives as Possible
Whether obstetrics or gynecology is part of your required rotations during your clinical training depends on the program. But regardless of whether it is required or not, you should take the initiative and seek out different rotations related to women’s health. For example, the Yale PA program includes a four-week core rotation in women’s health, but it also offers an elective in neonatology, which is a valuable sub-specialty to take to become a better-trained physician assistant OBGYN. Along with electives, some programs will offer continuing medical education courses that can cover areas outside of medicine that are relevant to being a physician assistant OBGYN, such as lectures on human trafficking, domestic and partner abuse, or substance abuse and addiction counseling.
2. Take Relevant Extracurriculars
This can apply to before, during or after you attend PA school. If you have decided that being a physician assistant OBGYN is your dream before you apply, then you can start taking that are centered not only on women’s health, but also reproductive issues, gender discrimination, or anti-harassment initiatives. These extracurriculars do not have to be medicine-related or in a healthcare setting, as long as they are directly related to the health and well-being or women, including advocacy groups, educational organizations or other volunteer work that puts you in position to help and support women. Medical and scientific knowledge is important, but so is understanding all the socio-economic and cultural detriments and obstacles to women’s health.
3. Have a Clear Idea of Your Goals
If you decide that you want to be physician assistant OBGYN then you should have a clear idea of what you want to achieve in this complex, multi-faceted specialty. We talked about the four distinct sub-specialties within OBGYN, but even these sub-specialties have distinct areas of focus that you can zero in on as your particular specialty. For example, if you have a particular interest in gynecologic oncology then you should either seek out continuing education, fellowships and other educational resources focused on surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy that will enrich your experience. If you are more interested maternal fetal medicine, then that should be your guide to focus specifically on obstetrics and related disciplines such as midwifery or the complications involved in high-risk pregnancies.
4. Get a Postgraduate Certificate or Another Degree
We talked a lot about how getting a postgraduate certificate is not necessary to be a physician assistant OBGYN, even though there are innumerable benefits to doing so. Many of the postgraduate courses listed here are either cost-effective (they have low tuition or are completely free), and even provide a stipend and other financial assistance. But, if you have the time, and resources, getting another graduate-level degree in a related field, such as public health with a specialization in women’s health will be mutually beneficial for you and your future patients. Many PA programs are also part of universities with schools of public health that offer these degrees. Getting a master’s degree can help you become a more proactive care-provider with the knowledge and experience to treat patients but also to advocate for them, lead research projects and other initiatives aimed at increasing collaboration between various women’s health stakeholders.
Physician assistant OBGYNs are rare, but maybe you can help change that. Given all the different challenges that women face in getting high-quality, gender-specific along with the troubling outcomes that stem from this obstacle being a physician assistant OBGYN carries with it more urgency and responsibility. The path to becoming OBGYN is one that you yourself can create, as there are many different ways to enhance your PA training, clinical skills and knowledge through these different pathways.
1. What is a physician assistant OBGYN?
A physician assistant OBGYN is a someone who helps treat, advise and support women through any of the unique challenges involved in women’s health from sexual and reproductive health to common OB and GYN issues.
2. What can an physician assistant OBGYN do?
A physician assistant OBGYN can diagnose, prescribe, and perform procedures associated with treating women’s various health concerns under the supervision of an OBGYN physician or MD.
3. Are physician assistant OBGYN programs competitive?
No, they are not. The OBGYN postgraduate programs we listed here are niche specialties that only people interested in having specialized training in obstetrics, gynecology and women’s health take.
4. Do I need postgraduate training to become a physician assistant OBGYN?
No, you do not. The postgraduate training options we listed here are completely optional.
5. How much are physician assistant OBGYNs paid?
The salary for being a physician assistant OBGYN is no different from the salary range for any physician assistant. Exact figures depend on how long you’ve been a PA, and whether you have additional training, but the average range of PA salaries in Canada is between $75,000 and $85,000 in Canada while in the US most PAs make between $95,000 to $116,065 for the most experienced PAs.
6. How long does it take to become a physician assistant OBGYN?
There is no official designation that you can get to be a physician OBGYN. You can start in the field as soon as you get your first PA job.
7. How do I become a physician assistant OBGYN?
There is no degree or title that comes with being a physician assistant OBGYN. In general, PAs have the freedom to choose their specialty, but also several different specialties to broaden their knowledge of medicine. But if you want to improve your training and knowledge of women’s health, you can take a postgraduate certificate to increase your skills, and provide more competent, specialized care.
8. Should I get a post-graduate certificate to be a physician assistant OBGYN?
The subjects, procedures, knowledge and training provided in postgraduate programs focused on women’s health are often not covered in regular PA school curricula, so they will help make you become a more skilled healthcare provider. The programs are often low-cost, and last only 12 months, so they do not require significant investments of time or money.