By Sergio Vignali, MD
Gynecologists and obstetricians play a vital role in a woman’s health, which is why it’s important that she finds one she can trust and partner with to care for her specific needs.
A gynecologist specializes in the medical care of women and their reproductive system whereas an obstetrician focuses on the health of a mother and her baby during pregnancy, birth and post-natal care. A woman may choose to see a physician known as an OB/Gyn, which is an acronym for physicians who specialize in obstetrics and gynecology.
A gynecologist is specially trained to screen and treat specific issues related to the menstrual cycle, breast disease, family planning, infertility, hormones, sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), as well as risk factors for gynecologic cancers.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends that females first see a gynecologist or OB/Gyn between the ages of 13 and 15. All women beginning at age 21 should see their physician once a year for their annual exam, which focuses on breast and pelvic health as well as any other issues that might arise. Women who become sexually active before age 21 should begin their annual exams earlier to allow STD screening and contraception counseling.
Every woman should make an annual exam a priority. Preventive visits and early screening are key to detecting many disease processes early, when treatment can be most effective. Annual exams also build trust between a woman and her provider which can become extremely important if health issues ever do arise.
Scheduling annual visits, however, can be a challenge. Women are often the main caregiver in their family, and can place others needs above her own. Likewise, busy family schedules can make it easy at times to skip an appointment or forget that it was never made. A woman can make her annual exam a priority by choosing a specific time each year – such as her birthday – on which to have it done.
A woman who has a well-established relationship with her provider may find it easier to make her well woman visit. The following guidelines can help a woman choose the right gynecologist for her:
• Consider your needs — If you plan to get pregnant in the next five years then an OB/Gyn will be the person who can help care for you prior to and after conception. You may have specific health concerns. There are many subspecialties within gynecology that can help with specific health issues such as pelvic floor disorders to infertility. A gynecologist can refer you to the right specialists if those issues arise.
• Consult the right sources — Online resources — such as a practice’s website or a credible national database – can help provide more information about a physician’s background including their years of experience or areas of subspecialty. However, for most women, nothing speaks louder than a recommendation from someone they trust such as another woman who has seen a doctor and can give firsthand experience.
• Shared values — Use the first visit with a gynecologist to ask specific questions about issues that may matter most to you. If you hope to get pregnant listen carefully to hear how a physician aligns with your goals regarding subjects such as contraception or natural childbirth. A physician’s willingness to spend time answering such questions can also provide a picture of their bedside manner.
Sergio Vignali, MD, is an OB/Gyn physician with Premier Health Specialists who practices at Upper Valley Women’s Center in Troy.