Your relationship with your gynecologist is very important.
You need to feel comfortable when you visit them and ask them for advice. You need to feel like you can trust them, and you need to understand what they do. They’re a key piece of the puzzle of your overall health, so having a good understanding of what exactly a gynecologist does is very useful.
We’ve put this page together to cover all of the basics of what you can expect from a gynecologist visit. If it’s your first time visiting them, you’ll have a better idea what to expect, and even if you’ve visited them already in the past, you’ll find plenty of useful information here. So, what exactly does a gynecologist do?
What Is A Gynecologist?
A gynecologist is a doctor who specializes in women’s reproductive health. Sometimes they are also referred to as an OB-GYN. They can help with a range of medical issues including obstetrics and gynecology. Obstetrics is anything related to pregnancy. Gynecology is anything related to your menstrual cycle, uterus, vagina and other reproductive organs.
They spend many, many years in training to become masters in this field. Your regular family doctor will be able to help with certain issues relating to vaginal health. They can cover things like understanding yeast infection symptoms, how to treat BV, or treating urinary tract infections. Your gynecologist is the one who specializes in women’s reproductive health and has a much deeper learning into this specific field.
What Are A Gynecologist’s Credentials?
In the United States, gynecologists are certified by the American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology (ABOG). They are required to be registered by a professional organization. This includes the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
Certified gynecologists receive a minimum of eight years of training including:
- – Medical school: The first two years of medical school focus on general medical theory including human anatomy and physiology. The final two years are spent in clinics and hospitals learning from resident doctors.
- – Residency: Following medical school, individuals are permitted to practice under the supervision of senior doctors and choose their specialty. Gynecologists are in residency for a minimum of four years.
- – Specialty examination: After completing residency, doctors are required to complete their specialty board examination. For gynecologists, this includes a day-long oral examination with a secondary examination to follow two years later.
- – Board certifications: Additional board examinations are required if a gynecologist invests in additional board certifications.
- – Professional development: Doctors must complete a certain amount of professional development credits to maintain state license requirements. This could include teaching at medical schools and/or evaluating residents. They may also publish research, attend professional conferences, or supporting organizations.
What Services Do Gynecologists Provide?
Here’s a rundown of the different services that they’ll provide including the conditions that they can help you treat.
Gynecologists treat a variety of conditions including:
- – Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- – Pelvic pain
- – Infertility
- – Genital itching
- – Urinary incontinence
- – Vaginal discharge
- – Vaginal infections and urinary tract infections
- – Endometriosis
- – Breast disorders
- – Hormonal disorders
Gynecologists help maintain the reproductive health of their patients. They accomplish this goal by performing the following preventive procedures:
- – Pelvic exams
- – Pap smears
- – Cancer screenings
- – Mammographies
- – Clinical breast exams
Most gynecologists are also trained to perform a variety of minor or major surgeries including:
- – Laser surgery
- – Hysterectomy
- – Myomectomy (removal of fibroids)
- – Tubal ligation
- – Biopsy
- – Dilation and curettage
Gynecologists who specialize in obstetrics may perform the following procedures:
- – In Vitro fertilization
- – Vaginal delivery
- – Cesarean delivery
- – Forceps and vacuum deliveries
- – Amniocentesis (amniotic fluid testing)
When To See A Gynecologist
It’s advised that women schedule an appointment with a gynecologist when they become sexually active. For women who aren’t sexually active, it’s recommended that they schedule their first gynecological exam around the age of 21.
In most cases, you only need to see a gynecologist once per year for preventative screenings and tests. If you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, you will need to see your gynecologist more often.
Following menopause, it’s still a good idea to get checked out by your gynecologist once per year. Around the age of 70 you can consider dropping routine gynecological visits assuming you have a history of normal pap smears.
Outside of routine check-ups, there are times where you should schedule an appointment with your gynecologist. This includes:
- – Abnormal periods and/or irregular bleeding: Changes in your period can be a concern because it may be a sign of early pregnancy or that something is wrong. Irregular bleeding may indicate injuries to the cervix or could be a symptom of other gynecological issues.
- – Start of menopause: Most women enter menopause in their 50’s and may notice changes in their cycle including lighter or heavier periods. While this isn’t a huge cause for concern, it’s important to rule out the possibility of pregnancy.
- Pain and discomfort including vaginal itching: Pain and discomfort affecting the vagina is typically a sign of infection. Infections may include sexually transmitted infections, bacterial vaginosis, yeast infections, and urinary tract infections. Other symptoms you should watch out for include unusual discharge, vaginal odor, and itchiness.
What To Expect During Your First Visit
Sometimes a gynecologist uses the first visit to meet with you and discuss medical history. They may perform medical exams like a general physical exam and an external genital exam.
- – General physical exam: Includes checking your height, weight, and blood pressure. If you have any health concerns, these may be checked out as well.
- – External genital exam: An external genital exam involves examining the vulva.
According to ACOG, pelvic exams and pap tests usually aren’t completed during the first visit unless you have a concern that requires further examination.
- – Pelvic exam: Involves looking at the vulva, vagina, and cervix with a speculum. They also check the internal organs for abnormalities by inserting one or two fingers into the vagina and pressing on your abdomen with the other hand.
- – Pap test: This involves taking a sample of cells from the cervix using a swab for testing. The sample will be examined for any abnormalities that may indicate cervical cancer.
How To Find A Gynecologist
Finding a good gynecologist that you trust can be challenging. You can narrow down the options by following these guidelines.
While researching nearby gynecologists, check to see if they have reviews available online. Reviews can help you determine factors like a doctor’s wait times, bedside manner, and professionalism before scheduling an appointment.
Ask A Friend
One of the most efficient ways to find a gynecologist you’re comfortable with is to ask someone you trust like a friend. Don’t forget to ask about traits like bedside manner, experience, and professionalism.
You know your friends better than anyone. If you have a similar personality as a friend, and your friend loves their doctor, that’s a great start. You can ask your friend to check if their OB/GYN is taking on new patients, or if they have a waiting list.
All gynecologists are required to have a certain amount of education and training to become certified. If you are hoping to be treated for a specific reason (like endometriosis or pregnancy) it’s a good idea to find a doctor who specializes in that type of care.
Good Bedside Manner
Good bedside manner is important because you don’t want a gynecologist who makes you feel uncomfortable. Respectful tone and two-way communication are important signs to look for.
You might not know exactly how they are when you’re first meeting them. If you aren’t comfortable after a few visits, don’t feel like you’re stuck with them for life. You can always find someone different!
Share Similar Values
When dealing with topics like birth control and pregnancy, it’s important to have a gynecologist who shares similar values. While it shouldn’t happen, you don’t want a doctor who works against you in either of these areas.
You don’t have to see eye to eye with them on everything, but if their worldview or their beliefs on certain issues are having an impact on the care they’re willing to provide this is a big red flag. Your health needs to come first, full stop.
Since all of your examinations and treatments will be performed within the hospital or clinic your gynecologist practices from, it’s a good idea to ensure they maintain high-quality standards.
You will want to look for information regarding the frequency of infections following surgery. You can also consider death rates for procedures and conditions.
What If I Don’t Feel Comfortable?
If you don’t feel comfortable with your gynecologist, it’s important to think about what makes you feel uncomfortable. If you’re uncomfortable because they are a man you can request a nurse be in the room with you during examinations.
Keep in mind, if you’re uncomfortable because they have bad bedside manner, it’s okay to move on. You aren’t tied down to your gynecologist so don’t feel like you have to stick it out.
You can help avoid feelings of discomfort during your first appointment. Remember, this is where you can discuss your concerns and get to know your gynecologist prior to scheduling a physical examination.
Sarah Nelson is a nurse with 15 years of experience working with a variety of patients. She has a Masters of Science in Nursing and has spent a large portion of her career working exclusively with women in an OB/GYN setting.
Nursing is a passion for Sarah but she also enjoys writing and sharing her expertise online with people who need helpful information. Treating patients well and helping them learn more about their own bodies is a key essential to a healthy lifestyle that Sarah truly believes in.