Gynecologists, medical doctors specializing in the reproductive health of women, must complete at least 12 years of school and training after high school. As soon as you decide you want to be a gynecologist, it's important to start preparing right away, even as early as high school. Excellence in academics will be important to the pursuit of your goals from that point forward.
To practice gynecology, you need to complete a medical degree. Preparation for this degree begins before medical school, however. Undergraduate premedical studies are important to your future success. While you can major in any field, there are some science prerequisites that all medical schools require. These include courses in biology, chemistry, organic chemistry, and physics. Most motivated pre-medical students complete this coursework in four years, but you may take longer. Only students with above average grades and scores on the MCAT, the medical college admission test, will be considered.
If you are accepted, medical school begins another four-year commitment. Even if you already know you want to specialize in gynecology, you must complete all of the medical school coursework. Classically, the first two years involve classroom study in subjects such as anatomy, physiology, microbiology, pharmacology, and genetics. The third and fourth years provide beginning clinical experience. You rotate through surgery, internal medicine, pediatrics, and obstetrics and gynecology, and also participate in elective rotations of your choice.
Residency, the next four years of your study, provides you with the first opportunity to concentrate on your specialty. For gynecologists, this includes combined training in obstetrics, the management of pregnancy. Your residency, referred to as "Ob/Gyn," teaches you to care for female patients especially as related to reproductive organs and issues. With supervision, you learn to examine and treat women throughout their pregnancies and lives; you also become skilled at interpreting tests like ultrasounds. Delivering babies and responding to complications will also be your responsibility. Your ability to perform surgical procedures, such as hysterectomies and cesarean sections, must be perfected during this time. You may practice as an obstetrician/gynecologist after residency.
If you want to further sub-specialize in a purely gynecologic field, a fellowship is the next step. According to the National Residency Matching Program, three possible fellowships exist. Gynecologic oncologists develop expertise in diagnosing and treating malignancies of the female reproductive system. Maternal-fetal medicine doctors are the experts of complicated pregnancies and high risk births. Lastly, if you choose reproductive endocrinology, you would become skilled in the areas of hormonal chemistry and infertility treatment. Each of these fellowships requires three years of advanced training after residency.
You must decide that you are willing to train for 12 years or more after high school to become a gynecologist. In 2003, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education enacted rules limiting residents to 80 hour work-weeks, but that's still quite a demanding schedule. If you understand the serious commitment you are making and are dedicated to your field, you will be rewarded with the skill to help women through some of the most important events of their lives.