Women face unique health issues throughout their lifetime, issues that can change from one year to the next based on things like age, lifestyle and genetic history. As a result, the general field of women’s health can encompass a wide range of health care professionals, each playing a unique role in caring for female patients. But the wide variety can also make things a little confusing. Here’s a quick guide to the doctors and specialists who, each in their own way, help keep women healthy:
- Gynecologist: A gynecologist is perhaps the most commonly known women's health doctor. Gynecologists are medical doctors whose main area of practice is the care of women’s general health and the female reproductive system. Gynecologists treat issues like sexually transmitted diseases, perform surgical procedures such as hysterectomies and also provide wellness care for treatment of more general health conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes or depression. They also screen for female cancers, like breast cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and cervical cancer.
- Obstetrician: An obstetrician is a medical doctor who specializes in everything related to childbirth. They can diagnose infertility issues, provide prenatal care, help with labor and delivery, give postpartum care, and counsel on contraceptive use. When obstetricians also specialize in gynecology, which is common, they are referred to as an OB-GYN. While many women use their OB-GYN as a primary care doctor, some research suggests that it may be good to have both.
- Gynecological Cancer Specialist: Gynecologic oncologists specialize in female reproductive cancer, such as ovarian, vaginal, uterine and cervical cancer. They are experts in diagnosing, treating and preventing types of cancer found on women’s reproductive organs. These specialists provide screening for high-risk patients, evaluate pelvic masses and are trained to perform surgeries to find and remove tumors that have spread in the pelvic and abdominal areas.
- Fertility Specialist: A fertility specialist is an OB/GYN who has completed additional training for the treatment of reproductive endocrinology (glands and hormones) or infertility. They can help you explore various options if you and your partner are having trouble conceiving. Fertility specialists treat both men and women to help address problems and suggest the next path of treatment. Women may seek a fertility specialist if they have blockage or scarring of the fallopian tubes, irregular ovulation or a history of reproductive medical problems. Fertility specialists can also help women who are over the age of 35 or who have a history of miscarriages, men who have a poor semen analysis and couples who have tried for more than two years to conceive.
- Certified nurse-midwife: A certified nurse-midwife (CNM) provides a full range of primary healthcare services to women, including gynecological checkups, family planning, preconception care, prenatal and postpartum care and labor and delivery services. CNMs are not medical doctors. Instead, they are trained in nursing and midwifery and are certified trough the American College of Nurse-Midwives. To obtain certification, a CNM must complete an accredited program through an affiliated institute and pass a national certifying exam.
Health insurance grants women access to an extensive list of free preventive care services including well-woman visits, breastfeeding support and domestic violence counseling. Talk with your primary care physician or women's health provider if you have questions about your health. Be sure to check your insurance coverage before making an appointment to see a specialist as you may need a referral.
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