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There is a growing national shortage of obstetrics-gynecology doctors that is expected to top 22,000 by 2050.
A new residency program at Swedish will double the number of available OB-GYN training positions in the region.
Swedish OB-GYN experts Suzanne Peterson, M.D., and Rebecca Dunsmoor-Su, M.D., discuss the impact of this new residency program on medical education and patients.
Having a baby can be an exciting — and scary — time. You need a good support network around you, including a knowledgeable obstetrician-gynecologist (OB-GYN). For many women nationwide, however, it’s getting difficult to find a doctor.
Like almost every other area of medicine, there’s a shortage of doctors specializing in maternity care. That means it’s harder for patients to get the care they need to ensure they (and their babies) have the best outcomes possible.
Swedish Health Services is stepping in to help fulfill this necessity in the WWAMI (Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho) region. In June, the facility will launch its new OB-GYN residency program. It’s a unique program that will increase patient access to care, says Suzanne Peterson, M.D., a maternal-fetal medicine specialist at Swedish Maternal and Fetal Specialty Center, and Rebecca Dunsmoor-Su, M.D., a gynecologist with Swedish Women’s Wellness and Specialty GYN Services.
What is the state of the OB-GYN shortage?
The overall physician shortfall isn’t new. It’s been growing for decades, but recent research shows there was a shortage of nearly 9,000 OB-GYNs in 2020. Experts estimate that, by 2050, the gap could increase to 22,000 doctors.
“Only half of U.S. counties have at least one OB-GYN," Peterson says. "There’s a huge need for us to train more of these specialists.”
Without enough OB-GYNs, patients will be impacted in several ways. Family medicine doctors provide excellent care for low-risk patients. However, women who need specialty care will still need to travel, potentially several hours away from family, for the services they need. Whether a woman needs a gynecology specialist or requires a high-risk procedure, such as vaginal birth after cesarean (VBAC), having local access to care is always preferable.
The OB-GYN shortage problem stems from two factors — there aren’t enough training opportunities for students interested in becoming OB-GYNs, and the OB-GYNs currently in practice are getting close to retirement. The new Swedish OB-GYN residency program is prepared to address this first issue, Peterson says.
What impact will the new residency make?
The need for more OB-GYNs in the WWAMI region is significant. Currently, there is only one other residency program that exists in the area — the University of Washington. Swedish has a tradition of training residents and fellows associated with that program. By launching its own program, though, Swedish will significantly increase the number of residents who can train to be maternity care experts.
“By initiating this program to teach and train six residents a year, we’ve basically doubled the number of residency spots in Washington state,” Peterson says. “Within four years, we’ll have 24 residents who will be able to provide care for our pregnant patients and those who have complex gynecological issues.”
Residency training will be different at Swedish, however. The University of Washington program largely funnels residents toward a career in academic medicine. According to Dunsmoor-Su, the Swedish program is intended to have a broader impact to reach more patients.
“We have a slightly different purpose. Our focus is much more on the community physician,” she says. “We’re looking to train the all-around general OB-GYN. Our region is underserved, so we want to train our residents to be ready to go out into the community.”
How will the new residency increase diversity in OB-GYN care?
A big part of meeting patient needs, Dunsmoor-Su says, is connecting women with a doctor who is prepared to address their unique social, cultural and language needs. To meet that goal, Swedish plans to focus on increasing diversity in the residency program with each class.
For example, the new residency program is part of the Swedish association with the historically Black college and university (HBCU) Meharry Medical College in Tennessee. The program will host Meharry students as sub-interns to increase their exposure to OB-GYN training. Plans are also underway to improve faculty diversity to attract more residents to the program, she says.
How will Swedish-trained OB-GYNs be different?
Women’s health and maternity care providers at Swedish serve the largest population of OB-GYN patients in the region, Peterson says. Residents accepted to this new program will have the opportunity to learn from providers who have a wealth and depth of experience that outshines other facilities.
“We’re opening this residency because we feel like we have the best people to teach the next generation,” she says. “There’s something special at Swedish regarding collaboration and collegiality. We’re creating a unique residency program that shares those values.”
In addition to gaining insights from more than 40 doctors on how to treat a diverse population of patients, Swedish residents will also have more time to dig deeper into specialty interests. The program offers traditional sub-specialty focus areas, including maternal-fetal medicine, gynecologic oncology, or minimally invasive surgery. But it also goes a step further with training in addiction medicine, perinatal psychiatry and LGBTQIA initiatives.
“Our hope is that residents will be more invested when they can create the education they want over the course of four years. We can help them design the training they want with the help of our faculty,” Peterson says. “The goal is to train the next generation of compassionate providers who are prepared to work closely with patients and guide them through the most intimate decisions about their pregnancy and care.
Find a doctor
If you have questions about maternity care, contact Maternal and Fetal Specialty Care department at Swedish. We can accommodate both in-person and virtual visits.
Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Swedish Virtual Care connects you face-to-face with a nurse practitioner who can review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. If you need to find a doctor, you can use our provider directory.
Join our Patient and Family Advisory Council.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.
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