WELLNESS
08/15/2016 12:58 pm ET

America’s OBGYN Shortage Is Extremely Dangerous For Pregnant Women

By 2020, America is going to have a shortage of up to 8,800 OB-GYNs.
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This piece comes to us courtesy of Stateline. Stateline is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news service of the Pew Charitable Trusts that provides daily reporting and analysis on trends in state policy.

Faced with a shortage of obstetricians and gynecologists and nurse midwives, several states are considering proposals that advocates say would improve healthcare for women.

But with the female population of the United States and number of babies born here projected to increase sharply over the next decade and beyond, scholars and medical organizations say more dramatic changes are needed to ensure that the medical needs of American women are met.

One possibility: easing restrictions on nurse midwives, who attend to labor and delivery and also provide routine primary and gynecological care for women of all ages. Other steps under consideration include offering financial incentives to encourage more medical professionals to specialize in maternal health care and to encourage them to locate in regions with extreme shortages, particularly in rural areas.

“It’s very simple,” said William Rayburn, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico who has written on maternal health issues. “Our population is continuing to grow faster than we are producing ob-gyns.”

Nearly half the counties in the U.S. don’t have a single obstetrician/gynecologist and 56 percent are without a nurse midwife, according to the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM).

“There are women in California who have to drive hours in order to see an ob-gyn,” said California Assemblywoman Autumn Burke, a Democrat.

The workforce shortage can have dangerous consequences, and may help explain why a relatively high percentage of American women die as a result of pregnancy, said Eugene Declercq, a professor of community health sciences at Boston University who has studied the ob-gyn workforce.

Burke is author of a bill in the California Legislature that would remove the requirement that nurse midwives practice under the supervision of doctors, a change that supporters say would boost maternal health services in underserved areas. There is a similar effort in North Carolina, and many other states have adopted those reforms over the last decade.

As restrictions have been lifted, the numbers of nurse midwives has risen. The number of nurse midwives has grown by 30 percent since 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But their overall numbers remain low, with about 11,200 in the whole country. There are about 20,000 ob-gyns.

Meanwhile, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) is pushing measures in the U.S. Congress that would provide financial incentives to encourage medical school graduates to go into the field.

But even that may not be enough. By ACOG’s estimate, the U.S. will have between 6,000 and 8,800 fewer ob-gyns than needed by the year 2020 and a shortage of possibly 22,000 by the year 2050.

 
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