We've all been there: You waited too long to schedule your annual gyno appointment and now you're crunched for time before trying to refill your BC prescription. Or you're suddenly a little worried about that mysterious spotting, extra-painful cramping, or terrifying bumps that surfaced overnight—but the next available appointment isn't for weeks. And you know that once you get there, you'll be scrolling through Instagram in the lobby waiting for 30 minutes after your scheduled appointment time. (When you finally do make it in, here are the things you absolutely need to do during your annual gyno appointment.)
Yeah, this is all really frustrating—especially when you're just trying to #adult and take care of your health. But you should rethink your annoyance and start feeling scared instead, because a recent study found that the real issue is that there aren't enough gynos to go around.
The Scary Stats
There are only about 29 ob-gyns per 100,000 women in the U.S.—that means, hypothetically, one gyno is responsible for about 3,448 people. Even worse, there are 28 metro areas in the U.S. without any ob-gyns, according to a study by healthcare data company Amino.
And this is a bigger deal than struggling to find an appointment time that works for you. A lack of gynecologists and obstetricians means that women are forced to travel far (in many cases, hours) to find a qualified provider, meaning they may miss out on routine exams and prenatal care or be at an increased risk when it comes time for a delivery, says Neel Shah, M.D., M.P.P., an ob-gyn and founder of Costs of Care. (BTW here are some gynecological problems you shouldn't ignore.)
"50 percent of U.S. counties do not have any qualified obstetric provider—this includes obstetricians, midwives, and family medicine doctors who deliver babies," he says. "We appear to be combining the problems of the third world and the first world in a perfect storm."
Some of the best cities for female care include the metro areas of San Jose, CA; Hartford, CT; Baltimore, New Orleans, and Boston, which have the highest number of ob-gyns per female population. The worst? The metro areas of San Bernardino, CA; Las Vegas, Pheonix, San Antonio, and Oklahoma City. Want to know how your hometown ranks? Amino created an interactive map so you can check it out (and maybe consider moving).
And while that "29 per 100,000" number is scary enough on its own, there's something else that makes it even scarier: many ob-gyns are specializing in only surgery, deliveries, office care, or research and administrative work, says Candace Howe, M.D., a board-certified ob-gyn at HM Medical. Translation: That "29" might not even be a full 29 practicing doctors. Plus, many work part-time. (Good news: Some doctors are saying you don't need a yearly exam.)
Where Are All the Gynos?
So why are ob-gyns so rare? After all, Mindy Kaling makes it seem like a total breeze on The Mindy Project. Well, for one, their education is one of the hardest to go through; four years of medical school are followed by four or six years of residency (which is longer than in many other areas of medicine), says Howe. Because ob-gyns are also surgeons, the curriculum is especially rigorous. And once their education is over, it doesn't mean the grueling work stops. Because generalist ob-gyns balance office visits, surgeries, deliveries, emergencies, and consultations for patients of other doctors, they get very little protected time off. Because the career isn't easy, fewer people are choosing to take on the challenge of becoming an ob-gyn—and if they are, they might "track" into a specialty like surgery, deliveries, etc., says Howe.
As far as location goes, it can be extra risky for an ob-gyn to practice in an area without a strong medical community: "If there isn't a good supporting hospital locally, our jobs are exceptionally frightening out in an underserved place, because we're left without equipment, without medical supplies, and technology that we need to save lives," says Howe.
And the outlook for the future isn't great; the estimated demand for women's health services is forecast to grow about 6 percent by 2020, the equivalent of an additional 2,090 full-time ob-gyns, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Women's Health. (Have a health Q? We had gynos answer 13 super-common ones.)
How You Can Help
While we can't all exactly drop our day jobs and run back to medical school to become an ob-gyn, you can do some things to help ease the workload of your doc. Feel free to see your nurse practitioner or physician assistant for basic things like checkups and routine physicals, says Howe. (Here are five more tips for making your gyno appointment go smoothly.) Second, recognize exactly how hard they work. "We need to be really forgiving of our gynecologists and understand that they're some of the hardest working in the field of medicine," says Howe.