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7 Questions: What’s It Like to Work as an OB/GYN?

A female physician and a medical student discuss in a patient room
By Vivian Mason

Physician: Beth L. Aronson, M.D.
Title: Assistant Professor, Obstetrics & Gynecology, and Assistant Director of Clinical Clerkships, F. Edward Hébert School of Medicine, Uniformed Services University
Years in OB/GYN: 30+
Special Interests: To mentor USU students to consider a career in OB/GYN; to teach operating room surgical skills to residents and students
Favorite Accolade: Best Teacher of the Year Award, OB/GYN Johns Hopkins and Greater Baltimore Medical Center Residency Training Program, 2013–2014

Q. Why did you decide to specialize in OB/GYN?
A. That’s a funny story. I went to medical school to become a psychiatrist. I got into a rotation group with a bunch of guys who all wanted to be surgeons, and they made fun of me incessantly. But that was no problem because I knew what I wanted to do. When I got to my OB/GYN rotation, my first day on the job, the intern on the unit gave us all assignments. He assigned me this one patient who was laying on a stretcher in full-blown labor. She was hollering and carrying on. This was like her fifth baby. In those days, we didn’t have ultrasound or any of that stuff. He wasn’t sure which way the baby was coming down. So, he said to me, “I want you to take this lady to x-ray. Then bring her and the x-ray back up here to me.” I said, “Okay.” I pushed the stretcher into the elevator and down we went. I rolled her out to Radiology, and we’re waiting our turn to get the x-ray. Every two to three minutes, she’s thrashing around on the stretcher. Finally, while we’re still waiting, she gives this blood-curdling scream. I walk down to the end of the stretcher, lift up the sheet, and I see a hand waving at me out of this woman’s vagina. I get on the phone and call the intern. I say, “There’s a hand waving at me hanging out of her vagina.” He says, “Get back up here. Right now!” So, I hurry up, get the woman back on the elevator, and take her upstairs to the delivery room. Of course, we did a C-section, and the baby was fine. I said to myself, “This is for me. This is exciting!” And that’s how those decisions are made. You can have one person impact someone’s whole career future in one hour. I never looked back.

woman trains on a dummy
Postpartum hemorrhage training. (Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Brayton Metzger)

Q. What does an OB/GYN do?
A. Our specialty is really two specialties together. We have office work, but not too much office work. We have surgery, but not too much surgery. The main thing we have (and of course we have the delivery room, which is a whole other thing like an ICU) is continuity of care. We have more continuity of care than family practice. I have patients who I have known since they were teenagers, and I prescribed birth control pills. I delivered their babies, I did their hysterectomies, and I managed them in menopause. Thirty-five years, that’s a long time. Like I’ve always told my patients, “Husbands come and go, but your OB/GYN stays.” By the time you do eight deliveries, you’re not the doctor any more, you’re part of the family.

Q. What is one of the biggest challenges about working in this field?
A. I think one of the biggest challenges in the field now is that there’s a lot more regulatory interference. But, you can’t let it get you down. Theories and practices come and go. When you stay in something for a long period of time, you realize that. You have to take these things with a grain of salt.

woman trains on a baby dummy
Clamping of the umbilical cord. (Image credit: U.S. Army photo by Eben Boothby)

Q. What is one of the best things about your job?
A. The best thing about the OB/GYN business is that 99% of the time, it’s happy. We have the privilege of bringing new life into the world, and 99 times out of 100, everything goes fine. The other part of the job that's really the best is that we get to really know our patients and become part of their lives at critical points. I’ve had patients come to see me for an annual checkup. I walked into the room expecting to do a routine exam, and they told me that they’re ready to kill themselves. One particular patient comes to mind. I talked with her, and she ended up getting out of the personal problems she was in and moved on to a completely happier life. You have the ability to make an impact through the bad times and the good times. And that’s what it’s all about.

Q. Has being an OB/GYN met your expectations?
A. Surpassed them. It’s been a wonderful life.

two women train on a dummy
Postpartum hemorrhage training: how to accurately measure blood loss. (Image credit: U.S. Navy photo by Brayton Metzger)

Q. What surprised you the most about your medical studies?
A. What surprised me most was that I fell in love with surgery. I never expected to do that. It wasn’t on my radar screen at all. But, I had a wonderful cardiothoracic surgeon fellow who I was on rotation with. At that time, we were just starting to do bypass surgery on peoples’ hearts and such, and those operations used to take us 12 hours. We’d scrub in at 7 in the morning and scrub out at 7 in the evening. I literally watched this man fall asleep pulling retractors. But, he was the quintessential physician. He worked every day and every night. He always had a smile on his face. He was always gentle and kind to patients. He was amazing and very inspiring.

Q. What advice can you offer USU students considering this specialty?
A. My advice would be to “do what you love” because even an 8-hour day is a long day if you don’t like what you’re doing. See where your personality fits in. OB/GYN is the happy specialty. We are typically happy and joke around. That’s the personality that goes into OB/GYN. If you really want to touch peoples’ lives, this is the specialty for you. Never a dull moment.