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Case studies

Many doctors find a career in obstetrics and gynaecology (O&G) exciting and fulfilling. There’s a great variety of work within the specialty.

Here, some doctors explain what working in O&G means to them. We hope this will give you some insights into our work and help you decide whether this specialty is for you.

Sabaratnam Arulkumaran

Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, St George’s Hospital, London

I graduated from the University of Ceylon in 1972 and did 6 months of O&G as a house officer because I was fascinated by the ‘magic of birth’ and the happy ending (in the vast majority of cases) for the couple, their family and the staff. The training was hard but satisfying as every day I learned something new, acquired a new skill or improved on what I could do.

Major advances in medicine – ultrasound, laparoscopic surgery and in vitro fertilisation – were in the field of O&G, and that increased my thirst to do some research. Advances in science will continue, such as research into embryonic stem cells. The clinical practice of O&G, and teaching, are other things I enjoy every day.

As Secretary General of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO), I come across obstetricians and gynaecologists from around the world; every one of them enjoys what they do, and they are also the champions of sexual and reproductive health and the rights of women. I’m sure you would like to be among them.

Andrew Drakeley

Specialist Registrar, Liverpool Women’s Hospital

I graduated from Liverpool University in 1994. I chose a career in O&G largely due to my 4th-year medical attachment at the Oxford Street Maternity Hospital and the Women’s Hospital. During our 14-week allocation we were required to perform 10 normal deliveries, and I was lucky to be able to help with 7 in my first weekend on-call, thanks to the help of the midwives on the labour ward.

O&G provides an ideal mix of medical and surgical skills and one can really follow a life from cradle to the grave. I chose to subspecialise in reproductive medicine as this requires wide-ranging expertise, including in vitro fertilisation, ultrasound scanning and laparoscopic surgery. It is a field at the cutting edge of medicine and so always throws up ethical considerations. One can never claim to be bored!

Jenny Higham

Consultant, St Mary’s Hospital, London

I loved clinical medicine in general, but especially enjoyed more practically oriented specialties. Having considered surgery, when I arrived on my O&G attachment (my last specialty rotation as a medical student) I knew, even before the end of the introductory course, that it was for me.

O&G has been a fantastic career choice, and my academic post provides me with a varied week of surgery, medicine, obstetrics, outpatient hysteroscopy, teaching and research. Everyone has good and bad days at work, but I have never felt I made the wrong career choice.

I highly recommend O&G, especially if you’re down to earth, have a sense of humour and are prepared to work hard. Energy is needed, particularly if you are going to manage a good social life and having kids in addition to doing the job you love.

Susie Logan

Subspecialty SpR in Sexual and Reproductive Health, Aberdeen

I graduated from Aberdeen University and started O&G after my house jobs. I thought it was the speciality for me as I loved delivering lambs in my youth, but couldn’t stomach it when they became Sunday lunch! Two brilliant O&G attachments at district general hospitals in my 4th and 5th years convinced me that this was the path for me.

Following basic training (which included an elective year doing general and urological surgery at SHO level), I passed my membership. I then did two and a half years of part-time research. I learned valuable clinical skills, travelled to exotic places to present my meagre findings and got very fit. The result was an SpR number, a marriage proposal and an MD, in that order! Returning to clinical work as an SpR was initially full-time and then 70% part-time, following the arrival of our son.

Having completed my core training, I chose to subspecialise in sexual and reproductive health. I have a wonderfully varied week, incorporating complex contraception and genitourinary clinics, paediatric and adolescent gynaecology clinics, day case surgery, colposcopy and psychosexual counselling. A subspecialty post also allows exposure to service management, service leadership and development and health needs assessment... an essential background for an embryonic consultant. I continue to cover labour ward and gynaecology on-call and do occasional inpatient operating lists. Flexible training also means I can maintain interests in audit, research and teaching.

The training is hard as you evolve into a ‘jack of all trades’, but trainees can expect a varied and exciting work environment. Labour ward work includes major surgery, emergency situations, complex maternal or fetal medical problems and ethical dilemmas. Gynaecology attachments lead to the attainment of major and minor surgical skills, scanning proficiency and postoperative and palliative care provision. Training, on-call work and a toddler is a juggle, but few jobs would deliver such job satisfaction. I’ve even had a couple of baby boys named after me... Logan not Sue!

Jane Norman

Reader in Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Glasgow

I graduated from Edinburgh University in 1986. I thought the clinical and ethics aspects of O&G were really interesting as a student. I then did an SHO post in O&G after my PRHO year and got hooked. I now divide my time between clinical work and research.

Clinically, O&G is a very rewarding specialty. What we do can have such a major impact on the health of women and their babies. After more than 15 years, it’s still a wonderful experience seeing a baby being born. I also enjoy the practical (surgical) aspects of the specialty. In research terms, there’s still a lot we don’t know about the basic mechanisms of labour. It’s very exciting adding new pieces to the jigsaw.

I think O&G is an enjoyable, dynamic and welcoming specialty. It’s changing to be able to accommodate diverse working patterns, lifestyles and points of view. I would recommend it!

Professor SK Smith

Principal to the Faculty of Medicine, University College London

I chose O&G for two reasons. During my undergraduate time I enjoyed obstetrics, and the opportunity to work with younger patients in a specialty that combined both medical and surgical activity was very rewarding. In addition, I was particularly interested in reproductive endocrinology, which at the time was expanding rapidly (at a time before prolactin and in vitro fertilisation).

Nothing that’s occurred in the past 30 years has dimmed my love of the subject, although in latter years the academic side of it has become more challenging than the clinical side, which still remains an interesting, exciting and most rewarding subject.

Phil Steer

Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Chelsea and Westminster Hospital

The process of reproduction is at the very heart of what it means to be alive. What could be more fascinating than to spend a lifetime studying how we were conceived and entered the world?

In practical terms, O&G helps people to realise their most fundamental desires with as much safety as possible. Seeing a baby being born, taking its first breaths and gazing at the world in amazement never fails to enthral. And being an obstetrician combines medicine, surgery, paediatrics, physiology and anatomy in a unique mix, offering a challenge to develop skills across the board.

Melissa Whitten

Specialist Registrar, University College Hospital, London

O&G was one of my ‘top three’ as a student, but I was never really sure until after I qualified. I did my first post straight after house jobs and loved it! To start with, it was the mixture of medicine and surgery – straight away you have variety. For me, labour ward made a lasting impact – the fact that as an SHO I got a lot of responsibility, and to be so involved in such profound moments in peoples’ lives.

As time’s gone on, I’ve defined my interests more closely, but I still think it’s fantastic that there are so many areas within the specialty that you can go into. I do think that your trainers and colleagues can make a massive difference to your experience as a trainee – I feel very lucky that right from the start I worked in units that, despite the usual bureaucratic and political wrangles, created a positive atmosphere for learning, and that is what’s kept me keen to this day.