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A new U.S.-based study suggests the country is headed toward an obstetrician and gynecologist (OB-GYN) shortage, with doctors in the field retiring faster than they can be replaced. 

The average age of an OB-GYN in the U.S. is 55 or older. Declining birth rates appear to be driving potential doctors from the practice as well.

Current data projects a shortage of up to 8,800 OB-GYNs by 2020 and a shortfall of up to 22,000 by 2050.

Some hospitals have already started to feel the effects. Earlier this month, Columbia Memorial Hospital in Hudson, N.Y. announced it will no longer deliver babies, effective October 1.

“This was not a fiscal decision,” hospital spokesperson William Slyke told CBS 6, saying the declining birthrate in the county was affecting the hospital’s ability to retain physicians. 

Columbia Memorial will continue to provide pre and postnatal care, but deliveries will be re-directed to Albany Medical Center, about an hour away.

Declining birth rates

Citing data from the Centers for Disease Control, the report notes a 2 per cent drop in the U.S. birthrate in 2018 compared to the previous year, the lowest number of U.S. births in three decades.

The drop is more pronounced for women under the age of 30. In the 25-29 age group, the birthrate fell by 3 per cent. Birthrates for women aged 20-24 decreased by 4 per cent.

“It’s likely that the lingering effects of the Great Recession, along with a host of related financial pressures, have intertwined to make the goal of having children harder to reach for millennial women,” reads the report.

“A shortage of trained OB-GYN specialists will likely compound these problems.”

Other contributing factors

 In a 2017 study, ACOG notes that OB-GYNs are among the lowest-paid of the surgical subspecialties, have limited work/life balance, and face higher rates of professional burnout than other specialties, causing some OB-GYNs to retire earlier, thus widening the shortfall.

A problem for all women

OB-GYNs are often associated with pregnancy and delivery, but their practices cover a wide range of women’s health issues, including preventative services, menopause care, and cancer screening. Many women visit their OB-GYN at least once a year for the duration of their lives.

Dr. Amit Phull, MD told ABC news young patients can try to mitigate the effects of a shortage.

“Be aware of this being an issue, establish care with an OB-GYN early on, even if you’re not pregnant,” Dr. Phull said.

“Having those recommended check-ups can help you see that OB-GYN or someone in their practice if and when you do become pregnant.”

Read the full report here.