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ST. LOUIS – A recent study suggests an impending nationwide physician shortage particularly in the areas concerning women’s health. The study says St. Louis is one of the top ten cities that will be impacted, but local physicians say they are working to prevent the shortage from impacting their ability to care for patients.

The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists projects there will be a shortage of obstetricians and gynecologists by 2020, and it will continue to grow through 2050.  Those figures were further investigated by Doximity, a social media network for U.S. health care professionals, to learn why.

The study suggests the average age of practicing OB-GYNs is older than other medical specialties, and OB-GYNs tend to retire earlier.

Mary McLennan, M.D., Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Women’s Health at St. Louis University said more women are getting into the field, and many then take a break from practicing to start their own families.

OB-GYNs have a high burnout rate, second only to emergency room doctors, the Doximity study says.

“There a lot of split-second decisions that are made, and if you have a bad outcome from a mother or a baby, it weighs very heavily personally on a physician,” said McLennan.

According to Craig Boyd, M.D., Chair of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Mercy Hospital, approximately 8,800 babies were born at Mercy Hospital in 2017 where there are about 100 full-time OB-GYNs and 24 residents at any given time.

The same year, SSM Health saw more than 7,500 births among its five hospitals where babies are delivered. About 3,400 of those were born at St. Mary’s Hospital where there are 41 physicians specializing in obstetrics and gynecology.

Both McLennan and Boyd say to be a successful OB-GYN, one must learn to juggle a busy office practice, labor, and delivery demands and possibly surgery. However, the demanding workload is not deterring candidates from wanting to study in St. Louis.

Boyd said Mercy Hospital has six resident openings each year, and they receive 200-300 applicants each year for those six spots. McLennan said the number of people applying for residency through St. Louis University “is as high as ever.”

The shortage is not a concern to either hospital now, but both are already working to head off a future shortage from how they recruit to how they retain staff.

“I think that we see with the aging physician population, there’s going to be a need to adjust to that and working with the administration we’ve had some creative ways of trying to do that,” said Boyd.

McLennan said St. Louis University is targeting potential candidates who are from or have a connection to the Midwest, who will, hopefully, choose to stay in this area after they complete their residency.

Both McLennan and Boyd say their hospitals have already begun offering options like part-time hours, as well as hiring laborists, midwives and nurse practitioners who can relieve some of the pressure on doctors while also giving patients the best care they can offer.