An obstetrician is a medical specialist who focuses on labor and delivery. Obstetrics is actually a surgical sub-specialty, meaning that this healthcare professional attends surgical training and then specializes in the care of pregnant women and in surgeries that are related to labor and delivery, such as Cesarean sections. He or she typically works in a hospital environment, so that if a laboring mother experiences complications during the course of labor, she can be rushed into an operating room for treatment. The non-surgical version of this medical specialty is midwifery.
Most obstetricians see their patients throughout their pregnancies, and they also study gynecology, so that they can deal with a range of conditions related to the reproductive system. During pre-natal visits, the doctor checks to be sure that the baby is healthy, discusses steps that pregnant mothers can take to ensure that the pregnancy runs smoothly, and perform diagnostic tests to look for potential problems with the pregnancy and delivery.
If medical emergencies arise during the course of a pregnancy, this medical professional will be part of the team that cares for the patient. In some cases, an he or she may choose to specialize in high-risk pregnancies, in which case, the doctor generally sees patients on a referral basis. Some conditions that require treatment from this type of doctor include tubal pregnancies, pre-eclampsia, placentia previa, and unusual presentations of the fetus, such as a buttocks-first position, which could cause problems during delivery.
The ideal goal is for a woman to carry a baby to term and deliver comfortably. When a woman experiences the early signs of labor, her obstetrician works with a team of labor and delivery nurses and other support staff to keep her comfortable and to monitor the baby's condition. When the labor progresses to the point of delivery, the doctor closely monitors mother and child and is present to catch the baby as it is born. Once the infant is born, the doctor assesses the health of mother and child and makes sure that no emergent conditions require treatment.
This medical specialty can be greatly enjoyable, as many people love interacting with infants and helping to birth healthy, happy babies. It can also be stressful, however, since these doctors tend to work long, irregular hours, because labor is not readily predictable, and bad outcomes in the delivery room can be emotionally draining. Malpractice insurance rates in this specialty are also extremely high, due to the inherent dangers of labor and delivery; unfortunate things can happen even in the hands of a skilled medical professional.