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What is the Difference Between a Midwife and a Gynaecologist, and How Can I Become Either One?

1st July 21

Within the UK, Antenatal care is made up of a multi-disciplinary team of health professionals. All of these professionals possess different responsibilities. But an expectant mother’s health check-ups or appointments during pregnancy is typical with either a midwife or a doctor.

In the UK, the job title of a doctor involved with pregnancy is usually an ‘Ob/Gyn’. Meaning that they are qualified in both obstetrics and gynaecology.

An Ob/Gyn is the doctor who could be present during pregnancy, labour and after birth. Obstetrics is concerned with the care of pregnant mothers, the unborn child, and the management of diseases specific to pregnancy. This speciality combines medicine and surgery.

Whereas, gynaecology is the study of the female reproductive system, including the uterus, ovaries, cervix, and vagina. The functions, medical disorders and diseases of the female reproductive system all fall under the heading of gynaecology.  

Commonly, the role of the midwife and the doctor are confused. The midwife's role is inclusive of every aspect of care from pre-conception until 28 days post-birth. Midwives are also the main point of contact for expectant mothers, providing them with advice backed by evidence-based information.

Assuming a midwife would have a lot of knowledge about the female reproductive system since they quite literally spend a lot of time working with it, can a midwife become a gynaecologist?

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What does a Gynaecologist (Ob/Gyn) actually do?

Gynaecologists give reproductive and sexual health services that include pelvic exams, PAP tests, cancer screenings, and sometimes diagnosing and treating vaginal infections.

They perform a variety of tests and exams focused on women’s health. In the UK, you would usually only see a gynaecologist if you have had a GP referral for a consultation. This is common practice for women who are not pregnant.

In some hospitals, expectant parents automatically see an obstetrician. In others, a midwife or GP will put a referral in. This is usually if there are any concerns regarding the pregnancy.

However, expectant parents can ask to see an obstetrician if they have any concerns they want to discuss.

Many consultants who work within obstetrics or gynaecology have a special interest in a particular area. Such as high-risk obstetrics, fertility care or minimal access surgery. A small number of consultants work as subspecialists, with all their work concentrated in a specific area of practice.

In terms of pregnancy, most of the care of low-risk mothers and uncomplicated deliveries are performed by midwives. But about 30% of births are undertaken by an Ob/Gyn. Usually for more complex cases or if the baby becomes distressed during labour.

Their work includes:

  • Using instruments to assist delivery – including forceps or a ventouse (vacuum-assisted delivery)
  • Performing caesarean sections, either as a planned or emergency procedure

As an Ob/Gyn, no two days are the same. You could be working in an antenatal outpatient clinic, an operating theatre, a scanning, or a specialist clinic. Oftentimes, a consultant manages the labour ward.

There are also many opportunities to work within the community. Inclusive of sexual and reproductive health, where there is a significant public aspect to the work. User input in maternity services is very active. Some doctors in this speciality now work completely in the community.

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What are the Main Differences between an Ob/Gyn and a Midwife?

A midwife’s sole focus is on mother and baby. Midwifery is a one-stop-shop, whereas Ob/Gyn’s don’t tend to be as personal or nurturing simply because of the volume of people they see. And their role as the ultimate authority. Whereas midwives take on the role of the authority and the nurturer.

But midwife care isn’t appropriate for everyone. A mother might prefer an Ob/Gyn and main hospital birth, or their pregnancy might require one. Midwives also can’t perform surgery and will therefore turn down and pass over ‘high-risk pregnancies’ to Ob/Gyns.

To practice as a midwife in the UK you must be registered with the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC). You’ll be required to complete an approved pre-registration degree programme to do this, which lasts three years full-time.

Your degree will see you spending half of your time studying at university and the other half based on practical placements. Providing you with the hands-on experience necessary for employment.

In order to gain acceptance onto a pre-registration midwifery degree, you will be required to meet entry requirements. Not all universities have the same entry requirements, so it would be worth checking with your desired institution before applying for a midwife course.

Typically, entry requirements include five GCSEs at grade 4 (grade C) or above. Inclusive of English, Maths, and a Science. You would also need either two or three A Levels or equivalent.

Whereas, before you train as an obstetrician, you would need to complete a degree in medicine.

You would then need to complete a two-year foundation programme. After successfully completing your first year of foundation training, you would become eligible for registration as a doctor with the General Medical Council. Foundation training includes undertaking rotations in a range of specialities including obstetrics and gynaecology.

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Are there similarities between being a Midwife and a Gynaecologist?

Both of these roles are not solely academic based. Whilst it is a requirement to have the correct qualifications to practice as a midwife or gynaecologist, you do need to be a certain type of person.

As with most careers, there is a requirement for personal skills and character traits. These include:

  • Sensitivity and listening skills
  • Emotional resilience and ability to cope under pressure in sometimes stressful or difficult situations
  • Manual dexterity
  • Stamina
  • A sense of humour
  • Excellent communication skills – to relate well to patients and their families
  • Good problem-solving and decision-making skills
  • The ability to work effectivity as part of a multidisciplinary team and alongside other medical specialities
  • Leadership ability

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Can a Midwife Become a Gynaecologist?

Ultimately, if an already-established midwife would like to undertake the extra training, they could most definitely become a gynaecologist or an Ob/Gyn. They would already have a good knowledge of the female reproductive system. And having spent time around Ob/Gyns, they would also know what the daily life of an Ob/Gyn looks like, and what they are letting themselves in for.

How do I Become a Midwife or Gynaecologist if I don’t have the qualifications?

If you are considering either career, but do not hold the relevant qualifications, we can help. An ideal equivalent to traditional degree entry requirements is an Access to Higher Education Diploma.

With modules focusing on study skills, it’s the perfect route for those who have been out of schooling a while. Dependent on your final grade, it can also give you between 48 and 144 UCAS tariff points. Equivalent to 3 A Levels.

An Access to Higher Education Diploma (Midwifery) provides you with the foundational knowledge you would need to study for a degree. This diploma teaches you about the roles of the midwife, as well as relevant subjects like biology and physiology.

Whereas, to kickstart your journey to becoming an Ob/Gyn, an Access to HE Diploma (Health Professionals) is a great start. It provides great insight into the healthcare system. So, by the end of it, you’ll be eligible to apply for a place on many health-related undergraduate courses.

learndirect is the UK’s leading distance learning provider. Helping thousands of students each year achieve their potential. Find out more about how our midwifery course can kick start your new career below.

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