Working as a maternal and fetal health physician

October 15, 2014

Article by Global Pre-Meds
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En route from the delivery room to the neonatal ward Maternal and fetal health doctors are obstetrics doctors who have specialized training in order to diagnose and care for women who have high-risk pregnancies. In most cases, a pregnancy lasts nine months and a healthy baby is born; however, in some instances, pregnancy complications can threaten the health and well-being of both mom and baby.

A high-risk pregnancy means a woman or baby are at an increased risk of health problems. Various conditions before and during pregnancy can cause a pregnancy to be considered high-risk. Having health problems, such as diabetes, kidney disease, cancer and heart problems can cause a pregnancy to be classified as high- risk.

Having multiple miscarriages or carrying more than one baby are also considered high-risk. In other cases, it is the baby who is found to have health problems, such as birth defects, infections and growth restriction, which makes the pregnancy high-risk.

Responsibilities of a maternal and fetal health doctor

Women may be referred to a maternal and fetal health specialist even before becoming pregnant or at any time during their pregnancy. They are usually referred by their obstetrician, gynecologist or midwife if a problem is detected.

Maternal and fetal doctors perform physical exams, take medical histories and perform specialized procedures, such as ultrasounds, amniocentesis and fetal blood sampling. After diagnosing either the mom’s or baby’s condition, physicians develop treatment plans, which may involve treatment for mom, baby or both. Some maternal and fetal doctors receive additional training and perform procedures, such as surgery, on the developing fetus.

If the pregnancy is high-risk due to maternal health issues, doctors educate women on how to manage their conditions in order to prevent continuing complications. Maternal and fetal specialists are also often involved in research to develop new ways to treat pregnancy complications and improve outcomes.

Most maternal and fetal health doctors work for medical centers or are in private practice. In addition to regularly scheduled hours, they are often on call in case of emergencies.

Training and skills required

After graduating with a four-year degree and attending med school for four years, residency is next for those interested in this specialty. A four-year residency must be completed in obstetrics and gynecology and then doctors must pass an exam to become board certified. Additional training is next. A two- to three-year fellowship in maternal and fetal medicine is required in order to become board certified in this subspecialty. The fellowship must combine a minimum of a year of clinical practice and 18 months of research in maternal and fetal medicine.

As with all medical specialties, having certain traits or strengths will increase the likelihood of being successful as a maternal and fetal health physician. Being an excellent communicator is an important skill to have in this specialty.  Part of the job is educating women on how to manage their conditions. Maternal and fetal health physicians may also provide information on caring for a baby born with birth defects. Doctors need to be able to explain complicated medical conditions in understandable terms.