Name: Anne Berndl
Born: Toronto, Ontario
Experts on women's health, Obstetricians/Gynecologists do more than just deliver babies. Anne Berndl, author of So You Want to be a Doctor, eh?, a Guidebook to Canadian Medical School, talks about the fast paced life of an Obstetrician/Gynecologist
What is an Obstetrician/Gynecologist?
An Obstetrician/Gynecologist is specialist in women's health and reproductive health. An Obstetrician/Gynecologist uses medical, surgical and obstetrical skills to care for women of all ages. This broad field covers both normal and complex pregnancies, medical and surgical treatment of cancers and benign (non-cancerous) disease of the reproductive organs and fertility concerns.
What is a typical day like for you?
On a typical day, I would get up at 5:45, take a shower and be at work for 7:00. I would then do rounds on my gyne surgical patients that are admitted at the hospital, which means I would speak to and examine them to make sure they are healing well from their surgeries. I would then head over to one of the gyne clinics for the morning. This may be a general clinic, or one of our specialized clinics, such as a pediatric gynecology clinic, a sexual health clinic, or a clinic for women who have miscarried or have an ectopic pregnancy (a pregnancy that is growing outside the uterus, and can be life-threatening to the mother). At these clinics I would see patients either for the first time or to follow a previously diagnosed condition. I might then spend the afternoon in the Emergency Department seeing patients who need urgent attention, some of these patients have conditions such as an ovarian torsion (when an ovary has looped over itself and cut off its own blood supply, the patient would need to be operated on to untwist the ovary or take it out if it has died), a hemorrhage (very heavy bleeding that is risky to the person) or the discovery of a suspicious mass that is causing symptoms in the person.
If it is an emergency, then we might take the person to the operating room at that time, or admit them to the hospital for treatment.
At 5:00pm, Obstetric call begins. The hospital that I work at is a tertiary care woman's and children's hospital, which means that although many normal healthy pregnant women deliver their babies at our birth centre, we also see a number of complicated pregnancies, such as women who have heart conditions and are pregnant, women who are pregnant with multiples (twins, triplets, even quadruplets) and women who are in pre-term labour. I might start out seeing a patient who thinks her membranes have ruptured well before her due date, then go to the operating room to do a C-section for a woman who's baby was distressed because of a placental abruption (when the placenta, which provides oxygen to the baby, detaches before the baby is born). Next, I might deliver a baby of a woman who has had 2 previous vaginal deliveries and is using no pain medication while she uses a squatting bar to support her. A family doctor might then consult Obstetrics for a patient who has been pushing for 3 hours, is exhausted, and wants an opinion about what to do next. I might be called to see a patient who delivered a baby 12 hours ago and is now bleeding heavily, and then do a vaginal delivery for a set of twins, the first one head down, then second one in breech position. A woman might be flown in by helicopter because she has preeclampsia, a disease in pregnancy that can cause seizures and stroke in the mother and can be life-threatening to the baby. She might be managed just with medications, or she might need to be induced to have the baby or have a C-section. Sometimes there are women who are pregnant and have gall-stones or kidney infections or blood clots in their legs or lungs who need to be admitted and treated.
Over all, Obstetric call is a wonderful mix of normal and complicated pregnancies, is almost like a mini- ER for pregnant people, and is very, very fast-paced and busy. It finishes at 7:30 the next morning. At 7:30, I would hand over all the patients to the next resident, and then go see any of the people who I delivered the night before to make sure they are doing ok. After this I would go home and have a really good sleep!!
Tell us a funny joke related to your profession.
Have you heard the one about the gynecologist who painted a house through the key-hole?
What's your moto?
"Just keep swimming!"
Did you always want to be a physician? What attracted you to the field of obstetrics/gynecology?
I think that being a physician was always something I thought about doing, but along the way I also thought about doing research, teaching, and medical genetics. I was attracted to the field of Obstetrics and Gynecology because of the huge variety within the field. You really get to help people both medically and surgically, and it's a field where you do get to know your patients well and give a lot of continuity of care. You can provide both preventative education and emergency care. Every day is different.
What courses in high school prepared you for this field?
The courses in high school that prepared me for this field are math, biology, chemistry, and physics because they gave me the science background I needed to take university level science courses and developed my problem-solving skills. English, Drama, World Religions and Science in Society were courses that were equally important, in that they get you to think about social interactions and how people perceive the world, both important if you are going to be a doctor.
What music do you have in your CD player right?
Angels and Airwaves
Where did you go to university? Where are you doing your residency?
I did my undergraduate degree at Queen's, I went to medical school at McMaster, and my residency is at Dalhousie.
How did you decide where to go for University and where to do your residency?
Queen's was a medium sized university that had a lot of opportunities for research and extra curricular activities. McMaster was a great place to do medical school, because of the focus on small groups and problem-based learning. Dalhousie's Ob/gyn program has very dedicated staff and excellent training in skills, such as forceps deliveries. Also, it's on the ocean!
What's one thing you can't do but really want to be able to?
Roller blade (I can get going but can't stop!)
What was the inspiration for your book?
I had created a webpage called Doctor Starter for people who were considering entering medicine. A publisher who was creating a series on Canadian careers saw the page and contacted me, and asked if I would like to write a book about becoming a doctor in Canada.
What is the coolest part of your job?
Call. When you are on call, you never know what is going to walk in through the door. There is always something exciting happening and there is definitely never a dull moment.
What's the worst part of your job?
Call! It can sometimes be extremely exhausting!
You just won a million dollars. What's the first thing you'd do?
I know it's boring, but I would pay off my school loans!
Ooooops! Everyone makes mistakes so what was the dumbest thing you've ever done at work?
When I was pregnant, I was really nauseated in the mornings. I was trying to keep my pregnancy a secret until I was three months along. However, I passed out in the operating room during the first case of the day! I remember waking up on the floor, and the staff saying "so, anyone know what the number one reason for a third year resident to pass out in the OR is? I bet she's pregnant!"
Any advice that you would give others seeking a similar career?
This is definitely a job that is science based, but you will only really enjoy and do well at it if you also like interacting with people. If you are considering becoming a doctor, keep your grades up (way up!) but also make lots of time to explore extracurricular activities, travel, meet people with different points of view than yours, and see if becoming a doctor is really what you want to do. The education is long (undergrad degree 3-4 years+ medical school 3-4 years+ residency 2-6 years) so try to get some exposure to doctors before you commit to it.
What are some great web links or references for someone interesting in reading up more about this career?
Society of Obstetricians and Gyneacologists of Canada
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gyneacologists
Women's Health Information: Becoming an Ob/Gyn
Center for Advanced Gynecological Surgery: Laproscopic Surgery
University of Toronto, Department of Obstetrics and Gyneacology
Save the mothers.org