Lack of OB/GYNs, nurse midwives causing national shortage in maternal care

A shortage of obstetricians/gynecologists and nurse midwives has prompted lawmakers in several states to consider proposals that supporters say would improve maternal care, according to The Pew Charitable Trusts.

Almost half of U.S. counties don't have a single obstetrician/gynecologist and 56 percent don't have a nurse midwife, according to American College of Nursing Midwives data cited by The Pew Charitable Trusts. These shortages can have dangerous consequences for women, and could explain why such a high percentage of American women die as a result of pregnancy complications. In the U.S., there are 18.5 maternal deaths for every 100,000 live births, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington in Seattle.

With the female population and number of babies born in the U.S. expected to rise dramatically over the next decade and beyond, health experts are calling for significant changes. One possibility is lifting some of the restrictions on nurse midwives, who assist with labor and also provide routine primary and gynecological care to women of all ages. Meanwhile, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is pushing for measures in Congress that would provide financial incentives to medical school graduates to encourage them to specialize in maternal healthcare, according to the report.

As states ease restrictions on nurse midwives, the number of such medical professionals has increased. Since 2012, the number of nurse midwives has grown by 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, their overall numbers remain low: There are about 11,200 nurse midwives in the whole country, and about 20,000 obstetricians/gynecologists. The ACOG's estimates the U.S. will have between 6,000 and 8,800 fewer obstetrician/gynecologists than needed by 2020 and a shortage of 22,000 by the year 2050, according to the report.

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