Iowa has the fewest OB-GYN specialists per capita nationwide, regent report reveals

Data from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the state of Iowa reported 66 of the 99 counties in Iowa lack sufficient OB-GYN care.


Grace Kreber

University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics is seen on April 2, 2022.

Emily Nyberg, News Reporter

Iowa has the fewest number of OB-GYN specialists per capita of any state in the country, according to data from the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology in the state of Iowa.

Of the 99 counties in Iowa, 66 currently lack access to OB-GYN and birth services. At the state Board of Regents meeting on Nov. 9, Kim Hunter, interim chief executive officer, chief nurse executive, and interim associate vice president of UI Hospitals and Clinics, said this lack of resources is only getting worse.

“A report produced by the Iowa Department of Public Health noted that nationally there are about four and a half OB-GYN providers for every 10,000 women of reproductive age, but in Iowa, we see that ratio as low as 3.3 OB-GYN providers for the same amount of women,” she said.

UI Hospitals and Clinics is one of three regional perinatal artificial intelligence health care centers in Iowa, with the other two being in Des Moines. 

According to the presentation by UI Hospitals and Clinics to the regents, the amount of regions with access to prenatal services in Iowa has decreased from 70 percent to 43 percent.

During the presentation, Hunter said the drop in services is concerning because the number of births in Iowa has increased while resources have decreased. 

“Since 2019, We are seeing an increase at UIHC of patients needing [OB-GYN] care. Our visits have increased about 26 percent and we’ve had about a 13 percent increase in the number of deliveries at UIHC,” she said. “We continue to increase year over year. So that’s a lot of little new residents of our state.” 

Hunter said the lack of OB-GYN and prenatal clinics is causing people to go out of their way and often travel significant distances to receive care. She said 63 percent of patients who seek OB-GYN care at UI Hospitals and Clinics live outside of Johnson County.

Some OB-GYN services that are uniquely provided at UI Hospitals and Clinics include reproductive endocrinology and infertility services, different counseling services that help families who are grieving the loss of a pregnancy, and birth education classes.

Hunter said UI Hospitals and Clinics has partnered with the Iowa Health Resources and Services Administration and the Iowa Department of Public Health to create a training simulation for different counties across Iowa to teach providers about OB-GYN care.

UI Hospitals and Clinics is also working to develop a nurse-midwifery program, Hunter said. The program will be one of 43 across the country to offer nurses specialized training in OB-GYN care.

The two-year program will open in 2023 and four nurses will be chosen to be the first class to go through the program. Each year afterward, the number of students will be determined by the amount of interest. The graduates from the program will go on to supplement OB-GYN shortages, Hunter said.

“Our goal is that these people will be able to help us with some of the shortages that we experienced throughout the state, so we’re really proud that we have this program,” she said.

While OB-GYN services are in need of improvement across Iowa, Brooks Jackson, UI vice president for medical affairs, said the Iowa River Landing Ambulatory Care Clinic has become a hub for UI Hospitals and Clinics’ patients.

The clinic opened in 2012 to supplement a surplus of patients at the main UI hospital location and has seen significant growth, Jackson said.

As the demand for UI Hospitals and Clinics services continues to grow, Jackson said the hospital is hopeful the Iowa River Landing clinic, along with the hospital in North Liberty, can handle the growing patient load in years to come.

“The Iowa River Landing clinic has grown considerably and now averages close to 20,000 patient visits per month,” he said. “Patients who visit the clinic come from all over Iowa with significant numbers traveling from Cedar Rapids [to the] Quad Cities in southeast Iowa, and over time the clinic has expanded to 17 specialties and added a procedure suite in more clinical rooms.”