With new abortion restrictions in Utah comes concern about how it will affect training for OB-GYNs and how many will ultimately choose to practice in the state.
University of Utah Health has one of the top OB-GYN residency programs in the West, with Doximity, an online network of medical professionals, ranking it third in reputation.
But Utah’s abortion law will put the university’s OB-GYN residency program “in jeopardy” said David Turok, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the U. and licensed OB-GYN.
“We’ve had an incredible program for a very long time,” Turok said.
According to Turok, medical students wanting to pursue a career in the field want to get experience with the full range of training and care, and “when there are limitations placed on that, the volume and the quality of the resident applicants diminishes.”
Attracting and retaining residents factors into how many physicians practice in the state as 55% of residents remain where they did their training, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges.
OB-GYNs are particularly in demand in Utah, which has the fifth-highest fertility rate in the country with 64.1 births per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44. Compared to other cities in the country, Salt Lake City is at the second-highest risk for an OB-GYN shortage, according to a study by Doximity.
OB-GYN residents need to be competent in abortion procedures, Turok said, because the same techniques and medications are used to treat nonviable pregnancies when a miscarriage happens.
“People have to learn how to safely evacuate a uterus,” Turok said.
Forty-four percent of OB-GYN residency programs in the U.S. are in states that will or are likely to implement strict abortion laws, Bloomberg Law reported.
When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade on June 24, a trigger law in Utah went into effect banning abortion with limited exceptions. The law was placed temporarily on hold ahead of a July 11 hearing after Planned Parenthood of Utah filed a lawsuit challenging it.
If the hold on the trigger law is lifted, abortion in Utah will only be legal in cases of the mother’s life being at risk, severe fetal abnormalities, and rape and incest cases that have been reported to the police.
Texas provides an example of local abortion restriction deterring medical students from applying to OB-GYN residency programs, Turok said. In September, Texas passed a six week abortion ban which then discouraged some students from applying to OB-GYN residency programs in the state, according to Fortune.
Heather Cummins, a medical student at the University of Utah, said she started medical school with dreams of completing an OB-GYN residency in Utah. Specifically, Cummins said she had hopes of working for Planned Parenthood in Utah, but now doesn’t know if her goals will “ever come to fruition.”
“It is absolutely concerning to have this trigger law in effect that limits a really important, in my mind, scope of practice for OB-GYN that allows them to practice every aspect of their training,” Cummins said.
Accredited programs are required by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education to provide routine access to abortion training. Some students are allowed to opt out for religious or moral objections.
After the Supreme Court issued its ruling, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education has proposed adjusting the requirement to require programs to provide access to training in a jurisdiction without legal restrictions on abortion.
Despite Utah state law, Cummins said the OB-GYN residency program at the University of Utah is still one of her top picks. She said she is confident those leading the program are committed to ensuring residents are properly trained.
“What’s unfortunate is the fact that they have to go to such leaps and bounds to ensure (residents are trained),” Cummins said. “It just makes it harder. It puts more strain on the whole system.”
Turok said the department is working to get the residents the “absolute best and most comprehensive training that we can.”
That training may involve simulation and maximizing opportunities for residents to care for people experiencing miscarriages and nonviable pregnancies, Turok said.
Courtney Kenyon, a second-year medical student at the U., said the new law hasn’t deterred her from wanting to do her residency and eventually practice in Utah.
To her, leaving Utah to practice elsewhere would mean “abandoning patients” in Utah who need medical professionals willing to advocate for them and their bodily autonomy.
She added leaving the state would only worsen the injustices she feels patients will be facing.
“The end goal of a career in medicine for me is not merely to perform procedures,” Kenyon said. “It’s truly about improving people’s lives and helping them navigate through some of the most difficult and vulnerable moments of their lives, regardless of the political landscape.”