Improving family planning and abortion training for physicians

Medical residents training to become Obstetrician-Gynecologists in the United States can opt out of training on abortion for religious or moral reasons. Some data suggests that most residents who opt out of abortion training do go on to gain skills in other aspects of family planning, but we know little about their experiences.

Researchers from the UCSF Bixby Center conducted interviews with current and former residents who opted out of some or all of the family planning training at ob-gyn residency programs. The programs were affiliated with the Kenneth J. Ryan Residency Training Program in Abortion and Family Planning. They found that residents who opted out of abortion training valued the ability to participate in family planning training. These residents identified specific knowledge and skills that they thought would impact how they care for patients:

  • Physicians commonly described contraceptive counseling and knowledge as particularly useful skills they obtained from the training.
  • They appreciated the efforts of the faculty to allow them to learn up to the level of their comfort.
  • Physicians gained confidence in caring for patients facing unintended pregnancies. They also improved their communication skills, especially in offering options counseling.
  • Broadly, interviewees described being able to step back from their personal beliefs about abortion and instead focus on caring for patients. Many also reported a change in their beliefs about women seeking abortions and abortion providers.

Given these findings, the researchers recommend that all residency programs offer students the opportunity to participate in family planning and abortion care training regardless of their attitude about abortion. Such training should go beyond procedural skills to include in-depth contraceptive training and exposure to abortion counseling.