A reproductive endocrinologist (RE), or “fertility specialist”, is a physician that specializes in infertility and reproduction. They can diagnose and treat infertility as well as conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and other abnormalities of the reproductive system. They are the only kind of doctors that have training related to in vitro fertilization (IVF).
REs are extremely knowledgeable regarding the female reproductive system, but they are also trained in male infertility. They can diagnose and treat male infertility, but may sometimes refer the male partner to a urologist for further assessment and/or treatment.
Although an RE is trained as an obstetrician-gynecologist (OBGYN), they will not follow you throughout your entire pregnancy. If you become pregnant, they will eventually refer you back to you regular OBGYN for your prenatal care as well as the delivery of the baby.
To clarify, a reproductive endocrinologist is different than an endocrinologist. REs are trained as OBGYNs and then continue on for further reproductive endocrinology training. Endocrinologists are trained as internists and then continue on for further training in endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism. Although endocrinologists may be of help with some types of infertility, this is not their main focus. Most endocrinologists focus on diabetes and thyroid disorders.
You may want to see an RE for a variety of reasons. Women that are struggling to get pregnant or stay pregnant may be referred by their OBGYN to see a reproductive endocrinologist. REs can also help single people and same sex couples start a family. Women that are interested in fertility preservation, like egg or embryo freezing, would also see an RE. Your OBGYN or even primary care physician may refer you to an RE, but referrals are usually not required to see one. You can always look into scheduling an appointment with a specialist on your own if you feel you are not getting adequate care or want a second opinion.
For someone to become a reproductive endocrinologist, after medical school, they will do a residency in obstetrics and gynecology, which usually lasts 4 years. After the residency, they complete a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and infertility that is generally 3 years in length. He or she will then obtain a license to practice in their state.