Dr. Jennifer Niebyl was turned down for residencies in obstetrics and gynecology by several university hospitals, because she was a woman. Since completing her training she has built an influential career, focusing on known problems affecting the developing fetus, as well as lesser-known concerns, such as the impact of morning sickness. In 1988, she became the third woman to head a department of obstetrics and gynecology in the United States.
Jennifer Niebyl obtained her M.D. in 1967, from Yale University School of Medicine, but after an internship, encountered resistance when looking for a residency in obstetrics and gynecology (OB/GYN). Even though medical schools were admitting more and more women in the 1970s, women still had to struggle to be allowed to minister to other women in OB/GYN. She was finally given a residency at Cornell University-New York Hospital from 1968 to 1970 and then at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine from 1970 to 1973. She stayed at Johns Hopkins for a fellowship in maternal-fetal medicine, joined the staff, and became director of maternal-fetal medicine in 1982. In 1988, she was offered the opportunity to head the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa, becoming only the third woman to head a department in that specialty in the United States. The field has become more welcoming to women physicians since then. In 2016, women filled just over 82 percent of the nation's residencies in OB/GYN.
Areas of particular interest and clinical expertise for Dr. Niebyl include the impact of drug use in pregnancy, medical disease in pregnancy, morning sickness, birth defects, and tocolytic drugs for pre-term labor (drugs used to inhibit uterine contractions). Morning sickness affects about 35 percent of pregnant women, and can pose dangers to the unborn child, especially when it results in severe nausea and vomiting that depletes the amount of folic acid in the woman's body.
In May 2002, Dr. Niebyl and her colleague T. Murphy Goodwin, M.D., helped organize the first multi-discipline conference to address the problems and associated effects of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy and its cost in medical and social terms. In a supplement to the 2002 American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology they published an overview, their findings, and some recommendations, such as several vitamin-based and herbal therapies that have been shown to be effective and safe.
From 1988 to 1993, Dr. Niebyl served as a member of the Food and Drug Administration's Fertility and Maternal Health Drugs Advisory Committee. She is on the board of directors for the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and from 2000 to 2001 was president of the Society for Gynecologic Investigation. In 1997, she was elected to both the Institute of Medicine, and the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars.