IVF genetic testing

What is an embryologist?

Independent fertility consultant Lucy Lines, from Two Lines Fertility, explains exactly what an embryologist is and why what they do plays an important role in your IVF Journey.

By Lucy Lines, Two Lines Fertility

Embryologists are a special breed of scientist.

As a fertility patient, you probably won’t get to meet your embryologist these days… but be assured that the scientists working in the lab 🔬 are looking after your embryos as if they were their own. They’re following your journey and they want your success almost as much as you do!

On any day in an embryology lab, the embryologists are freezing embryos, thawing embryos, preparing for egg collections, reviewing paperwork, doing egg collections, inseminating eggs (ICSI or IVF), preparing sperm, checking for fertilisation, checking for cell division and embryo growth and development, scoring, classifying and grading your embryos, choosing embryos for transfer, for freezing/vitrification…

If you think about a lab that is doing 10-20 egg collections each day… that’s a LOT to keep track of!! It might be day ‘minus one’ for 10 patients (so you’re preparing everything for them), day one for another 12 – so that’s 12 lots of eggs and sperm and inseminations, day two for another 10 – so 10 x fertilisation checks. Day three, day four and day five for another 30 patients – if each of them has five embryos to check – that’s 150 embryos to check and grade and maybe choose for transfer/freezing… then add in a few FETs (Frozen Embryo Transfers) – the lab is a busy place to be!

When I was first employed as an embryologist, I was required to do a Personality Profile test. This was an 8 hour experience involving multiple written tests, IQ tests, EQ tests and interviews. I later learned that a good embryologist has a very specific personality profile and due to the expense of training embryologists, my employer needed to be sure that I fit into the right category before they invested in my training.

I am lead to believe that most people in society, naturally try to cover up their mistakes… the very first before-you’ve-really-thought-about-it-reponse is in most cases ‘Oh crap, how can I make this better before anyone knows what happened‘.. and that’s really normal and totally ok …. but for an embryologist, that is unacceptable. We are custodians, protectors of your very precious eggs, sperm and embryos, of your possible future… mistakes are not an option. We are human though… so mistakes are inevitable but our first response to any possible problem absolutely HAS to be ‘Quick, help me, something’s not right here

It can happen that as you are looking down the microscope into a dish expecting to find four eggs in that dish ready to be denuded for ICSI… but you can only see three… after a quick check of the notes to make sure that there should be four, the very next step for an embryologist is to call a colleague to have a look.. and when the 4th egg is found, there is absolutely Never a case of ‘well, you should have looked harder‘ it is ALWAYS – great we found the egg!.. and everyone moves on… to me, this is true Team Work.. working together, supporting each other and knowing that the next day, the shoe could be on the other foot.

Never in my time in clinical embryology labs did I ever feel that there was any one person who felt themselves to be better or ‘higher’ than any others, some had more training (embryo biopsy for example), or perhaps more responsibility (team leaders and managers) some had PhDs, some didn’t… it never made any difference.. we all did all of the jobs that needed to be done, and we all helped each other.

Once I moved away from clinical lab work and into management and education, I never again experienced the level of teamwork and the lack of hierarchy that I had experienced when I was in the embryology lab.

We may not have all been friends, and had we met in other circumstances, may not have had much in common.. but the respect and appreciation for the skills and work ethic were very real. The connections that I made with fellow embryologists during my clinical time is strong and forever (even now that we find ourselves in all corners of the globe!)

It’s not enough for the embryologists to be well trained and of a certain personality type – all of the equipment and consumables (dishes, tubes, pens, incubators, hand-wash, benches, microscopes, culture media, lights, warming stages.. the list goes on and on) must be working P E R F E C T L Y and exactly as they should. The responsibility for all of this lies with the embryologists, the ones using the products and equipment on a daily basis.

Anything that is required to be at a certain temperature or pH is measured and logged every day (and often multiple times throughout the day). Equipment that is to come into direct contact with gametes (sperm, eggs and embryos) is purchased from companies that run strict quality control and assurance programs (dishes, tubes, catheters, pipettes). Batch numbers are recorded for each and every item and at each and every procedure…

And finally there are the observational skills and the fine motor skills of an embryologist – if you need a needle threaded – ask an embryologist!!

Embryologists are manipulating things way smaller than the human eye can see. Sure we do it down a microscope… but it’s still our fingers and hands and our movements that are controlling the pipettes that are holding your gametes.

This is an edited excerpt from an article written by Lucy Lines from  Two Lines Fertility.

Read the entire article here.