Profession of Embryology: Years of training and a lifetime of Learning
Dr. Carol Lynn Curchoe, PhD. TS, is a senior embryologist at a world-renowned fertility clinic, board certified technical supervisor of embryology, and Founder of ART Compass.
July 25th is designated as World Embryologist Day! We are so proud of our profession and the role we have in building your family. You may have never thought about the professional medical subspecialty of embryology- until you needed one of us that is! You may never meet us, but we treat your embryos (our "patients”!) as if they were our own children. So, who are we? How did we get here and what do we do?
Human embryology has a LONG and slow learning curve. Developing clinical decision-making takes years and years of on the bench training- it never ends actually! The embryologist's training and skills can have a tremendous impact on your IVF cycle, and are referred to as "staff competency", which is a crucial component of the quality assurance program at Denver Fertility. Some of the clinical decisions your embryologist will make during your IVF cycle are: which "normal" sperm to choose for ICSI, where to immobilize the sperm tail to capture the sperm for injection, where to aim the laser during assisted hatching, selecting the embryos for biopsy and cryopreservation, and choosing the best quality embryo for your frozen embryo transfer.
Embryology Basics- What degrees, training, and experience do your IVF lab staff have?
Embryologists minimally need a bachelor's degree in biology or biomedicine, but many earn a master's degree in reproductive science or clinical science, though some embryologists (like myself and Dr. Baker, Laboratory Director at Denver Fertility) earn a Ph.D. as well. A few scientists possess both a doctorate and a medical degree. Additional board certifications, such as the technical supervisor of embryology or andrology and high-complexity clinical laboratory director, are often required, in addition to formal academic work.
IVF Labs are required to document training of embryology technologists, which includes performing, at a minimum, at least 30 ART procedures under continuous supervision of the laboratory director. In addition to meeting these academic and procedure requirements, the embryology laboratory technologist should also:
-Obtain at least 12 hours of accredited continuing education annually in ART or clinical laboratory practice;
-Perform at least 20 ART (assisted reproductive technology) procedures per year.
Denver Fertility's Commitment to Embryologist Education and Training
Denver Fertility takes the education and training of its staff seriously, and has demonstrated this commitment through implementation of the ART Compass (www.artcompass.io) staff competency program. ART Compass is a mobile application and software platform that provides documentation of staff competency, ensures that variation between staff in grading and clinical decision making is minimized, documents and records new staff training, new procedure training, and annual procedure evaluations, and provides a continuing education program for life-long learning!
Why did I create the ART Compass platform?
I have a PhD in the physiology of Reproduction, which I earned over 15 years ago. Before I started in the field of clinical embryology at the age of 38, I was in research, administration, politics and startups (I invented a "biological supercapacitor"!) until I became pregnant with my own miracle baby. I knew I needed to help others achieve their family building dreams and find a career I could leave my own little miracle every day for.
Starting as a "junior" embryologist, I quickly learned that I had no way to compare my clinical decision making to people who had many years in the field. I had no way to easily know if my judgment in grading embryos was correct, or even close, other than by sitting at the microscope with the senior embryologists- who never seemed to have enough time, given their many responsibilities and clinical workload.