How to become an embryologist (with definition and skills)

Updated 28 April 2023

An embryologist is a medical professional who focuses on reproductive assessment and fertility research. They work in fertility clinics and labs where they test and perform lab work for procedures that use assisted reproductive technology. Understanding what an embryologist does and how to become one can help you determine if it's the right career choice for you. In this article, we explain what an embryologist is, discuss how to become an embryologist, outline their required skills and responsibilities and review their working environment.

What is an embryologist?

An embryologist is a medical scientist who specialises in embryo care from the period of egg retrieval to the implantation period. They also provide counselling and treatment options to patients who have difficulty conceiving. Embryologists can work in various places, such as fertility clinics and labs, clinical labs, research labs and private practices. Medical embryologists work with physicians to provide comprehensive healthcare to patients with reproductive and fertility challenges.

Related: What does a medical lab technician do? A career guide

How to become an embryologist

Review the following steps for how to become an embryologist:

1. Find out if it's an appropriate career for you

Determine if you're passionate about caring for patients who require your help. Embryologists often work with patients with fertility problems by helping them conceive. This requires specialists to be empathetic and compassionate when caring for these patients. To decide if this is a career path you'd be willing to pursue, review a clinical embryologist's job description to understand their working conditions, qualifications and benefits.

Related: Important questions when choosing a career: a guide

2. Complete a relevant bachelor's degree

Embryologists require theoretical knowledge of human reproductive biology, anatomy and physiology. They typically pursue a degree in a biological science field, such as microbiology, biochemistry or genetics. To apply for a science-related degree in university, you require a minimum of five GCSEs or equivalent in grades A* to C in subjects such as maths, English and a science and two A-levels. An example of a degree you can pursue is a Bachelor of Science in Human Embryology and Developmental Biology.

Related: Medical degrees: types, requirements and length of study

3. Apply for internships

You can gain lab experience and expertise by applying for internships after completing your university course. Working while studying can enable you to acquire the technical skills to be an outstanding embryologist. You learn how to interact with real patients, operate laboratory equipment and perform embryologic procedures. Gaining experience through internships can also help you build your CV to support your upcoming job and graduate school applications. This might also increase your chances of getting a job after your internship.

Related: 8 ways to optimise and improve internship experiences

4. Choose a speciality

After gaining experience by completing an internship, you can decide on the career path you'd like to pursue. This can help you select a graduate programme that suits you. For example, if you enjoy having daily interactions with patients and performing procedures on them, you might decide to pursue a clinical embryology master's programme. If you prefer working specifically in the lab or collecting and analysing data, you may choose to pursue a research master's programme. A master's degree may help you refine the necessary skills for a successful embryologist.

Related: Types of degrees and how they can influence your career

5. Prepare and send out your CV

Prepare a CV highlighting all your qualifications and achievements. Include your contact details, educational background, work history, significant awards and all the skills relevant to your desired position. Adjust your CV to fit the depiction of an ideal candidate according to various job descriptions. Writing a unique CV may increase your chance of impressing recruiting managers. You can also seek employment from health organisations by applying online, taking aptitude tests and attending interviews.

Related: The ultimate guide to CV basics (with example)

Skills for embryologists to develop

Embryologists require hard and soft skills to perform their duties and responsibilities effectively. They acquire hard technical skills from the training they receive in school. Soft skills help them with daily interactions with fellow medical professionals and patients. Review the following key skills for a professional in this field:

  • Empathy: Embryologists require empathy to gain their patients' trust when managing issues with conceiving. They show that they understand the patients' worries and can help solve them.

  • Active listening: Embryologists listen carefully to their patients' concerns to understand the problem they're experiencing and develop an effective treatment plan. They often face the patients, make eye contact and nod in agreement whenever the patients are expressing themselves to ensure that the patients feel heard.

  • Communication: Practical communication skills allow embryologists to share their medical knowledge and educate their patients about fertility and reproduction using non-medical language. Embryologists give patients information about all fertility procedures before performing them.

  • Attention to detail: These medical professionals often work in labs and use microscopes to monitor inseminated eggs to discover signs of fertilisation. It requires attention to detail to perform this duty effectively.

  • Technical and laboratory skills: It's necessary for an embryologist to understand embryologic procedures and how to perform them. They require practical laboratory skills, as they regularly conduct research and routine laboratory procedures and maintain laboratory equipment by cleaning and disinfecting them after use.

  • Flexibility and adaptability: These medical professionals adapt to new situations that may arise in their working environment. They may also perform their duties outside regular working hours, including national holidays and weekends.

  • Teamwork: Embryologists require teamwork skills to cooperate with other healthcare professionals. They often work in a multidisciplinary team with obstetricians, counsellors and gynaecologists.

  • Problem-solving and analytical skills: Embryologists listen to patients and try to solve all their reproductive and fertility issues. They require strong analytical skills to investigate their patients' problems and find ways to solve them.

Responsibilities of an embryologist

Embryologists have various responsibilities to provide optimal healthcare to patients with reproductive and fertility issues. Understanding their duties can help you determine if this is a suitable career for you. Some of the routine duties and responsibilities of an embryologist include the following:

Performing reproductive procedures

Embryologists perform many procedures depending on their specialisation and workplace. Specialists who work in fertility clinics execute the following procedures:

  • fertility testing on patients to find out why they have trouble conceiving

  • egg identification

  • embryo biopsy and cell processing methods to screen for genetic disorders

  • artificial insemination to create embryos

  • in-vitro fertilisation operations

  • quality control procedures

Related: What does a geneticist do? (With job skills and examples)

Collecting samples

Embryologists harvest sperm and eggs for research and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) procedures. They perform cryopreservation by freezing sperm, embryos and eggs to preserve and maintain their viability for a longer duration. Embryologists also prepare sperm and oocytes for procedures such as intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and insemination.

Specialising in embryo care

Embryologists make sure that the lab is a favourable environment for embryo growth and development by ensuring that it mimics a person's uterus. They monitor embryo development by checking for signs of fertilisation. They also ensure proper storage of samples in labs to promote viability and preserve fertility. Embryologists arrange and prepare for embryo transfer into a patient's uterus.

Related: 12 biotechnology careers (including duties and salaries)

Researching and developing new techniques

Embryologists work with medical engineers to improve the technical processes they use in fertility clinics. These medical professionals gather and analyse reproductive and fertility trends data to understand how fertilisation works. They also study the science of reproduction and the development of human embryo cells to develop strategies for improving fertility.

Related: What does a research scientist do? (With responsibilities)

Counselling patients

Embryologists meet with patients struggling to conceive to guide them through understanding the potential causes of their problems and provide potential solutions. They advise patients on possible treatment options and explain their benefits and risks. These professionals also suggest family planning methods and practices that can increase fertility.

Related: What's the difference between clinical and counselling psychology?

The working environment of embryologists

Embryologists often work full-time hours in hospitals, labs and clinics. They may work during national holidays and weekends. Embryologists primarily work in laboratories, requiring personal protective equipment, such as gloves, lab coats and protective eye goggles. Embryologists can also work in assisted conception units or independent clinics in private practices. These scientists have many employers, including research companies and national health organisations.

Nonverbal communication is one of many tools that can help you make a good impression in interviews and in your professional life. Candidate assessments should be based on skills and qualifications and workplaces should strive to be inclusive and understanding of individual differences in communication styles.

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