The Scientist Training Programme (STP) specialising in Andrology began in 2017; the year I moved to Salisbury to risk it all on the brand new training scheme. After a gruelling few years of late nights writing competencies, I am due to complete the programme in September of 2020 and register as a clinical scientist in Andrology. Anyone on the STP will tell you how stressful the programme can be, but I wanted to talk about some of the positives of the training and how I believe I’ve benefitted so far, albeit with plenty more to learn in the coming months.
We attend almost all of our university lectures with the embryology STP trainees, giving us a really solid knowledge base to operate in fertility clinics. Our competencies, however, cover a wider range of topics which do not solely focus on sperm preparations and resultant IVF treatment, but on treatment of the male. I have had the opportunity to shadow consultants in the Urology, GUM, and Spinal Injury departments, giving a holistic view of male reproduction. Through these experiences I have learnt more than just the scientific knowledge needed to tick boxes, I have also learnt how to lead effective consultations. I have witnessed first-hand how openly men communicate in urology clinics when they are the focus, compared with how detached and overlooked men can seem in the fertility clinic when feeling as though they are a passenger in their own fertility journey. Throughout the training I have enjoyed being able to hone these skills during interactions with patients, for example when communicating semen analysis results and filling out HFEA consent forms.
The absolute highlight of the STP, for me, has been the elective placement. Trainees are able to do a placement for 4-6 weeks in order to experience something related to the specialism that they might not be able to cover otherwise. I decided to focus on fertility preservation in endangered species and pre-pubescent children. For the first 4 weeks, I was lucky enough to gain an internship at the Smithsonian National Zoo in Washington DC for 4 weeks where I worked in Pierre Comizzoli’s research laboratory. Here I was able to watch the vitrification of ovarian and testicular tissue from zoo animals, handle cat oocytes and embryos, and perform research techniques like TUNEL staining. I also met two new-born clouded leopard cubs! After this I moved on to Magee Women’s Research Institute in Pittsburgh PA for 2 weeks where I worked in Kyle Orwig’s laboratory. Here I was able to gain practical, hands-on experience freezing testicular and ovarian tissue, and also witnessed the consenting of pre-pubescent children for the tissue harvesting procedures. Without the STP I wouldn’t have gained the first-hand experience of cutting edge research related to Andrology.
In the next few months I have plenty more competencies, my dissertation, OSFA examinations, and final university examinations to look forward to, but after this I’m excited to see what the future as a Clinical Scientist in Andrology holds for me.