Receiving the email that I had secured a place on the STP was one of the most exciting moments of my life! The hard work to get onto the programme had paid off and I was finally on track to my dream job. A couple of years down the line and I am in my final year of the programme, with nine months left to go until it is all over. I can’t help but think that the embryos I am transferring now may be born on the same day as I submit my final assessments!
The STP started off with a bang with six weeks in Manchester, where we met our colleagues on the programme. It was great to be thrown together with a group of likeminded people with similar aspirations and this has formed an incredible support network for getting through the programme. We have also made great friends and really look forward to catching up over a drink when we have our university blocks. The teaching in Manchester has covered as vast amount of embryology and the regulations involved in treatment, with lectures being delivered by specialists from all over the country. It has also allowed us to develop our critical analysis and presentation skills through coursework and assignments, both of which have already proved to be helpful in my day to day work.
I am writing this during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic has certainly put a spanner in the works and a lot of changes have had to be made in regard to training. When the virus was at its peak, I was redeployed to intensive care to help out within the technology department. This meant leaving behind pipettes and incubators and learning how to work ventilators and blood gas analysers instead. Although this was daunting, I had previously had to quickly learn a new specialism during my three first-year rotations and so in a strange way the STP had prepared me well for the crisis. Being away from the clinic put stop to training, including the time allocated for competencies and the research project, but the changes haven’t stopped there. Despite efforts from the university, it isn’t possible to go to Manchester for our teaching and instead this will be done from home. Our OSFA has also been cancelled and an alternative final assessment will be put in place. But, like everyone else in the world, we have to muddle our way through these strange times and find a way to work with the new normal.
The opportunities that have come from being on the STP have been vast. I have undertaken my elective at a start-up company, which provides home testing fertility kits and educates women about the importance of their reproductive health. I have also given lectures to university students on genetic screening and have been selected to give an oral presentation of my research project at Fertility 2021. It’s been a busy few years and the STP has been a challenge for sure, but I have learned an awful lot along the way and have grown professionally and personally from the experience.
Catherine Martin - Andrology STP - 2017 intake
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.
Alice Royle - Embryology STP – 2017 intake
I cannot believe that I have nearly finished three years of training and will soon be finishing the Scientist Training Programme and become a fully-fledged Clinical Embryologist. The programme has given me some of the most memorable experiences, both good and bad but I am so glad that I have stuck at it and made the most of my training.
I feel the training really kicked off when I met my fellow Trainees, Embryologists and Andrologists, in Manchester for the beginning of our six week stint of lectures for the Masters element of the course. This six weeks provided us with the theoretical basis for our four rotations, Cytopathology, Histopathology, Genetics and Reproductive Science as well as a general module including lectures in biological processes and physiology as well as Professional Practice elements such as reflective writing, communication and leadership. I thoroughly enjoyed these six weeks, it gave me the opportunity to make strong connections with the Embryologists and Andrologists in my cohort which has been so important throughout the training programme. We are a supportive network who, despite working in different clinics in different areas of the country, are able to help and support one and other with any issues that arise during training. Undertaking the rotations in the first year was a good opportunity to not just experience different fields but to gain skills in patient consultation, disease investigation and treatment as well as working with a multitude of healthcare professionals
The STP provides trainees not just with the specialist training that is required for them to work in the field of Reproductive Science but unique opportunities such as the elective placement. I spent a lot of time organising my elective as I was determined to make the most of the 4-6 weeks available to gain an understanding of areas related to my field that I would not usually experience. I spent 4 weeks in Montreal, Canada splitting my time between research laboratories, an IVF clinic and related fields including Genetics and Obstetrics and Gynaecology. I joined a research laboratory using mouse oocytes to investigate craniofacial disorders and another laboratory investigating rare genetic mutations related to molar pregnancy. I was able to visit the animal handling unit, use a specialised laser scanning confocal microscope to investigate spindle formation and patterns and learn to produce skeletal preparations of early mouse foetuses to analyse craniofacial mutation phenotypes. I then spent a week in an IVF clinic; Quebec had a totally funded IVF programme until 2015. No funded treatment is currently available to nearly all patients with a tax credit available to some. The laboratory was not dissimilar to my own but even after 4 years it was noticeable that the number of patients was dramatically lower than what the clinic was built for. I saw all aspects of the laboratory processes and techniques and was also gained insight into the PGD and PGS programmes. This week left me with a huge appreciation for NHS funded IVF treatment and hope that the UK does not follow the same path as Quebec. In the last week I attended clinics at the hospital shadowing patient consultations with Medical Geneticists and MDT case reviews. I also spent time in private ObGyn clinics where I gained experience in patient examination and consultation. I found the consultations a great experience and learned a lot, particularly how the clinicians explained complicated test results to the patients and how time was allowed for patients to make sense of these and so informed decisions about their care could be made.
The STP often feels like an uphill battle; completing competencies, MSc deadlines, exams, clinical training, MSC project and dissertation writing has meant that the past three years have been extremely busy and I have had to quickly learn to juggle my workload and time manage. The recent COVID-19 pandemic has also meant that my training focus has shifted. I have had to focus more on my written work, and with the cancellation of this year’s OSFA (another COVID-19 pandemic outcome!) and replacement with a reflective portfolio, I am finding myself deskbound more than I am used to! I have had the opportunity to be redeployed and although this was not something I would ever choose, I have gained many skills during these unprecedented times which I know contribute to my overall development as a Clinical Scientist.
The final few months of the STP are now upon me, and I am so excited about my future as a Clinical Embryologist!