I have been a qualified embryologist for over a year now…how has that happened?! In fact, it’s closer to 2! I can’t believe how quickly it has gone!
And, although I was lucky enough to stay at the same clinic, which means working with the same fabulous, well-functioning, tight-knit team of embryologists who supported me through my training, I do feel as though things have changed for me. I have become a more confident, independent, and capable embryologist ever since completing the STP – probably more so.
I always assumed that by the end of the STP, I would be an all-singing, all-dancing, fully-fledged embryologist – and on paper, I was almost there (apart from ICSI). This meant that I really started feeling the pressure towards the end of my training. I had high expectations that I should, of course, complete all the required Uni and professional assessments, but also be able to deal with all sorts of complicated scenarios that may one day present themselves: difficult patient complaints, exporting patient samples abroad, failing dewars, etc etc. It took me a little while to regain perspective as a newly qualified embryologist and stop comparing myself to other embryologists with 10, 15, 20+ years of experience!
Looking back, writing the IACC was a helpful tool in reflecting on my progress through the STP, but also planning how to bridge the gap between being a trainee and being newly qualified. However, the prospect of such a serious, in-depth reflection was daunting at first. In a nutshell, the IACC is split into 6 sections of reflection that mirror the 5 professional practice domains and a global statement, whilst citing OneFile submissions. It was tricky to find a balance between demonstrating my development but also actively highlighting professional limitations. Ultimately, it fulfilled its purpose as a reflective exercise and I gained insights that would help with my transition into a “patient-focussed and safe, newly qualified, threshold level Clinical Scientist”. And it helped to re-enforce that that was the purpose of the STP and what I was working towards.
The list of things to do on the STP is very long, along with all the professional learning that isn’t easily seen on paper. It’s easy to focus on the visual progress, i.e the competency dial on OneFile which just seems to crawl along, but for me the most beneficial learning was the day-to-day; reviewing patient cases with colleagues, discussing treatment with patients, contributing to team meetings, making service improvement suggestions and, in general, building confidence so you can make meaningful contributions to all the above! I can see that through the STP, and since, I have become more decisive as I have gained experience. However, I am still a strong believer that different perspectives within a team culminate in a valuable wealth of knowledge and experience so always respect the contribution of my more experienced colleagues when available. Remember – learning does not end with the STP!
Emily Roxburgh - Logbook experience
When I first began working as an Andrology Practitioner, I wished to gain a greater theoretical and practical knowledge of solely Andrology and so this is where the ARCs logbooks were perfect!
I began by completing Module 1; this was a much bigger module with 14 sections. It began with questions on sample collection such as patient instructions and the importance of acceptance/rejection criteria. It also explored laboratory equipment and maintenance as well as the biology of spermatogenesis, retrograde ejaculation and how the various findings of semen analysis can affect fertility.
The module also consisted of many practical elements to aid in the understanding of the underlying biology, for example performing experiments on the effect on motility and pH with increased time. Furthermore, it included structured training logs for side-by-side comparisons to my senior colleagues. It also allowed me to experiment with techniques not routinely used in my laboratory, for example comparing sperm concentrations when using a Makler or Horwell chamber or using HOS for vitality in comparison to Eosin/Nigrosin staining. After submitting the paper element, I then completed a VIVA. This involved 2 assessors ensuring the knowledge and practical skills had been learnt and put into practice.
I then completed the Module 4 logbook which focused on sperm banking for fertility preservation. This included theoretical questions on the reasons why people freeze, the referral process, patient information and screening and the importance of record keeping.
It included a large section on informed consent, including which consent to take in various scenarios as well as structured training in how to take informed consent. This was invaluable for me as I had just begun consent training and thus was able to document my interactions both supervised and unsupervised using this logbook as evidence. It then finished with case studies presenting differing scenarios for sperm banking and fate of the specimens, this allowed me to put my learnt knowledge into practice.
Overall, both logbooks have been invaluable in providing the theory and practical skills required each day as an Andrology Practitioner, I have now decided to apply for STP equivalence in Andrology and these have therefore helped to provide a wealth of evidence towards that.
Jamie Meadows - Embryology Equivalence Experience
Whilst I was working as an andrologist with 3 years’ experience, I applied to the AHCS in 2017 for STP equivalence in Andrology. In 2018 I then accepted a new role working towards becoming an embryologist. I had been working on my portfolio in my own time whilst gaining experience working as a laboratory practitioner. My application was accepted in May 2018, and I had been given 6 months to compile a portfolio for submission. I achieved this and submitted my application in November 2018. My portfolio was assessed; however, it was suggested that I needed to provide further evidence for the research and development aspect. They then gave me a deadline of June 2019. I set out to gain as much experience and knowledge as I could and performed various research projects and attended the ACE research events and completed an online course with the NIHR. I had to ask for an extension due to some projects not being finished. I submitted an addendum in July 2019. I had some more feedback in August 2019 which again said I needed to improve my research and development techniques and was given a further deadline of February 2020. After some discussions with the head of the equivalence my deadline was extended again, and I finally submitted a satisfactory addendum in July 2020. I didn’t hear my application was successful until November 2020 and that I could proceed to interview stage. My viva was on the 5th of March 2021, and I found out I passed a few weeks later.
Although this was a long process and there was some internal issues with the AHCS, I had learned a lot from this experience. The equivalence route was a challenging one as it was very difficult to start and navigate through it with little guidance. However, I do believe a lot of the issues I had encountered early on have been resolved and there is a lot more information available on how to achieve equivalence. Since obtaining equivalence I have shared my knowledge with others that chose to go through AHCS which have led to successful outcomes.
Catherine Martin - Andrology STP - 2020 Graduate
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.