Becoming an Embryologist: Job Description & Career Info

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Get the truth about an embryologist's salary, education requirements and career prospects. Read the job descriptions and see the pros and cons of becoming an embryologist.
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Pros and Cons of an Embryologist Career

Embryologists work closely with hopeful parents helping them in all aspects of reproduction, from fertilization through birth. Continue reading to learn about other pros and cons of a career in embryology.

Pros of an Embryologist Career
Can help couples overcome difficulties having children (10% of women have fertility problems)*
Most employers only require a bachelor's degree***
Certification is available, but not required**
Usually work in a lab setting***

Cons of an Embryologist Career
Extensive hands-on experience is required***
May need to work weekends***
Creating and destroying embryos in a controlled setting is very controversial****
Patients may hold the embryologist responsible for failed pregnancies and implantations*****
A graduate degree is required for careers in research and academia***

Sources: *U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, **American Board of Bioanalysis, ***Job posts from April 2012, ****Oxford Journals: Human Reproduction, *****Early Pregnancy

Essential Career Info

Job Description and Duties

According to April 2012 job postings the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), embryologists work with people who are having reproductive health issues, such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome or difficulty conceiving, and are looking into in vitro fertilization (IVF) and other reproductive options (www.cdc.gov). You'll work with undeveloped egg cells, called oocytes, to assess their health and determine if they can be fertilized and implanted in the womb. You may also prepare sperm so only the healthiest and strongest are used in procedures. You'll freeze, store, thaw and prepare all of the reproductive materials and instruments so you can perform successful IVFs. Other responsibilities could include removing a woman's eggs, assessing sperm health, determining sperm levels and taking sperm donations.

Salary and Career Info

Embryologists typically work in fertility centers. Although there isn't any information about the employment growth of embryologists, the CDC reported that about six million women, or about ten percent of women in the U.S. between the ages of 15 and 44, have difficulty getting and staying pregnant. The CDC added that, in 2002, about seven percent of men surveyed indicated that they had help having a child. Of the men who sought help, 18% were diagnosed with a fertility problem. These numbers indicate that the need for embryologists will continue to exist.

Payscale.com reported that as of July 2015, the median annual salary of embryologists nationwide was $55,216. However, compensation varies depending on years of experience, education, etc., and salaries can range anywhere from $38,000 - $92,000.

Education and Training Requirements

According to April 2012 job postings, you must have at least a bachelor's degree to become an embryologist. A degree in biological science, human physiology or life science could be useful. Through these programs, you'll explore biology, chemistry, rehabilitation sciences, calculus, human anatomy and bioethics. Through one of these bachelor's degree programs, you could acquire:

  • Familiarity with reproduction
  • Knowledge of laboratory procedures
  • Experience conducting scientific research

Job Postings From Real Employers

Since couples worldwide struggle to get pregnant, embryologists are in high demand across the nation. Most employers want someone who has a bachelor's degree, lab experience and the ability to pay attention to detail. They also want someone who is familiar with basic IVF procedures. The following job postings are from April 2012 and can provide you with an idea of what employers were looking for in embryologists:

  • A fertility center in Rockville, Maryland, wanted to hire an embryologist who had a bachelor's or master's degree in biological science or a medical technology certification, training in embryology and lab experience. The ad stated that the embryologist would be responsible for freezing, thawing, storing and manipulating embryos, preparing sperm and using in-vetro fertilization equipment.
  • A reproductive company in Akron, Ohio, advertised for an embryologist with a bachelor's degree and 5-7 years of experience to perform embryology and andrology procedures. Candidates would have to pass a background check. The ad stated the employer wanted someone friendly, positive and able to work some weekends and holidays.
  • A health care facility in Berkeley, California, searched for an embryologist to perform clinical embryology and andrology. According to the ad, the ideal candidate would have experience in embryo biopsy, good communication skills, a bachelor's degree and the ability to work on a team or independently.
  • A reproductive facility in Sioux Center, Iowa, wanted to hire an embryologist who had a bachelor's degree in animal science, chemistry or biology.
  • An in-vitro fertilization center in Mountain View, California, advertised for an embryologist who had a bachelor's degree and at least two years of experience working with tissue cultures. On-the-job training would be provided by the center, but the ad said that the employer wanted someone who could pay great attention to detail.

How Can I Stand out?

You can stand out among other aspiring embryologists by earning a master's degree in clinical embryology. Although it can be costly, it can take as little as a year to complete and addresses the male and female reproductive systems, specific technologies used by embryologists, information about how IVF processes work and medical ethics. In addition to lectures, you'll complete clinicals to gain experience working with embryos and administering fertility treatments. Although most employers don't require this, it could give you an advantage since the clinic won't need to spend time training you. It's also a bonus to complete an internship in a fertility center since it will familiarize you with the patients, procedures, lab work and terminology you could encounter.

Get Certified

You can earn certification as an embryologist from the American Board of Bioanalysis (ABB), the only certifying board that's recognized by U.S. state licensing boards (www.aab.org). Since some employers, according to the April 2012 postings, also accept certification in medical technology, you could take the exam offered by American Medical Technologists. These professionals are trained to examine blood and other fluids, which could help you stand out when applying. Another certification that could help you stand out is the Global Fertility Academy certification that acknowledges your skills in using assisted reproductive technologies, which is available from the European Accreditation Council for Continuing Medical Education (www.globalfertilityacademy.org).

Other Careers to Consider

Medical Scientist

If you're not sure if becoming an embryologist is right for you, but you like research and working in a lab, you might consider becoming a medical scientist. These professionals usually have a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in a field such as biology or life science and some have a medical license. Typically, they study human disease and develop treatment methods, which could include developing new drugs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), medical scientists earned a median annual salary of $76,000 as of May 2011, and their employment was expected to grow much faster than average, at 36%, from 2010-2020 (www.bls.gov).

Biological Technician

With a median annual salary of about $39,000, becoming a biological technician might also appeal to you. This job involves helping medical scientists run tests and experiments by preparing the lab, analyzing data and testing samples of blood, feces or urine. You only need to earn a bachelor's degree in biological science or a related field for this position. The BLS projected that the employment outlook would be about 14% between 2010 and 2020, which was about the average for all careers.

Cytotechnology

If you love working in labs and want to help people in an uncontroversial environment, becoming a cytotechnologist could be for you. According to the American Society of Cytotechnology, they use pap smears and specimens from varied parts of the body to study cells and identify cancerous or precancerous lesions (www.asct.com). Payscale.com reported that they made from $47,000-$78,000 as of April 2012.

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