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Medical scientists specializing in the study of reproduction are known as embryologists. They study embryos in a variety of settings such as fertility clinics, laboratories, commercial industries, and hospitals. Capable of combining research with clinical work, they can either work in a fertility clinic helping those with reproductive issues, or they may also work in a research lab.
Most commonly, embryologists can be found assisting in in vitro fertilization or IVF. This process starts with the stimulation of a woman’s ovaries, so she begins to ovulate. Once the eggs are formed, they are harvested using ultrasound guidance.
They can help with in vitro fertilization, usually referred to as IVF. IVF is a process that begins with ovulation induction for stimulating a woman’s ovaries. The eggs are then harvested through an ultrasound-guided technique. After the eggs are retrieved, they are fertilized in a laboratory for three to five days. Next, the embryos may be transferred into the woman’s uterus or they may be frozen for implantation at a later date.
An embryologist’s job involves retrieving eggs from a patient, conducting tests on samples, working with embryos, and retrieving sperm samples from a patient. From the time an egg is retrieved to the time that the embryo is planted into the womb, an embryologist must be responsible for every step of the process. Finally, after a viable embryo is implanted in the womb, they must monitor the pregnancy until a successful delivery is made.
Embryologist Specializations & Degree Types
Embryology has many sub-branches in it. They are as follows:
- Comparative embryology: This sub-branch studies, compares, and analyzes the embryological development of different types of species.
- Descriptive embryology: Descriptive embryology deals with the observation and description of the development of an embryo.
- Experimental embryology: Also called analytical embryology or casual embryology, this type involves experimenting with embryos to study various developmental stages. Experimental embryology helps scientists understand the basic mechanisms of organisms. This field involves dissecting embryos, removing and transplanting various parts of an embryo, and even altering environmental conditions.
- Chemical embryology: Also known as biochemical or physiological embryology, this branch deals with biochemical, physiological, and biophysical techniques.
- Tetralogy: This branch deals with the malfunctioning of an embryo.
- Developmental biology: This branch deals with the development of the embryo as well as other processes such as metamorphosis, normal and neoplastic growth, regeneration, and tissue repair.
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Admission Requirements for a Reproductive Technology Program
An undergraduate degree in biology, biotechnology, biomedical science, or another related discipline is the minimum requirement for students who wish to become embryologists. A bachelor’s degree provides students with the foundation for getting started in the field. After earning a bachelor’s degree, students can also apply for a graduate degree in embryology. Earning a master’s degree is not a requirement, but it does help to qualify them for better employment opportunities. Some embryologists earn an MD or PhD as well. Students with a PhD or MSc will be favored for positions in management over students with just a BSc.
Admission requirements for a bachelor’s degree generally involve a high school diploma, a high school grade point average of at least 2.5, an official copy of high school transcript or GED, official transcripts from each college or university previously attended, and proof of English proficiency for international students.
Major admission requirements for a master’s degree in embryology include an undergraduate degree from a regionally accredited institution, a minimum grade point average of 3.0, transcripts, three letters of recommendation, personal statement or essay, and TOEFL scores for international students.
Accreditation for Embryology Degree Programs
Accreditation helps students gauge whether a program will provide them with relevant skills and knowledge. Accredited institutions undergo rigorous reviews based on certain quality standards. This ensures that they provide top-notch training to their students.
The Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET) provides accreditation to programs in biotechnology, while the Association of Technology, Management, and Applied Engineering also accredits programs in the field.
Although there is no accreditation body specifically for embryology, all prospective students of this discipline should ensure that their program of choice has been accredited by a reputable authority—one recognized by the Department of Education’s Commission on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
On-Campus Degree Programs Related to Embryology
Colorado State University offers a bachelor of science degree program in biomedical sciences. The program prepares students for graduate programs in biomedical science, as well as a career in biotechnology.
Applicants to the program are required to submit high school transcripts, test scores, a personal statement, recommendation letters, and evidence of English proficiency (for international students only), among other documentation. Additionally, students who are first-year applicants and under 23 years of age or those who have passed high school less than five years ago must also submit SAT or ACT scores.
The program comprises 120 credits. Courses include biomedical sciences, the fundamentals of physiology, introductory eukaryotic cell biology, the fundamentals of organic chemistry, an introduction to statistical methods, and the principles of biochemistry.
Students develop a strong understanding of anatomy and physiology, especially at the molecular level. They also develop soft skills such as leadership, communication, and critical thinking. At the end of the program, graduates can work in a variety of industries such as pharmaceuticals, medical devices, and biotechnology.
- Location: Fort Collins, Colorado
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
- Expected Time to Completion: 48 months
- Estimated Tuition: $31,712 per year
Northeastern University offers a master of science in biotechnology program. This non-thesis brick-and-mortar program is enriched by a wide variety of practical opportunities preparing students to collaborate, lead and innovate as managerial, technical, or research professionals. The program offers the following concentrations:
- Molecular biotechnology
- Process development
- Manufacturing and quality operations
- Biopharmaceutical analytical sciences
- Pharmaceutical technologies
- Scientific information management
- Regulatory science
- Biotechnology enterprise
The faculty for the program includes renowned professors who bring extensive knowledge of their field, industry trends, and practical experience to the classroom.
Admission requirements for the program include a bachelor’s degree or equivalent from an accredited college or university, unofficial transcripts for all institutions attended, personal statement, a current resume, two letters of recommendation, and official TOEFL, IELTS or PTE scores for non-native English speaking applicants.
Made up of 34 credits, the program provides students with professional skills and biotechnology expertise needed to be successful in governmental, clinical, and industrial settings. Some of the courses include an introduction to biotechnology, the biotechnology enterprise, molecular cell biology for biotechnology, analytical biotechnology, and experimental design and biostatistics.
The program provides students with an overview of innovation, intellectual property, planning, government regulation, and strategic alliances. Students also delve into biotechnology entrepreneurship, management, and the legal aspects of science. They gain real-world knowledge, awareness, perspective, and confidence. On completion of the program, students can pursue opportunities in various sectors, including pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, as well as entrepreneurial biotechnology.
- Location: Boston, Massachusetts
- Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education
- Expected Time to Completion: 24 to 36 months
- Estimated Tuition: $1,672 per credit hour
With both a master’s and doctorate program, the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health’s Endocrinology and Reproductive Physiology (ERP) program is an excellent advanced education program for aspiring embryologists. Over 95 percent of the program’s enrolled students have an assistantship or grant that helps fund their entire education along with living expenses. This is due in large part to the extensive partnership with the National Institute of Health (NIH).
The master’s program can be completed in as little as two years, although it is common for students to stay on for additional time to complete research. The PhD program takes a full five years to complete, of which three years are dedicated exclusively to research and completing a dissertation. Both degree programs require several electives, allowing students to personalize their education.
- Location: Madison, WI
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Expected Time to Completion: Two years for a master’s and five years for a PhD
- Estimated Tuition: None, fully funded by grants
The Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University houses the Center for Reproductive Science, which offers a master’s of science in reproductive science and medicine. While this degree focuses on all aspects of reproductive science, there are several courses relating directly to embryology, including reproductive technologies laboratory and medical management of fertility.
Students can choose to complete a thesis or non-thesis track for this degree. Both tracks are required to complete an extensive research project. The thesis track culminates in a defense and the non-thesis track has comprehensive final exams.
- Location: Evanston, IL
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Expected Time to Completion: At least two years
- Estimated Tuition: $20,020 per quarter
Not all embryologists work with humans. Some may work with other species, including animals. University of California, Davis School of Veterinary Medicine offers a designated emphasis in reproductive biology. PhD students in a number of other departments, including integrative pathobiology, molecular, cellular and integrative physiology, and pharmacology and toxicology, are eligible to complete this emphasis.
Coursework that provides students with education in embryology includes developmental biology, molecular mechanisms of early development, and molecular mechanisms in pattern formation and development.
The time required to complete this program varies, as it is completed alongside a doctorate. The basic requirements are to complete two reproductive biology courses and one seminar. To complete this program, students must pass an oral examination and a dissertation with at least one member of faculty from the emphasis on the committee.
- Location: Davis, CA
- Accreditation: American Veterinary Medical Association
- Expected Time to Completion: Varies
- Estimated Tuition: $9,570.02 per quarter
Online or Hybrid Degree Programs Related to Embryology
Arizona State University’s International School of Biomedical Diagnostics offers a fully online master of science in biomedical diagnostics. The program covers the following four core areas:
- Application of diagnostics
- Business of diagnostics
- Science of diagnostics
- Technology of diagnostics
The program’s admission requirements include a bachelor’s or master’s degree from a regionally accredited college or university in biomedical informatics, life sciences, biology, chemistry, engineering, biochemistry, or any other closely related field; a minimum cumulative grade point average of 3.0; official transcripts; two letters of recommendation; and proof of English proficiency.
Comprising 30 credits, the program includes courses such as current perspectives in biomedical diagnostics, an introduction to biomedical informatics, health economics, the regulation of medical diagnostics, policy and payment models, biomedical device design, and molecular diagnostics.
The program introduces students to the role of diagnostics in different aspects of healthcare such as pharmaceuticals and technology, management of patients, healthcare finance, and healthcare policy.
Graduates of the program are well-equipped to pursue opportunities in quality systems, business development, regulatory affairs, clinical research support and management, sales management, and account management. They can take up roles as product heads, general managers, laboratory directors, national sales directors, regulatory and policy leads, and more.
- Location: Tempe, Arizona
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
- Expected Time to Completion: 12 months
- Estimated Tuition: $842 per credit
The University of Northern Colorado offers an online master’s degree in biomedical science, which provides students with a strong foundation in biomedical coursework and underlying and supporting medicine.
Admission requirements for the program include a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university (or an equivalent degree from a foreign institute), a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 or better, English language proficiency for international students residing outside of the United States, and test scores.
This is a 30-credit program that requires students to pass a comprehensive exam in order to graduate. The curriculum includes courses such as biomedicine and careers, immunology and disease, virology, reproductive and developmental biology, molecular genetics, and developmental biology.
The program helps students enhance their academic credentials and get prepared for entrance to a health professional school or biomedical career.
- Location: Greeley, Colorado
- Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission (HLC) of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools (NCA)
- Expected Time to Completion: Less than 12 months
- Estimated Tuition: $597 per credit
Many of the courses for the bachelor of science in health sciences in clinical embryology and assisted reproductive technology (CEART) at George Washington University School of Medicine & Health Sciences can be completed online. Students are required to travel to campus for laboratory classes; however, this can be completed in just one semester, so relocation can be temporary. Otherwise, coursework can be complete through distance learning.
This program offers a specialization in fertility laboratory science, preparing students to find entry-level work in this field. As this is coursework that is typically offered only at a master’s degree level, students should expect rigorous coursework and to be self-directed.
- Location: Washington, DC
- Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
- Expected Time to Completion: Four years
- Estimated Tuition: $1,995 per credit hour
The genetic counseling program at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center offers several online courses, including one in clinical embryology. While these courses are intended primarily to serve as continuing education courses for genetic counselors, they are also ideal for students who have a degree in medical sciences and are aspiring embryologists. This 25 and a half hour course can be completed entirely online and covers topics such as sex determination, beginning heart development, clinical aspects of congenital heart anomalies, and more.
- Location: Cincinnati, OH
- Accreditation: Accreditation Council of Continuing Medical Education (ACCME)
- Expected Time to Completion: 25.5 hours
- Estimated Tuition: $495 for the entire course
Eastern Virginia Medical School offers a unique online master’s in reproductive clinical sciences. This six-semester-long program does require two campus visits, each five days long. The rest of the coursework, including internships, can be completed from the student’s hometown. There are two certificates in this program that allow further specialization. They are clinical embryology and clinical andrology.
This program is completed as a cohort, which allows students to develop relationships with their peers, even through distance learning. Admissions are competitive, and only 25 students are admitted each cycle. Requirements for admission include undergraduate coursework in biology and chemistry, two letters of recommendation, a personal essay, and an up-to-date resume.
Applicants must have worked in clinical IVF or basic reproductive research as an embryologist, andrologist, nurse, physician, or research scientist or complete a clinical IVF shadow experience.
- Location: Norfolk, VA
- Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
- Expected Time to Completion: Six semesters
- Estimated Tuition: $1,431 per credit
How Long Does it Take to Become an Embryologist?
Embryology is the study of embryos, not just human or mammalian, but also those of animals that have different fetal development cycles such as turtles or flies. A bachelor’s degree in biomedicine, biology, or biomedical science is generally the minimum requirement for becoming an embryologist. Some positions may require the student to have a master’s or doctoral degree.
A bachelor’s degree typically takes four to five years to complete, while a master’s degree takes an additional two years of study, and a PhD takes another three years. In all, one can expect four to nine years of postsecondary studies to become an embryologist.
How To Become an Embryologist – Step-by-Step Guide
Embryologists are medical professionals and scientists focusing on reproductive research and fertility treatments. They are responsible for running fertility tests, harvesting eggs and sperm, and conducting in-vitro fertilization procedures for patients that have problems with fertility.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree (Four Years)
Earning a bachelor’s degree is the first step for becoming an embryologist. Students will have to major in subjects such as medical laboratory science, biology, or a related field. With a bachelor’s degree, students can expect to find entry-level work in medical laboratories and acquire professional laboratory experience. However, a bachelor’s degree is not sufficient if one wishes to become an embryologist.
Step 2: Earn a Master’s Degree (Two Years or More, Optional)
For conducting embryology procedures in a laboratory and advancing to positions of leadership, students will require a master’s degree. This will help them find work in labs observing and conducting IVF procedures.
Step 3: Earn a PhD or MD Degree (Three Years or More, Optional)
Further, if students wish to conduct independent research or work with patients, they will be required to earn either an MD or a PhD. Those with a PhD are well-qualified to conduct experiments and research around infertility and come up with new solutions. For treating patients or prescribing medicines, a medical degree is required.
What Do Embryologists Do?
Embryologists have a wide range of duties and responsibilities such as assisting physicians with clinical work, informing patients about embryonic abnormalities or reproductive health problems, retrieving eggs from patients, conducting diagnostic tests on embryos and eggs, and assisting with in vitro fertilization.
They also conduct experiments to study the functions and genetics of embryos, maintain the viability of embryos during processing and are responsible for the maintenance of equipment and records.
Here are some common tasks that an embryologist might perform:
- Performing various embryological medical procedures, such as fertility analysis and in-vitro fertilization
- Counseling and advising patients on fertility and ART (assisted reproductive technology) procedures
- Treating infertility issues using ART
- Collecting, processing, and preserving reproductive gametes from patients
- Ensuring that sperm, embryos, and eggs are properly stored and cared for in laboratories
Embryologist Certifications & Licensure
Certification is not a requirement for practicing embryology. However, earning a certification does help students demonstrate basic or advanced knowledge of clinical embryology and get access to lucrative opportunities.
One such certification is offered by the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE). The main objective of the ESHRE is to promote an understanding of reproductive medicine and biology. It is one of the most renowned certifications all over the globe. As an ESHRE-certified clinical embryologist, candidates will be able to participate in the continuing professional development (CPD) program developed by the ESHRE.
In order to receive this certification, students must have a BSc in natural sciences and at least three years of hands-on experience. For the senior clinical embryologist certification, students will need an MSc or PhD in natural sciences and a minimum of three years of hands-on experience.
How Much Do Embryologists Make?
While there is no specific information on the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2020) for embryologists, the number of medical scientists, a related profession, was 126,110. The percentiles are:
- 10th percentile: $50,240
- 25th percentile: $63,400
- 50th percentile (median): $91,510
- 75th percentile: $126,270
- 90th percentile: $164,650
Embryologist Career Alternatives
Here are a few alternatives to a career as an embryologist.
Become a Genetic Counselor
Genetic counselors straddle science and psychology as they help their clients navigate highly technical genetic testing terrain. With extensive scientific background and counseling training, genetic counselors are able to help clients determine which tests are needed, deliver difficult results, and determine what next steps are necessary.
- Typical Education: Master’s degree
- Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABCG)
Become a Pathologists’ Assistant
In many morgues and pathology labs, much of the work is completed by pathologists’ assistants. These “physician extenders” work under the supervision of a pathologist to perform post mortem examinations, process tissue samples, participate in research, and collect samples for analysis.
- Typical Education: Master’s degree
- Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP)
Become a Microbiologist
The initial education for embryologists and microbiologists is very similar. Both careers require a bachelor’s in biological sciences. Microbiologists, however, will specialize in molecular biology, immunology, biochemistry, or microbiology. Professionals in this field tend to work in research labs.
- Typical Education: Master’s degree
- Licensing or Certifying Organization: American Medical Board of Microbiology and the National Registry of Certified Microbiologists
Farheen is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).