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A Day in the Life of an Embryologist: Behind the Scenes of IVF

Ever wonder what goes on behind the scenes in an IVF lab? Embryologist Erin shares a typical day in the lab and answers common questions about embryology.

April 20th, 2023 | 9 min. read

By Sierra Dehmler

In vitro fertilization (IVF) is an incredible fertility treatment option that allows 500,000 people globally to become parents each year. But what does the process look like behind the scenes? Illume Fertility embryologist Erin DiPietro shares what a typical day looks like in an embryology lab and answers common questions about her role in the IVF process.

In this article:

What does an embryologist do?

Embryologists are often lovingly referred to as a baby's "first babysitter" - and that's an accurate (albeit over-simplified) description of their role in the IVF process. These talented laboratory experts spend years studying human reproduction and working in embryology labs before they are even able to apply to become an embryologist.

This role requires an exceptionally high level of skill and focus, meaning that those who choose to pursue a career in embryology are dedicated and passionate about what they do to help families grow!

As you'll soon learn from Erin, the daily responsibilities of an embryologist vary widely. At most fertility clinics, each member of the lab team rotates through different tasks each day.

Here are just a few of their important duties:

IVF Procedures 

IVF vs ICSI: In IVF, an egg and (many) sperm are left in a laboratory dish to fertilize on their own. With ICSI, one selected sperm is directly injected into an egg. ICSI is used more often in cases involving male factor fertility issues.

Lab Maintenance

  • Manual witnessing (verifying the identity of any specimen in the lab)
  • Preparing IVF instruments
  • Recording and reporting laboratory results
  • Lab equipment checks and maintenance
  • Portioning media and preparing culture dishes 

What is vitrification?

It is an ultra-rapid freezing process used to cryopreserve eggs, sperm or embryos in a lab. Vitrification helps preserve each specimen at the highest level of quality for future use.

How do embryologists keep everything straight?

In addition to the manual witnessing described above, Illume Fertility also utilizes an advanced verification system called RI Witness to provide additional layer of security for each specimen embryologists come in contact with.

The RI Witness system helps mitigate the risk of human error every time samples are moved from one dish or tube to another, and safeguards every step of the IVF cycle.

A Day in the Life of an Embryologist

Curious about what Illume Fertility's embryologists do each day in the lab? Keep reading to hear Erin's take on a typical workday, what she loves most about embryology, and some surprising IVF facts you may not know!

Meet Erin

I started my career in embryology as a medical secretary for an embryology lab. It was there that I began to learn the ins and outs of the laboratory and I fell in love with it. I began the transition into training as an embryologist and here I am now, over five years later!

I have a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Sacred Heart University. While that is the main degree-required credential for our field, our career requires rigorous on-the-job training and technical application. We are constantly learning and adapting to improve our patients’ outcomes!

Personally, I am very interested in what is on the cutting edge of Assisted Reproductive Technology, so just for fun, I decided to get a Master of Science in Bioinformatics. I am also currently a PhD student in Healthcare Genetics.

Our field is always adapting and innovating, and I am personally very interested in being at the forefront of those advancements.

Considering IVF to grow your family?

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What is the first thing you do every morning?

We wash our hands! After changing into our fresh scrubs, hair nets and shoe covers, the very first thing we do after we open the door into the laboratory is head straight to the sink.

Sterility and cleanliness are integral to success of our patients.

Who do you work with throughout the day?

We have a super tight network of team members! We all work together, from the front desk staff all the way to the laboratory, to ensure the very best outcome for each patient. 

While embryologists don't get to interact with patients face-to-face as much as andrologists and other team members at Illume, what you may not realize is that we're right on the other side of the wall each time you have an egg retrieval or embryo transfer!

We're evaluating and counting eggs as the doctor retrieves them or preparing and verifying embryos before carefully handing them off to your doctor, for example.

Fun fact: At Illume Fertility's Norwalk, CT location, we have both an Embryology Lab and an Andrology Lab in-house!

What types of procedures do embryologists perform?

It’s worth mentioning that we all rotate and share responsibilities, so no one day is the same for us. I can perform any laboratory-specific procedure offered when a patient is coming through for IVF. It’s very hard to list them all!

However, they range from procedures like oocyte (egg) retrievals and embryo transfers, thawing or freezing oocytes or embryos, all the way to Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection (ICSI) and embryo biopsy. 

While your doctor may be the one interacting directly with you during a procedure like an egg retrieval or embryo transfer, us embryologists work very closely with them throughout the entire process!

How often do embryologists interact with fertility patients?

There are two types of procedures where we meet and interact with our patients: the oocyte (egg) retrieval, and the transfer of embryos. At both times, we are primarily meeting the patients for identification and verification of the procedure we are doing.

Is being an embryologist stressful?

Being an embryologist is very high stress! It is not a position to be taken lightly.

Calmness comes with time and practice. I would say the hardest part of our work is finding the delicate balance between stress and calm. Stress reminds us how important our job really is, but calmness and steadiness are necessary to perform procedures well.

What is your favorite thing about being an embryologist?

Seeing patients have successful outcomes - whether it ends with them freezing their eggs, having a baby, or whatever their goals may be, it keeps me grounded and reminds me of how important what I do is. It is easily the very BEST part of my job!

Do you perform lab checks at specific times?

Most definitely! Each procedure happens in a specific sequence of time, particularly on the very first day of retrieval or thawing. Oocytes (eggs) are very sensitive, so we take extra care with timing each step to optimize a patient’s cycle and give them the best chance of success.

What is the coolest part of your work?

We have the unique opportunity to share a small glimpse of what we see every day with our patients at the embryo transfer. We extend our display of the microscope view to the patient awaiting transfer, and this is when they get to verify their embryo and see their embryo being loaded into the catheter in real time, as we do it. 

In my opinion, this is one of the coolest, most unique experiences that we share with our patients. 

What are the stages of IVF?

Get a step-by-step walkthrough of the entire IVF process from start to finish, learn about the cost of IVF, how to get started, and more.

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What is the last thing you do at the end of the day?

The last thing we do is check that every incubator is closed. As an added safety measure, we also gently tap the outside or run our fingers along the doors to make sure that each one is 100% closed before we leave the lab.

Did you know? Illume Fertility's on-site cryopreservation storage facility and labs have an extremely sensitive 24/7 monitoring system to ensure all of our patients' eggs, sperm and embryos stay safe every hour of the day.

Each Embryologist Cares About Your Success

Even though lab staff don’t have the opportunity to meet every single patient since they mostly work behind the scenes, Erin says she wants fertility patients to know that each time she and her team perform a procedure, it's personal:

"We are always looking for those positive outcomes and love seeing the results of our laboratory procedures come full circle," she says. "Though we work to help many different patients each day, we recognize your names and stories, and are always rooting for you!"

A huge thank you to our entire Embryology Team for their hard work and dedication, and to Erin for giving us a glimpse behind the scenes of a typical day in the IVF lab. Pretty incredible, right?!

Sierra Dehmler

Sierra Dehmler is Illume Fertility’s Content Marketing Manager - and also a fertility patient herself. Combining empathy gained on her personal journey with her professional experience in marketing and content creation, she aims to empower and support other fertility patients by demystifying the fertility treatment process.

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