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.
When it comes to seeking fertility assistance, sometimes it feels like you need a crash course in a whole other language. Anti-Müllerian hormone. Aneuploidy. Letrozole. Blastocyst. The list of new words goes on and on…
But before you understand the textbook of treatments, you need to know who to turn to for help on your family-building path. And guess what? We have more definitions to learn! It’s okay, though, this one’s easy.
People often use the terms “reproductive endocrinologist” and “fertility specialist” interchangeably, and it makes sense why many use the latter term so frequently – “fertility specialist” is much easier to rattle off in a conversation than “reproductive endocrinologist.” Unfortunately, though, these two terms are not one and the same and carry major differences that you should be aware of.
Reproductive Endocrinologist vs. Fertility Specialist
Simply put, a reproductive endocrinologist (often referred to as an RE or REI) is a board-certified doctor with years and years of specialized training.
A fertility specialist is the generic reference to a provider who claims they’re in the fertility field. To be a fertility specialist, one is not required to pass any tests, attain any certifications, or attend a certain type of schooling.
Plus, where and how a fertility specialist practices requires no monitoring by a medical organization or governmental oversight. On the other hand, a reproductive endocrinologist is a doctor that must undergo a rigorous educational journey.
We can’t stress enough how selective and competitive these programs are. The slots in the program are few and far between, aggressively sought after, and take several years beyond a bachelor’s degree to fully complete. A student must attend medical school, then residency, and finish up with a fellowship program.
Once the doctor climbs all the rungs of the educational ladder, there are multiple exams, both written and oral, that they must pass in order to receive their medical licenses and board certification. Long story short: if you’re seeing a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist, your doctor will be qualified, certified, and specifically trained to take care your fertility concerns.
In short, anyone can call themselves a fertility specialist. There are no specific tests, governmental protocols, or medical boards to certify this claim. So, you get the drift: these two terms are very different and not at all interchangeable.
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Traditional Endocrinologist vs. Reproductive Endocrinologist
Another important distinction to note is the difference between an endocrinologist and a reproductive endocrinologist. They undergo some of the same training, but specialize in different things.
While a traditional endocrinologist may be an expert on a broad range of endocrine disorders (for example, diabetes), a reproductive endocrinologist focuses exclusively on issues affecting the reproductive system. Because of this, reproductive endocrinologists are better suited to help you uncover and treat hormonal imbalances that impact your fertility.
Most reproductive endocrinologists are experts in:
Should I see a reproductive endocrinologist or a fertility specialist?
When you’re ready to take the next step and talk to someone about your fertility, who should you see? It will probably come as no surprise to you that we recommend seeing a board-certified reproductive endocrinologist over a provider who simply claims to be a “fertility specialist.”
Not only will seeing a reproductive endocrinologist give you the best chance at fertility success, but it will give you peace of mind knowing that you’re seeing the most qualified type of doctor for your specific needs. REIs have the tools, resources, and expertise to give you the best chance for success… and you'll probably see a few diplomas on the wall to prove it!
How do I find the right reproductive endocrinologist for my needs?
It can feel overwhelming, we know. Where do you even begin? A fancy website and a stylized headshot are nice, but it doesn’t necessarily mean a doctor will be the right fit for you. Here's what we recommend:
Research the Doctor
It’s important to find out what sort of background your prospective reproductive endocrinologist has and if they are board-certified. More than likely, there are online reviews and testimonials about the practice and/or doctor that you can take into account.
Read about real patient experiences:
Evaluate Their Patient Service
Is the staff friendly? Helpful? Empathetic? Call the practice and ask them about the doctors, the clinic, the labs… hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Plus, you’ll get a glimpse into what their patient relationships and communication might be like.
Depending on the reproductive endocrinologists at a particular practice, a clinic might specialize in a type of infertility. Read reviews, ask their staff, and read everything you can on their website. While some clinics focus on general infertility, another might specialize in treating PCOS or male infertility, for example. If you don’t know exactly what is causing your infertility, a general practice would be best (which is the majority of fertility clinics).
Go With Your Gut
Does a clinic just feel right? Are you connecting with the staff, the doctors, the mission? Do the doctors and nurses make you feel heard and comforted? If so, you may have just found your reproductive endocrinology practice.
Remember, it’s okay to browse and interview multiple reproductive endocrinologists. You’re entitled to the best, most comfortable care. Trust your instincts and take a deep breath. Your fertility journey is about to take off!
Should I stay with my OB/GYN for fertility help?
It depends, but if you're having trouble conceiving or have specific fertility-related concerns, it's always a good idea to escalate the issue to a reproductive endocrinologist to give you (and your partner, if you have one) the best chance of success.
Reminder: The most basic definition for infertility is when someone under the age of 35 has been trying to conceive for 1 year without success, or when someone 35 years of age or older has been trying to conceive for 6 months with no success.
The bottom line? While basic fertility bloodwork and assessments can be administered by your gynecologist, a reproductive endocrinologist is in the best position, both in knowledge set and certification, to help you meet your end goals.
The Care Provider You Choose Makes a Difference
Understanding the difference between a fertility specialist and a reproductive endocrinologist is simple. One is a generic term, while the other is certified to treat your infertility on an expert level. Struggling with infertility is not fun, but the ball is in your court to find a doctor that is perfectly in line with what you find to be most important in a practice.
Do your due diligence, research your leads, listen to other patients, and most importantly, listen to your intuition. We wish you luck on your quest to find the perfect reproductive endocrinologist to help you achieve your fertility or family-building goals!
Ready to take the first step on your journey?
More Fertility Resources
Want to learn more about fertility? Check out the links below!