Case study

Clinical embryologist — Dr Jemma Walker

Jemma is working as a clinical embryologist on the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP). Find out more about her working day and how she hopes to develop her career

How did you get your job?

I graduated with a BSc Developmental & Cell Biology from the University of Sheffield in 2011 and completed a PhD on Developmental & Stem Cell Biology at the University of Plymouth in 2019.

I applied to the STP for clinical reproductive science - embryology and was successful in securing a position at Birmingham Women's Fertility Centre.

What's a typical working day like?

I start work at around 8:30am and check the rota to see which morning tasks I've been assigned to do. Usually this is either sperm preparations or egg collections for patients who are starting the lab side of their IVF treatment. Sometimes my tasks include fertilisation checks, embryo grading or cryopreservation for patients whose cycle started earlier in the week. Working with my colleagues we make sure to get all of these jobs done.

In the afternoon I'm often involved in preparing embryos and patients for embryo transfer or performing IVF insemination in the lab. By late afternoon I catch up on all my paperwork, read standard operating procedures (SOPs) and update patient notes.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I love that I get to use my knowledge and enthusiasm for science to make a real difference to patients' lives. Getting to meet and talk with my patients is really rewarding and I'm glad to be able to help them on their journey to parenthood.

What are the challenges?

Time pressure is a big challenge in the IVF lab. Eggs, sperm and embryos must be handled at the appropriate times, coupled with the demands of the clinic with patient appointments to be kept.

In what way is your degree relevant?

My degree has given me an excellent grounding in the biological principles which underpin the science I carry out daily. From my PhD I also have practical experience which has made working in a busy lab a much less daunting challenge.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

I've learned more practical skills, which has allowed me to become an increasingly valued member of the team. In the future I hope to marry my love of clinical healthcare science with my passion for academic research, ultimately working in the clinic while also undertaking active research to help patients both in the present and the future.

What are your top tips for choosing a postgraduate course?

Consider the kinds of transferable skills it may help you to develop. Learning the academic content is really important, but it's the other skills like time management and problem solving that have been most invaluable to me.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Do your research into how to get into the profession. Generally, in England the STP is the main route into embryology. But beyond England it's often possible to learn and qualify while working in the field.
  • Make contacts. Embryology is a relatively small field and embryologists are open to talking with people who are interested in a career in reproductive medicine.
  • Don't give up. Many embryologists have applied multiple times. It's a competitive field but by developing a strong CV and getting advice from others already in the area it's possible to get there.

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