The educational and professional status of clinical embryology and clinical embryologists in Europe

Hum Reprod. 2015 Aug;30(8):1755-62. doi: 10.1093/humrep/dev118. Epub 2015 Jun 12.


Study question: What is the recognition of clinical embryology and the current status of clinical embryologists in European countries, regarding educational levels, responsibilities and workload, and need for a formal education in assisted reproductive technology (ART)?

Summary answer: It is striking that the profession of clinical embryology, almost 40 years after the introduction of IVF, is still not officially recognized in most European countries.

What is known already: Reproductive medicine has developed into a sophisticated multidisciplinary medical branch since the birth of Louise Brown 37 years ago. The European Board & College of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (EBCOG) has recognized reproductive medicine as a subspeciality and has developed a subspeciality training for gynaecologists in collaboration with the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE). However, nothing similar exists for the field of clinical embryology or for clinical embryologists.

Study design, size, duration: A questionnaire about the situation in clinical embryology in the period of 2012-2013 in the respective European country was sent to ESHRE National representatives (basic scientists only) in December 2013. At this time, 28 European countries had at least one basic scientist in the ESHRE Committee of National Representatives.

Participants/materials, setting, methods: The survey consisted of 46 numeric, dichotomous (yes/no) or descriptive questions. Answers were obtained from 27 out of 28 countries and the data were tabulated. Data about the numbers of 'ESHRE Certified Embryologists' were taken from the ESHRE Steering Committee for Embryologist Certification.

Main results and the role of chance: In 2012, more than 7000 laboratory staff from 1349 IVF clinics in 27 European countries performed over 700 000 fresh and frozen ART cycles. Despite this, clinical embryology is only recognized as an official profession in 3 out of 27 national health systems. In most countries clinical embryologists need to be registered under another profession, and have limited possibilities for organized education in clinical embryology. Mostly they are trained for practical work by senior colleagues. ESHRE embryologist certification so far constitutes the only internationally recognized qualification; however this cannot be considered a subspecialization.

Limitations, reasons for caution: Data were obtained through different methods, by involving national embryologist societies and cycle registers, collecting information from centre to centre, and in some cases by individual assessment of the situation. For these reasons, the results should be interpreted with caution.

Wider implications of the findings: This paper presents the current status of clinical embryology and clinical embryologists in Europe and is an important step towards implementation of clinical embryology as an officially recognized profession.

Study funding/competing interests: None.

Trial registration number: No.

Keywords: European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology; clinical embryologist; education; embryologist certification; embryology laboratory.

MeSH terms

  • Europe
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physicians*
  • Pregnancy
  • Pregnancy Rate
  • Registries
  • Reproductive Medicine / education*
  • Reproductive Techniques, Assisted*
  • Societies, Medical*