Q&A with Embryologist Kevin Nguyen

A clinical embryologist plays a crucial role in ensuring that your patients’ experience the most successful results possible when undergoing IVF.  During an IVF cycle, the embryologist analyzes a patient’s fertility; retrieves, tests and cryopreserves the eggs and sperm; places the sperm and oocyte together, and keeps a close eye on the status of the embryos while they incubate.  The overall outcome of an IVF cycle is greatly impacted by the skill and experience of the embryologist.

Embryologists are also highly involved in the important steps in both embryo preparations before implantation and proper handling of oocytes, sperm and embryos for cryopreservation.  This is extremely important when it comes to the preservation of “extra” embryos that will then be available to a patient for a future FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer) cycle.  The success of a fertility practice heavily relies on the work of the embryologist and we had an opportunity to sit down with Kevin Nguyen, the lead embryologist at Brown Fertility, to discuss his role within the organization.

Q: Why did you decide to become an embryologist?

A:  I believe individuals, myself included, go into healthcare to make a difference in people’s lives. I get to do this each day at Brown Fertility.  There is nothing more rewarding than having the opportunity to provide families who have lost hope with a healthy child and complete family.

Q: What kind of education do you need in order to become one?

A:  Education required to practice as an embryologist includes a master’s degree from an accredited andrology and embryology program.  In addition to education, a couple of years of additional training with hands on experience is necessary to gain the knowledge to practice independently.   I pursued my education at the University of Central Florida then worked for three years as a Medical Technologist to gain the necessary experience before I was able to practice on my own as an embryologist.

Q: Can you tell us exactly what an embryologist does and why this role is extremely important to a fertility clinic?

A:  There are four main procedures that embryologist perform: egg retrieval, ICSI, vitrification, and embryo transfer.  In addition to the hands-on clinical work, there is a large quality and compliance aspect to my role.  I have to ensure our lab meets quality metrics including temperature, air quality, gas room’s climate control, pH of the media used during fertilization and gas tank levels.  I truly believe the success of an infertility clinic is dependent upon the quality standards in the lab and the success of the embryologist.

Q: Please explain what the ICSI process and why it is important?

A:  Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection, also known as ICSI, involves the injection of a single sperm directly into a mature egg for fertilization.  The embryo is then placed into the uterus and evaluated for successful implantation or pregnancy.  ICSI is particularly beneficial for couples facing male-factor infertility.  As the embryologist, I’m able to choose the best-looking sperm based on morphology and motility to inject into the egg that have the best chance for successful and healthy fertilization.

Q: What is vitrification and why would it need to be done?

A:  Vitrification is the practice of freezing an egg or embryo with extremely rapid cooling.  Eggs and embryos maintain the age they were when they were frozen thus posing as a great option for women or families who choose to wait to have children later in life.  We have also seen cancer patients benefit from vitrification as they are able to preserve their fertility prior to undergoing treatment.

Q: What is a day in the life like during retrieval and transfer weeks?

A:  During retrieval week, I work with our providers and operating room staff to transport oocytes after they are extracted from the patient directly into the lab.  I am able to examine the eggs and determine how many are viable for fertilization.  A sperm specimen is placed in a dish containing the eggs with a special growth media which allows them to live outside of the body.  Once the egg is fertilized by the sperm, it becomes an embryo which grows and divides in the lab for two to five days.  During transfer week, the embryos are assessed for quality and the most viable are selected for transfer to the uterus.

Q: What is the hardest part of your job?  What is the best part?

A:  The hardest part of my job is that the viability of our practice relies heavily on the success of our lab and my role as the embryologist.  While there is a lot of pressure on my part, Brown Fertility is committed to Conceiving Miracles and has some of the highest success rates across the country.  The best part of my job is witnessing success stories and being able to help individuals and couples have a family.

Q: What new advances do you see in the future?

A:  I think the next great advancement in embryology will be gene editing which is where DNA is inserted, deleted, modified or replaced in the genome of a living organism.  We will continue to follow advancements in our field to best serve our patients.