Clinical embryology is a relatively young branch of reproductive science that has undergone enormous expansion over the last twenty years.
Louise Brown, the world’s first ‘test tube’ baby, was born in 1978 as a result of pioneering work carried out by a British research team led by Patrick Steptoe (a clinician) and Robert Edwards (a scientist). Since then, infertility treatment has undergone phenomenal development and become a highly specialised field involving a multitude of interventions known collectively as assisted reproductive technology (ART). It is estimated that one in seven couples will experience infertility. Worldwide, approximately one million ART treatments are now performed each year and over five million ART babies have been born thus far.
In order to sustain this pattern of growth, and provide patients with the best levels of care, it is imperative that we continue to provide sufficient numbers of appropriately-trained personnel, who can be deployed all over the world. For example, we need specialist physicians to make accurate diagnoses and design treatment plans. We need clinical embryologists to carry out complex procedures in the laboratory in line with strict quality assurance indicators. Finally, we need to motivate and inspire the next generation of scientists to carry out laboratory research so that we can optimise, refine or replace our techniques and equipment.
In response to these concerns, we developed an intensive, one-year, residential, taught MSc in Clinical Embryology. Our intention is to inspire, motivate and train a network of future leaders in ART across the world. In September 2016, we celebrated a major milestone in the graduation of our 100th student.
The Oxford MSc in Clinical Embryology
Our course was established in October 2008 and is based at the Institute of Reproductive Sciences (IRS) on the outskirts of Oxford. In total, we have 108 graduates from 37 countries.
Our mission is to create a new brand of embryologist, specialist physician, or scientific researcher in the field of ART, by providing extensive theoretical and practical understanding of human reproductive biology, embryology, infertility and ART and linking this to the dynamic fields of scientific research, legislation, bioethics and quality management. Throughout the course, we strive to emphasise the importance of scientific research in the advancement of clinical embryology and we have won numerous prizes for our teaching practice. Teaching is predominately delivered by academics from the Nuffield Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (NDOG) and clinicians from Oxford Fertility, with support from visiting guest lecturers from other Oxford departments and a range of external institutions.
We place significant emphasis on the acquisition of valuable transferrable skills which our graduates can refer to and develop throughout their careers. Throughout the course, our students have the opportunity to develop a practical skills portfolio which describes each student’s experience in key laboratory techniques such as liquid handling, microscopy, micromanipulation, clinical observation, information technology and professional development workshops. The skills portfolio represents a useful document for our graduates to present to future employers.
Our curriculum prepares students for active employment or further training within the clinical embryology/ART sector or a research career in reproductive science. As the course was designed in response to identified employment needs, our graduates are highly sought after. In particular, we expect our graduates to possess sufficient knowledge and skills to allow them to make a significant contribution to the design and establishment of new ART units, which need to incorporate the latest techniques and conform strictly to current legislation.
By the end of the course, we expect our graduates to be able to design and carry out investigative research programmes. Every year, exceptional graduates are encouraged to apply for prestigious scholarships in order to undertake a DPhil (Oxford equivalent of a PhD), either within the Department or the wider University. Thus far, 11 of our graduates have registered for DPhil degrees with the department and of these, six have attracted funding from the University’s Clarendon Scholarship Scheme. A further two graduates have registered for DPhil degrees within the Medical Sciences Division. In addition, we are very proud of the fact that many our students have gained authorship on a range of scientific publications as a direct result of their academic activities in Oxford.
Graduates' Career Paths
Our graduates come to us from a variety of medical, academic and scientific backgrounds. Many have secured a range of exciting opportunities across the world. For example, many of our graduates are now studying for higher research degrees (e.g., PhD/DPhil) and pursuing academic or research careers. Others have secured positions as embryologists or work for global fertility companies. Several of our graduates have now begun medical school, either within the UK or overseas. In many cases, our students had already qualified as physicians before they came to Oxford and used our course as a means of specialising in fertility medicine.
Graduate exit data 2008-2014, n=89