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Guest Post: Meet Our Embryologist

This guest blog was written by Shan Wilkinson, the embryologist at Tennessee Reproductive Medicine.


I was picking on Dr. Murray the other day about how long it has been since his last blog post. He assured me he has done research about his next topic, but he’s still trying to wrap it all up in a nice little blog-package. He then suggested I write my own post to which I laughed, but then I thought I might have a few things to say.

While trying to figure out how to format what I wanted to say, I thought about the weekly Monday Morning Quarterback article by Sports Illustrated writer Peter King. I am a football fan, especially the NFL and specifically the New Orleans Saints (you might remember, they won the Super Bowl) and I like the way King finishes his article with his “Ten Things I Think I Think” section. So, here we go:

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think handling 10,000+ cow embryos prepared me for culturing human embryos.

It allowed me to learn quickly and to evaluate morphology to help choose the best embryo(s) for transfer.

2. I think handling 10,000+ cow embryos did not prepare me for the emotional investment of “human IVF”.

While I’ve been blessed to work in labs with above average pregnancy rates and while I celebrate each positive pregnancy, I think the negatives are difficult to overcome – you should see all my gray hairs! On my way to work one day I heard a verse on our local Christian radio station (J103) that sums up what we do. It is Romans 12:15 “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.” There are many tears shed here for our patients, some of joy and some of sorrow.
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3. I think I work for really good doctors.

They are both smart and compassionate and hold each other to the highest standards. Our patients have different reasons for choosing the doctor they want to see (male/female, etc.) and some just want the first available appointment, but I believe all patients are in the hands of personable physicians with high morals.

4. I think it’s very difficult for me to make the leap from the ball of 8 to 150 cells in the dish to the baby that a patient brings in to visit after delivery.

And if the embryo had been frozen it’s even harder for me to wrap my head around. I am blessed to do what I love to do in a place where I am appreciated. I hope to do it for a long time and I hope I will always make the right decisions to improve the laboratory to help our patients achieve their goals and realize their dreams.

5. I think TRM is a great place to work.

I’ve worked in both small and large clinics before and morale can be a problem in any size practice. We have a great group of employees who honestly care for one another without any gossip or jealousy. As all of our job duties become more involved and our work schedules grow, we have to look to each other for support and encouragement.

a. Our office manager works many hours to ensure things are running smoothly and always is available to employees.

b. Our nurses see our patients more than they see their families and they always have a kind word and are ready to explain what this shot is for or what those initials mean. We use a LOT of initials around here!

c. Our front desk/billing ladies are some of the best at what they do. They give patients a face behind the voice on their initial visit and their behind the scenes work helps the office run more efficiently.

d. Our surgery scheduler is brave! After working for many years with the “elder” Dr. Murray, she now works a couple of days with his son, our Dr. Ringland Murray and his partner Dr. Jessica Scotchie. And despite the fact she spends most of her time talking to insurance companies (I think most people would rather have a root canal), she’s always smiling.

6. I think most people I meet have never heard of an embryologist.

When asked what I do I say I’m an embryologist. When they say “A what?!” or ask what that is I explain that I put eggs and sperm together in a dish and grow embryos which the doctors transfer and which hopefully become babies. Most people are fascinated and some think it’s a little weird, but almost everyone knows someone who has needed help getting pregnant.

7. I think I cannot tell the difference between X and Y sperm.

While I have been accused of choosing more Y sperm than X, there are no differences at the morphological level. If I could select X or Y sperm, we’d probably have a lot more patients and I’d probably make a lot more money.

8. I think almost every male partner is nervous and/or embarrassed by what they are asked to do.

It’s normal to be nervous, especially when Dr. Murray is the only other male in our office, but it really is commonplace to us. Humor helps.

9. I think infertility sucks.

I have friends and family members who have been affected by infertility and it is heart wrenching. And while some of them can get pregnant with the help of IVF (60 to 70 percent of women less than 35), it’s a fact that not everyone will get pregnant, including my friends and family members.

10. I think these are my non-embryology thoughts of the blog:

a. My husband is a saint for following me around the country for the last 15 years. I hope the next 15 years (and the 15 after that) we stay a little more rooted.

b. I love living in Chattanooga. We were walking downtown the other day after enjoying some popcorn and ice cream at a Lookouts game and I just really had a sense of feeling at home.

c. I could eat ice cream every day if I had less willpower and more money. I crave ice cream at least once a day.

d. I love my church. In a city with so many transplants, it’s nice to establish a church home where there are people you can count on to do life with you.

e. I’m so glad Chattanooga finally got a Red Robin! We used to go to one after our trips to Hershey Park when we lived in Pennsylvania.

f. Coffeenerdness: I don’t drink coffee. Although the Mocha Frappe’ at McDonald’s is really good, I don’t think it really counts as coffee more like dessert. I do, however, love a good hot chocolate. If I’m at home I’ll heat up milk on the stove and add either Christopher Elbow’s Cocoa Noir or Valor Chocolate a la taza. If I’m at work, I make due to with hot water, Swiss Miss Dark Chocolate Sensation, and a couple of squares of Dove Dark chocolate melted in the cup.

g. I’m from Slidell, Louisiana, and yes, my parents’ house did flood during Hurricane Katrina. I know a lot of people are tired of hearing about the storm and now that the 5 year anniversary is approaching they’re going to hear more about it. However, if you or anyone you know was affected by it, you know that time along the Gulf Coast has been divided between before Katrina and after Katrina.

h. I spend a lot of time searching for the perfect dark chocolate truffle. One of my favorites is the Velvet Sin from Chocolate Fetish in Asheville, NC. Well, now Chattanooga is home to a very good chocolatier named Wendy Buckner, owner of The Hot Chocolatier. Her Oatmeal Stout truffle (made with Oatmeal Stout from the Terminal in downtown Chattanooga) rivals the Velvet Sin. She is awesome, her shop is great, and wait until you see her chocolate sculptures!