Over the past month I’ve been working with the Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility team here at UF, and it has been an eye-opening experience. REI is a specialty within Obstetrics and Gynecology, and I spent four full weeks working with the faculty in their clinics and in the main hospital. I hadn’t had much exposure to REI before going on this rotation. I knew a little bit about in vitro fertilization and the different medications we give to women to increase their chances of pregnancy but did not know much about how it worked practically. I was eager to learn as much as I could about it and signed up to be part of the team as soon as I learned it was an available rotation for us. Starting from my first day, I was able to dive right into it.
I got to the clinic early and was told to change out of my formal clothes and into some scrubs, as the attending physician and REI staff were going to do an egg retrieval on a patient before clinic started. I changed and quickly met everyone in the procedure room. Everything was all set up and the doctor was using an ultrasound probe to look at the patient’s uterus and ovaries. I was amazed to see that each ovary looked to be the size of an orange! The medications the doctors had given the patient had made her produce many ovarian follicles, which each housed a single egg. So instead of preparing one egg each cycle as a woman normally does, the patient had prepared many; this gave the team the best chance of being able to fertilize each of the eggs and turn them into embryos. It was amazing to watch the attending use a needle to vacuum up the follicles into some test tubes, which were all handed to the embryologist for inspection and processing. All in all, we collected from more than 20 follicles and were optimistic about our chances.
It amazed me that, as we went on with morning clinic, seeing patients and dictating notes, those eggs we collected were changing and growing with each passing moment. In one of the clinic rooms I saw a large poster with diagrams of the different stages of growth, from embryo to fetus to newborn. And as I looked at it, I thought it was amazing time to be alive. We have the ability to see and know how a person grows, even from the point where it is nothing more than a collection of cells. Everyone who is alive today made that journey described on the poster, and seeing it made me remember just how connected we all are.
That feeling of amazement never went away as the rotation continued. From early on, I could tell that all the doctors and clinic staff had that same sense of appreciation. One of the attendings, Dr. Christman, is incredibly enthusiastic about the whole field of reproductive medicine, having been involved in it since its very beginnings. I was with him one day as he was talking to a couple about potentially starting in vitro fertilization for them. He talked about how his job never gets old and how he still finds it exciting, even after practicing for decades. He said, “Sometimes we help patients have a child and then they come back a few years later for us to help them again. They’ll bring in their 2-year-old and you look at the kid and say ‘Wow, it’s been almost three years now but I still remember walking by your storage tank when you were just a frozen embryo!’” I could tell that he never stopped appreciating just how incredible his job was.
One of the other attendings, Dr. Rhoton, also shares Dr. Christman’s enthusiasm. She told me that she couldn’t possibly imagine doing anything other than REI. “I go into work every day doing what I love,” she said. While working with her in clinic, I could see just how much she cares about her patients. She is very supportive and always encourages them to “think baby thoughts!” whenever it comes time to transfer embryos or do fertilizations.
I was also touched by how committed the REI staff was. They worked tirelessly to make sure the patients were prepared for undertaking the long and stressful journey that was an infertility treatment. Though we have many options to help our patients, sometimes it takes a long time and many cycles to achieve a pregnancy, and it can be emotionally taxing for everyone involved when things don’t work out. To this end, the clinic staff were some of the most compassionate and supportive people I have ever worked with. They made sure the patients were well-informed and had all their questions answered and anxieties addressed, and even stayed behind after clinic to help them with whatever else they needed.
Overall, I had a wonderful time in REI and learned a lot about how to take care of patients who need extra help getting pregnant. And our clinic did not just help patients with fertility issues; we treated patients with a variety of other endocrine needs as well. I have heard so many unique and memorable stories from the patients I talked to. I am very thankful for the experience and am that much more certain I am going into a field that I will thoroughly enjoy.