Growing Opportunities in Reproductive Medicine The Buzz


Every day, couples throughout North America seek the assistance of reproductive specialists. They want to have children but are having difficulty. Factors such as age and various physical conditions can get in the way.

Increasing interest and confidence in reproductive medicine should lead to more jobs.

"The success rate in reproductive biology is now quite high," says Saul Wischnitzer. He's the author of Health-Care Careers for the 21st Century. "It's established. It's not an experimental issue anymore. People go to qualified physicians for assistance with a great degree of confidence."

There are about 400 fertility clinics in the United States, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Janice Copeland is the head nurse at a fertility clinic. She says the number of clinics has stayed quite steady the past few years. But there has been some expansion. "What I've seen in the last few years is more solo physicians starting up small-scale clinics, and they tap into lab services from a larger center."

Copeland's clinic employs about 35 people. That includes nurses, lab technicians, a reproductive endocrinologist, a lab director, gynecologists and administrative staff.

Physicians at fertility clinics have a specialty in obstetrics and gynecology. Many have a subspecialty in reproductive biology or reproductive endocrinology (the study of glands and hormones).

"There's concern that there's not enough physicians overall, and there's certainly concern that there aren't enough in this field too," says Dianne Thurber. She works with an association of medical colleges.

Laboratory technicians might have just a two-year diploma from a vocational college. More typically, says Copeland, lab techs have a bachelor's degree in biology, though there's no hard and fast rule.

"It's hard to be specific," Copeland says, "because people from the lab may come from a variety of backgrounds. For example, some may have a veterinary background, because there is a bit of a tie to veterinary medicine -- artificial insemination and all that stuff."

Lab directors conduct research. They usually have a PhD in reproductive science. They might have several research assistants with master's degrees.

About 6.1 million Americans are affected by infertility, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. That's about 10 percent of the reproductive age population. About 85 to 90 percent of infertility cases are treated with medication or surgery.

The society says in vitro fertilization and similar treatments represent less than five percent of infertility services.

Jody Wanveer is a medical assistant with an Arizona clinic. She says the fact more people are waiting to have children is increasing demand for reproductive services.

"People in their late 30s and early 40s trying to start a family, those people need assistance," Wanveer says. "Most of them are going to run into some sort of infertility problem."

"As far as reproductive technology, it is an up and coming area," says Andree Poirier, who works with an organization of obstetricians and gynecologists. "It is becoming a hot topic. A lot more couples will be seeking those kinds of services as it becomes more and more developed."

"I don't see explosive growth in the field, but I think it will continue to grow at a steady pace," says Eleanor Nicoll. She works with the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. She says there will continue to be demand for physicians such as reproductive surgeons and reproductive endocrinologists.

"There are also opportunities for people who want to work as medical technicians," says Nicoll.

"You could go to a vocational training program right after high school and become a medical technician. Among the many places that med techs can work, there are doctors' offices and clinics where they specialize. And nurses will continue to be very much in demand."

Nicoll says med techs can earn as little as $20,000. At the other extreme, she's heard of doctors making $2.5 million per year. "It depends on a lot of things -- education, geographical area, how hard you work, how hard you promote yourself."

Wanveer says lab techs can earn $40,000 to $50,000. Nurses can earn $75,000 to $80,000. Physicians earn much more.

Copeland expects steady demand for new people in this field as more people become aware of reproductive services. "There seem to be more people accessing it," she says. "More couples are becoming aware of what can be offered to them."

Wischnitzer is hesitant to say there will be lots of new jobs. "There's certainly greater interest, no question about it," he says. "But in terms of careers on a lower level, other than MDs, it's not going to be voluminous."

But for those who enter the field, there are unique rewards. Few careers provide the satisfaction that reproductive medicine can.

"It's a lot of fun to actually be involved in helping someone have a family," says Wanveer.

"And whether they achieve that through us or by other means, you tend to get pretty close to your patients. So even if for some reason they end up adopting or whatever, the bottom line is always that they got to have a family, and that's always the best part.

"Also, it's always changing and growing, and that makes it interesting. There's always something new."

Links

American Society for Reproductive Medicine
Find out about the latest research

Infertility Resources
A huge resource with articles, links to fertility clinics and much more

Journal of Reproductive Medicine
Articles, industry events and job ads