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National award for study into embryologists’ health issues

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Published on 03 March 2021

Wellbeing of embryologists working in fertility centres
Wellbeing of embryologists working in fertility centres

More than 200 UK embryologists took part in the consultation, analysed by academics at the University of Sunderland, to find out more about the occupational health issues they experience in everyday practice. 

The results showed that 60 per cent of respondents had work-related health issues, with three quarters indicating they had experienced multiple health issues. 

Most common were muscular skeletal problems, including back, neck and shoulder pain/ injury referred to as work-related upper limb disorders commonly linked to repetitive movements, manual handling, posture as well as side-effects of psychosocial stressors. 

Nearly 30 per cent of issues were related to stress and mental health concerns linked to a complex interaction of working in claustrophobic or isolated conditions with inconsistent break times, less access to daylight, workload, and sustained focused attention 

The research - a collaboration between senior embryologist Helen Priddle, Professor Catherine Hayes, a Professor of Health Professions Pedagogy and Scholarship, and Dr Sarah Pickup, an Organisational Psychologist and senior lecturer - led to a policy paper within the journal Human Fertility. 

After the findings were presented at Fertility 2021 – the largest UK educational forum focusing on fertility and reproductive medicine, the researchers picked up the best ARCS (Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists) Post-Registrant oral short paper. 

Dr Pickup said: “It’s always wonderful when any applied research undertaken with business is recognised and we are delighted to pick up this award. We value the opportunity to work with a wide range of industries and professions in an effort to make a difference to the wellbeing agenda.  

“Embryologists face similar workplace wellbeing stressors to many other industries and some unique ones. Understanding the wellbeing profile and needs is an essential step toward making long term, sustainable changes.” 

Professor Catherine Hayes added: “We were absolutely thrilled that our University was able to work on this study. To be able to contribute to the development of new policy initiatives within the field of clinical embryology and professional practice is a privilege. To win a national award in the process is not just fantastic for us as individuals but the Faculty here at Sunderland and the institutions we all represent. Hopefully this will pave the way for other exciting opportunities for collaborative research in the future.” 

Helen Priddle said: “Whilst on the executive committee of the national body for embryologists, I noticed how many of us suffered from back and neck problems. We thought it would be important to look at occupational health more broadly and do what we could to help reduce hazards in the workplace. Sarah and Catherine brought invaluable statistical analysis and academic vigour to the work.” 

The survey was issued to embryologists within the UK representing around 80 different Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) licensed treatment centres. 

Each of the findings had a series of recommendations and areas of future research. 

The prize is part-sponsored by CooperSurgical and part-sponsored by ARCS and includes an exchange visit to attend the Fertility Society of Australia conference and present for Scientists in Reproductive Technology. 

About the conference 

Fertility 2021 – the joint conference of the Association of Reproductive & Clinical Scientists, British Fertility Society and the Society for Reproduction & Fertility – is the largest UK educational forum focusing on fertility and reproductive medicine. 

In this extraordinary time, the 2021 conference was held online in a commitment to continue to provide delegates with CPD and education. Fertility 2021 Online: ‘Barriers and breakthroughs’, delivered cutting-edge content. The programme showcased a high-profile panel of national and international speakers, a wide range of concurrent sessions focusing on specialist areas in fertility and reproductive biology, interactive Q&A sessions, and the chance to view the latest work and research taking place in the field in an online poster display and short paper sessions. 

 The Association of Reproductive and Clinical Scientists (ARCS), a professional body run by Reproductive Scientists supporting the needs and research and development interests of those involved in reproductive sciences in the UK and worldwide.