With deep roots in the St. Louis community, our team of experts at STL Fertility, Dr. Molina Dayal, Dr. Maureen Schulte, and nurse practitioner Melanie Miranda, provide the high touch and hands-on experience that fertility patients expect, supported by an unparalleled embryology team in the IVF laboratory.
Did you ever wonder who’s working behind the door that says IVF Lab in your fertility center? Ever get to meet some of the unsung heroes in reproductive medicine? At STL Fertility, our world-class IVF lab and embryology team is led by one of the best in the field, Jennifer Hart, M.S., T.S. (ABB).
We had the opportunity to get into the lab for a quick question and answer session with Jennifer Hart about what makes STL Fertility different, how the lab environment has helped make IVF more successful, and where to get the best Italian food in St. Louis.
Q. How did you get into reproductive medicine?
So, right out of college after graduating with a degree in animal science, I got a job in an andrology lab at an IVF center outside of Chicago. I originally began my degree program with the intent of becoming a veterinarian. While studying in college, I discovered my love for reproductive medicine.
Human reproduction has always fascinated me, especially how the brain, hormones, and ovaries work together – or not. The hypothalamic feedback loop is a very complex system. These studies pushed me to seek a career in the field of reproduction. I sent out letters (yes, snail mail) to a few fertility centers after applying for an ad for a position at the Mayo Clinic Fertility Center. I eventually landed the position in the andrology lab which launched my career in this field. It is so very rewarding to help my patients’ become parents.
Q. How long have you been working as an embryologist in St. Louis?
Wow, it’s coming up on 20-years that I’ve been part of the reproductive community here in St. Louis. In 2002, I left Chicago and joined the Sher Institute here in St. Louis which is now STL Fertility. After working for a year in the andrology lab in Chicago, I searched for a job that would broaden my exposure to the field. I was really interested in training in the embryology lab. I interviewed for the open position at SIRM – St. Louis and they offered me the position. The rest is history! I’ve loved living in St. Louis ever since. I met my husband and raised my family here, this is home.
Q. How important have advancements in the IVF lab been to success rates?
Very important. I’m a little biased but many of the major advancements and influence on IVF success rates have come from within the IVF lab. A lot is different from when I started in 2002. Continuous culture media, time-lapse imaging, genetic testing, and blastocyst biopsy have had a huge impact on success rates and safety too.
When it comes to genetic testing, for example, PGT-A has been an important advancement. When I started, we had a process called fluorescence in situ hybridization or FISH which was totally different. Twenty years later we now have next-generation sequencing that is used for PGT-A testing which offers a comprehensive and highly accurate look at which embryos are more likely to become a healthy pregnancy and delivery.
Q. What’s next in the IVF lab?
Non-invasive genetic testing. Less is more when it comes to embryonic testing. While current embryo biopsies have been demonstrated to be safe, if can we get the same accuracy of information without even touching the embryo, that would be preferred.
Q. Do you get a lot of questions from patients?
I don’t get to talk with patients too often, but I love it when I do. Sometimes I’ll step in when questions are about embryo quality or beyond the scope of the nurses understanding. Most patients have some very good questions and do their homework. It’s hard sometimes managing questions and expectations since not all eggs fertilize at the same time or embryos develop on the same timeline.
Our nurses are knocking on our door often trying to get status for their afternoon callbacks and it’s hard. We individualize care at STL Fertility even in the lab. Some eggs or embryos might need an extra hour or five to get to the next stage. We’re watching every minute. We owe this to our patients. But I understand how hard it is for the patient on the other end of the phone on pins and needles for their updates.
Q. What would you say to a friend unhappy with their current fertility care experience?
Get a second opinion. Fertility care is not the same wherever you go. It’s not cookie-cutter. Be your own advocate.
Our data supports that 90% who get a second opinion at STL Fertility stay here based on the hands-on approach and personalized care by the physicians here at STL Fertility. We’re running a patient experience survey right now and 92% graded their patient experience as excellent to very good.
Q. If you weren’t an embryologist at STL Fertility what else would you be doing?
Not sure really, maybe something in animal welfare. I worked in an animal shelter in college and loved it but sometimes a little too heart-wrenching. Still, maybe something with animals or event planning. Although very unrelated to what I’m doing now, I really enjoy planning events.
Q. Any favorite books, movies, or music you’d like to share?
I have two boys and a few years back my oldest son and I started reading the same book at the same time. Norse mythology, Percy Jackson stuff. Great to read along with your kids and talk about the book. He got me into mythology fiction big time, they’re real page-turners!
As far as my favorite movie I’d have to say Good Will Hunting. And music, we’ll my first concert was Billy Joel. It was the River of Dreams Tour, maybe 1993 at the newly opened United Center in Chicago.
Q. What do you love about living in St. Louis?
Coming from Chicago, everything seems very close here in St. Louis. In Chicago, it’s a 60-minute drive to just about everything. St. Louis is America’s biggest small town! Having said that, we will go out of our way for a great meal at Acero in Maplewood. Some of the best Italian food in St. Louis!