All of our doctors here at Extend Fertility are reproductive endocrinologists. If that phrase is new to you, keep reading!
What do reproductive endocrinologists do?
Reproductive endocrinologists, or REs, are fertility/infertility specialists. They are the only doctors trained in providing fertility treatments using assisted reproductive technologies (ART) such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and egg freezing. REs are also trained in obstetrics and gynecology, and then have additional training to provide fertility treatment (more on that later). REs diagnose and comprehensively treat infertility, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), or abnormalities of the reproductive system, and perform fertility preservation procedures like egg freezing.
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REs have a thorough knowledge of the anatomy and function of the female reproductive system and endocrine (hormone) system, and knowledge of the male systems, as well. For example, in the case of a couple trying to conceive in which the male partner has a low sperm count, a reproductive endocrinologist may recommend intrauterine insemination or in vitro fertilization, which can improve chances of fertilization.
Reproductive endocrinologists are the only doctors qualified to offer egg freezing, perform egg retrievals, or treat complex cases of infertility.
What’s the difference between a reproductive endocrinologist and an OB/GYN?
Essentially, the amount and type of education. OB/GYNs go through medical school, then a residency in obstetrics and gynecology. After that, to become an RE, a doctor must do three years of additional training to practice fertility medicine. This period is called a fellowship in reproductive endocrinology and fertility, which focuses on providing fertility treatment and performing research in the field. All told, it’s about 11 years of post-graduate schooling. Additionally, while OB/GYNs take one board exam, REs take two—one for obstetrics and gynecology, and another for reproductive endocrinology and infertility.
While OB/GYNs are typically exposed to some fertility medicine as part of their residency training, their expertise can’t compare to that of an RE. And, in contrast, while all REs go through OB/GYN residency, most of them don’t regularly deliver babies and wouldn’t consider that a specialty. Women who get pregnant through assisted reproductive technology (ART) with an RE are usually discharged to their OB/GYN after their pregnancy is deemed healthy and stable.
What’s the difference between a reproductive endocrinologist and an endocrinologist?
An endocrinologist is a physician specialist that manages conditions of the endocrine glands, which regulate the production of hormones in our bodies. While there is some overlap with the RE specialty (as hormones are intimately involved in the reproduction process), endocrinologists start their training in internal medicine, not obstetrics and gynecology—so they don’t have the expertise in the female reproductive system that an RE has. Endocrinologists commonly diagnose and treat diabetes, growth disorders, hypo- and hyperthyroidism, and more.
For women with endocrine disorders, like hypothyroidism, who are trying to conceive, their RE will often work in tandem with their endocrinologist to manage their care.
When should I see a reproductive endocrinologist?
There are a few cases in which you would want to see a reproductive endocrinologist. First, there’s the case of fertility preservation, like egg or embryo freezing. Women or couples may want to undergo fertility preservation to give themselves a better chance of conceiving later, or because they are about to undergo a procedure, like cancer treatment, that could impact their fertility. While this may or may not be done in the context of an infertility diagnosis, it’s still a fertility procedure that requires a reproductive endocrinologist.
Secondly, you would want to see an RE if you’ve been trying to get or stay pregnant for a year (or for six months, if you’re over 35). This is the medical definition of infertility. Being diagnosed as infertile doesn’t mean you can’t get pregnant ever—it just means something is preventing your body from getting pregnant on its own, which is where a reproductive endocrinologist can help. (We offer comprehensive infertility treatment at our sister practice Expect Fertility.)