About Michael Opsahl, MD
“In infertility treatment, too many people are risking their life’s savings and then have nothing to show for it. The low cost of our treatment allows a lot more people to take advantage of these technologies than would otherwise be able to if they had to pay the standard rate for infertility care in the U.S. It is such a basic human desire to have children and if you can’t it’s pretty tough. For those people who want kids and cannot have them without assistance, it’s really pretty great that you can help fulfill that basic human desire.” –Michael Opsahl
Dr. Michael Opsahl’s professional career begins when he graduated from the University of South Carolina in 1974 with a degree in biology. He knew he he wanted to be a physician so he accepted a Navy scholarship to medical school.
Opsahl went on to attend the Medical University of South Carolina, graduating in 1978. During medical school, Opsahl spent one summer at the Navy Experimental Diving Unit and research facility in Panama City, Florida. He then went on to serve his internship in obstetrics and gynecology at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia.
U.S. Navy Experience
The Navy requires almost all physicians to serve as a general medical officer in the fleet before advanced residency training. Opsahl served as the Medical Officer of the USS Nassau, a brand new ship at the time which was complete with full hospital operating rooms. The Nassau was also a helicopter carrier and amphibious assault ship complete with both an air wing and Marine troops. It was here that Opsahl says he developed confidence as an independent physician and confirmed his desire to become an obstetrician and gynecologist.
Opsahl then became a resident in obstetrics and gynecology at the National Naval Medical Center (NNMC) in Bethesda, MD. Upon completing residency training, he served as an obstetrician-gynecologist at the Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan for two years Opsahl says that his time working in Okinawa, “cemented my desire to become a reproductive endocrinologist after many nights awake delivering babies!”
After returning to Washington D.C. for fellowship-training in reproductive endocrinology at Walter Reed Army Hospital (WRAMC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Opsahl finished his training in 1987 and transferred to the National Naval Medical Center as a reproductive endocrinologist.
“I think that the real passion that all of us have is for helping people build families. You like to think that your doctor is always thinking about you and wanting the best for you and I think by and large that’s true of professional medicine but I also think that people who go into infertility take a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that they’ve helped somebody create or build or enlarge their families,” Opsahl said. “It is such a basic human desire to have children and if you can’t it’s pretty tough.”
The Navy rarely had more than four reproductive endocrinologists at any time and each of them served to train Ob-Gyn residents. Dr. Opsahl spent the remainder of his naval career at the NNMC in Bethesda as director of reproductive endocrinology.
While working at NNMC, he also held an appointment as an Associate Clinical Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS). NNMC was one of the primary training hospitals for the medical students at USUHS. During these seven years of his career, Opsahl remained involved in teaching, research and academics. He retired from the Navy after 20 years service in 1994.
Genetics & IVF Institute
Opsahl then accepted a position at the Genetics & IVF Institute (GIVF) in Fairfax, VA. where he worked for ten years and eventually became the infertility medical director. “I learned how to think more critically, look for new technologies and to change in new directions without waiting for the other 95% of physicians to make the change first,” Opsahl said.
While at GIVF, Opsahl says he was exposed to a wide variety of REI technologies.
“I rotated as the director of the donor egg program. We had 100 donors available at any time and at our peak we performed 300 cycles/year. When I left, the institute had more than 1400 cycles experience,” Opsahl said. “It was at this time that I learned the value and role of embryo genetic testing because we had about 25% of the world’s PGD (preimplantation genetic diagnosis) babies from our clinic, at that time. The genetics division was outstanding – I only wished I learned more genetics from them.”
“When I arrived in 1994, GIVF was one of the first centers in the US to offer ICSI. Our staff also developed the technique of fine needle testicular aspiration of sperm. I later was able to teach these techniques to other infertility doctors.”
“I was the principal investigator for a fertility preservation technique of ovarian tissue cryopreservation, the first in the US. I interviewed and counseled more than 3000 women regarding their treatment options at the time.”
Northwest Center for Reproductive Sciences
Opsahl later founded NCRS in 2004 with three other partners, doctors Janet Kennedy MD and Gerard Letterie DO and Dr. Klaus Wiemer, PhD. Their mutual goal was to establish an IVF and infertility center with outstanding outcomes for the benefit of our patients. The team also wanted a patient-centered approach to care that used evidence based medicine wherever possible.
It was here that Opsahl also developed the understanding of the symbiotic relationship between fertility doctors and the IVF laboratory team. Opsahl said this was when he first decided to make the move to his own practice. He knew that he needed a business model in which the physician and laboratory scientist were truly equals in order to produce the best possible outcomes for the patients. Opsahl says that his relationship with Klaus Wiemer, PhD, HCLD was “critical to outstanding and implementing high quality outcomes.”
Seattle Reproductive Medicine
The NCRS partners decided to merge with Seattle Reproductive Medicine in January 2011. Opsahl says he was saddened by the loss of some aspects of NCRS, such as his collaboration with Wiemer, but was also excited about a number of new opportunities at SRM. Unfortunately, Opsahl found that his style of medical care and SRM’s style of practice were different enough that he needed to find another practice opportunity. Opsahl left clinical practice at SRM in November 2011 and set out to start Poma Fertility.
Opsahl is board certified in obstetrics and gynecology and reproductive endocrinology and infertility. He is a fellow of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a member of the Pacific Coast Reproductive Society, American Society of Reproductive Medicine, the Society for Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility, and the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology. Opsahl has authored or co-authored more than 25 scientific papers. Opsahl continues to serve as an ad-hoc reviewer for the medical journals Fertility and Sterility and Obstetrics and Gynecology.
In His Own Words:
How did you first get involved with infertility treatment?
“I liked being an OB-GYN and when I started as an OB-GYN I actually thought I wanted to be a maternal fetal medicine specialist and do high risk obstetrics. Then as I went along, one of my mentors who was my chief resident went into infertility. I started looking at it and it actually works with my personal lifestyle better. I found I didn’t like being up at all hours of the night delivering babies (laughs) even though that was fun. That really wasn’t my thing. I liked the whole idea of helping people get pregnant more than helping them through the pregnancy.”
How is being an infertility physician differently rewarding from being an OB-GYN?
“In general what I like about our specialty are several things. First, I enjoy working with women and providing healthcare for them. They’re good patients and always seem to take your medical advice well and follow through. I like reproduction in general; the whole idea of sperm and eggs and embryos. I like all that stuff. Lastly, it is a mix of skills so we don’t just sit in an office all day and talk to people and do exams and write prescriptions, we do that but we also do procedures like surgery, or egg retrieval or ultrasound. There’s a nice variety of skills involved in our specialty compared to some others.”
Why should a patient choose Poma Fertility instead of another practice?
“I think because we provide extremely high quality outcomes. Our business is to help people have babies and make a family. Even though that isn’t the only thing that’s important, it is important to us that if people are going to come see us that were going to deliver on our product and actually give them that baby that they want. That’s key and we do that really well. I think that in providing that healthcare, we do it as a team, so I work extremely closely with our embryology staff and our nursing staff to put together the best treatment options for a patient. I gather the information from my colleagues so we can offer the brain power of a lot of people. That’s particularly true of treatments like IVF; we really work hard as a team to deliver those high quality outcomes. We also offer I think the greatest value in the Pacific Northwest because of our pricing. In infertility treatment, too many people are risking their life’s savings and then have nothing to show for it. The low cost of our treatment allows a lot more people to take advantage of these technologies than would otherwise be able to if they had to pay the standard rate for infertility care in the US. And since insurance doesn’t cover treatment for a lot of people, the priced you charge is often higher filter of who can take advantage of treatment. I think we have great outcomes and great pricing so it’s a great value. The other thing is our refund warranty allows patients to undergo this treatment and if they don’t end up with a baby they’re going to have a large refund so they can take that money and use it for adoption or other options.”
If you could change one thing about what you do about what you do what would it be?
“I suppose the thing that I like least about infertility is that it has become a lot more of a business that a lot of other aspects of medicine. For example, infertility is a competitive business so there’s a lot more of a concern with marketing versus sort of traditional physicians. You don’t think of your doctor sitting around and wondering about certain business options. I am just trying to focus on providing the best services available and not getting trapped into the business and marketing aspect of this.”
What do you wish other people knew about you or what you do?
“I think that the real passion that all of us have is for helping people build families. You like to think that your doctor is always thinking about you and wanting the best for you and I think by and large that’s true of professional medicine but I also think that people who go into infertility take a lot of satisfaction out of knowing that they’ve helped somebody create or build or enlarge their families. It is such a basic human desire to have children and if you can’t its pretty tough. For those people who want kids and cannot have them without assistance, it’s really pretty great that you can help fulfill that basic human desire.”
Tell me about one of your most rewarding moments as a fertility doctor?
“One that I can think of right off the bat is a couple where the guy had really so few sperm that he actually didn’t have enough sperm for the eggs which his wife produced which is pretty remarkable since the normal ejaculate has 50 million sperm. We found 14 sperm and they had 19 eggs and they ended up with twins! That was a very rewarding outcome. We also had a lesbian couple who had been treated at other facilities and they said the first thing they noticed when they came to us was that they were treated like any other patients. They said they felt like they were treated sort of differently elsewhere and not as people first. That was very rewarding. I also participated in a program for INCIID (International Council on Infertility Information Dissemination) which is a program which was started by a former patient of mine. They have a scholarship program to help couples who can’t afford infertility treatments. One couple was a situation where the man had become a paraplegic from a rodeo accident and IVF was too expensive for them so we helped them have a baby. Another was a case where a woman had gone through cancer treatment and she used her sister for an egg donor which they never would have been able to afford if they had had to pay for it. I have also helped couples that have wanted to choose the gender of their child. Some people don’t think they should be able to change the sex of their baby but gender selection is incredibly important to others. Some people always wished for that little boy or that little girl they have been dreaming of. It can be a fate of nature of random chance that they don’t get that, so I try to help those people have the son or daughter they always wanted.”
What is your personal philosophy on patient care?
“The main thing I like to do is to make sure that people understand what their problem is, and what their options are in a really complete way; the good, the bad, and the ugly. Nobody likes to give out bad news, but sometimes in medicine we have to. I think it’s important that people know everything about their condition so they can make an informed decision. I like to be honest and realistic and I’m going to tell you the way it is and then we can deal with that and get to work. But if I don’t tell you and there’s a problem then it leads to a lot of people not being able to make a good decision and I think it leads to frustration and disappointment if things don’t work out. If it’s going to be a tough road then we need to know and we figure out what we can and can’t do and we have a realistic approach. There are a lot of doctors who only like to give out the good stuff and tell people only the good things and not tell any of the bad things. The other thing that I really try to do is to communicate that I’m not really better than anybody else and I don’t have an ego thing about it. I just try to relate to people as people. One of the things I saw somebody else do when I was an intern and I have done it for the last 35 years is I always shake everybody’s hand. I like to have that personal connection and conduct whenever I meet somebody; everyday and with every person. I think that physical connection to somebody makes the difference.”
What do you do when you’re not practicing medicine?
I’m a computer nut so I do enjoy computer projects and that leads me to liking to tinker around with my blog and creating educational Power Points to work with my patients. I tend to be kind of a workaholic so a lot of that computer stuff I spent a lot of time doing that sometimes to my family’s chagrin. With my wife I have had a lot of fun rescuing and fostering animals both dogs, primarily Airedale Terriers, and cats. My wife Megan is a volunteer with Seattle Humane Society. As we speak I have four foster kittens in the house along with our own dog and cat so that’s been a lot of fun to do that with her because she has a huge passion for it. She supports me in a lot of ways so I try to support her with her passion for animals. Another hobby I have is movies. I love all of the action movies and science fiction but I’ll watch almost anything including dramas with my wife. I also am focused on learning new things so I read all kinds of nonfiction and I also really like biographies and history. One of my favorite authors is Malcolm Gladwell. “
What might someone be surprised to know about you?
“I’m sort of a “softie” at heart. At work I’m very businesslike and very information oriented. I like evidence based medicine and using information to inform me and my patients so I think I often come across as pretty scientific in some ways, but I will also go the extra distance and do everything I can to treat as many people as I can effectively. I think our job as physicians is to try to find a way to help people wherever you can.”
What do you see in 10 or 20 years in the future for fertility treatments?
“I don’t know that we can guess what it will be like ten or twenty years from now. When I finished medical school, my profession didn’t really exist as it does today. I graduated from medical school in June 1978, in July 1978, on my birthday, the world’s first IVF baby was born. I think like all medicine, we are going to continue to evolve and find better ways to of doing things. My hope would be that we get to be so good at this that we can put in one embryo and get one baby every time and put away the problems that are caused by occasional multiple births. I think it’s going to be a challenge in fertility in the future to find ways to make one baby at a time cost effective, which I think the Poma Fertility refund guarantee program speaks directly to that from an economic perspective.”