15 years ago Barbados Fertility Centre was just an idea, today the JCI accredited facility (this distinction puts BFC in the same category as the Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins Hospital for best in class care) has allowed thousands of couples from across the Caribbean and the world to call themselves parents. We caught up with the Centre’s founders, Dr. Juliet Skinner (JS) and Anna Hosford (AH) at Seaston House to ask them about birthing an idea that had not been done before in Barbados, the unique concept of creating a stress free environment to increase success rates, and their plans for the future.
Question: What big picture thinking influenced your decision to start an IVF Centre in Barbados?
JS: Prior to 2002 there was no specialized facility in Barbados for helping patients with infertility. Based on the population size of only 250,000 a full time, a fully equipped IVF centre was not possible due to the start up costs so Barbadians had to go overseas for IVF care and the cost was prohibitive. Those who could not afford it had to put their dreams of starting a family on hold. Around this time, a worldwide awareness of the impact of stress on fertility was increasing. We knew that reduced stress could have a positive impact on IVF outcome and that if we offered a low stress IVF option to couples it would actually improve their chances being successful. Combining the local and Caribbean needs of a fertility unit and the vision of creating an IVF tourism destination was an early driver for why we started BFC.
Question: Were people immediately accepting of what you were trying to do?
AH: Word spread quickly and more and more couples came through our doors. Our vision was always clear to us. We wanted to create babies and help couples. We knew we could provide a world class IVF centre where we focused on individualized care. Taking time with each couple and client meant that we were providing care that they couldn’t receive elsewhere and on a beautiful Caribbean island; it would give our patients their very best chances of success from IVF treatment. That vision has grown, and each day we see patients full of hope and gratitude reach out to us.
Question: Does the current reality match your original expectations?
AH: Yes. From the start we had the right ethos and the right medical care and we knew that the island would attract people because of its beauty. Once you combine top quality medical care with the relaxation aspect, we felt confident of the vision. Barbados Fertility Centre has become a world-recognized centre, with excellent success rates. Over 85% of our patients do not live in Barbados but chose to travel to BFC for their IVF treatment. It is known worldwide for being a medical tourism destination and the range of countries from which people travel to us has been incredible and grows daily. We have so many babies born from treatment at BFC – on every Caribbean island, the USA, Canada, Ireland, UK, other European countries, even as far afield as Australia and China!
Question: Of all the islands, why Barbados?
JS: I was born in Barbados, and after completing my undergraduate and postgraduate training in Ireland, I returned as a specialist in Obstetrics and Gynecology. Soon enough I recognised the limited treatment options for couples with infertility and when the opportunity arose to start a fertility centre I became immediately involved and was a key part of making BFC a reality.
AH: I met Juliet during the startup phase of BFC and immediately recognised a shared ethos for high professional standards and meeting goals. I had set up and managed previous IVF clinics in the USA and Ireland, before coming on board. I felt Barbados was an obvious choice for a fertility centre. It has a very established tourism product – with excellent accessibility with daily flights from USA, Canada and London. It has a well-developed infrastructure with wonderful hotels, guesthouses, apartments and plethora of restaurants and attractions
Question: Growing a committed team is often one of the most challenging parts of a business model and yet BFC has done well in this aspect too. Where does the magic come from?
AH: Team spirit is so important in success. We believe a key part in choosing a team, is the shared philosophy that every member must wish to do their very best for a patient. We consider ourselves the DREAM TEAM as we help people’s dreams come true every day and every one of our wonderful staff members believes in this dream along with us.
Question: In your 15-year practice of serving people from all over the world but particularly the Caribbean, what is the one thing you wish women would know about their fertility?
JS: Don’t delay! The impact of age on outcome and being aware that for some women this can be an issue even if they are young. The hardest part is when help is only sought when it too late or when options may be limited to egg donation.
Question: We live in the age of Google and peer sharing, doesn’t that help in warning couples and in particular women about the danger in waiting.
AH: Even in the current times where there is ready availability of information via the internet, the true risk and potential gravity of advancing maternal age is so often unrecognised, or if recognised not taken on board.
Question: Let’s focus for a bit on the accomplishments you are most proud of?
AH: We are really proud of our growth. Opening a facility in Trinidad and Tobago was significant for us because it meant we were able to serve more couples in countries where there was need. There are so many proud moments – from the very first birth to the most recent one. Standing in the hospital room when our very 1st baby was born is a moment never to be forgotten but as the baby photos get sent to us every day of our expanding family worldwide, it fills us with nothing but pride. We know for couples taking the step of seeking treatment is a brave one and being able to help them is very satisfying for us all.
JS: In 2005 we moved into our new facility and expanded our frontiers to more countries. We got our JCI accreditation in 2007; this was a first for the Caribbean and meant we ranked alongside Mayo Clinic and John Hopkins in terms of global recognition for best in class care. We’re proud to have provided the latest scientific advances to our patients – from breakthroughs like vitrification, egg freezing, to the latest PGS genetic testing, to better diagnostics and minimally invasive treatment options such as hysteroscopy, or better sperm retrieval techniques such as Micro-TESE.
Question: Your achievement list is long, is there more to do?
AH: Definitely. Our main goal is always babies, babies and more babies! We are going to continue to make dreams become a reality for our patients. We know they trust us to provide our very best to them and we never for a moment take this for granted. We will continue to offer the latest scientific breakthroughs while maintaining that individual patient focus.
Question: What does being 15 mean to you?
JS: This is a very proud milestone. We look back over the years at all the wonderful moments and children we have created and we know that we have so much more to give. We have only just begun.