The Inside Scoop: A Prospective GC at NSGC

It’s finally December! With the Fall 2020 application cycle in full swing and semesters are coming to an end, we are wrapping up the year strong here at M&G. It’s been a big year for genetic counseling – from reaching >5,000 Genetic Counselors in the U.S. to celebrating NSGC’s 40 years  – our profession is only getting better with age! As we reminisce on the old year and look forward to the new, grab a cup of cocoa and curl up with this new post from Rushna, where she shares the lessons she learned from NSGC. Here’s to 2020 and our profession continually elevating!

Hello, fellow GC-to-be’s! My name is Rushna Raza, and I am a prospective genetic counseling student applying this cycle for Fall 2020 admissions (ask me how that’s going). This past November, the National Society of Genetic Counselors hosted their 38th Annual Education Conference in Salt Lake City, Utah- celebrating 40 years of NSGC!

I had the amazing opportunity to attend the Prospective Students Outreach Event hosted by the Student/New Member Special Interest Group on the last day of the conference. The event featured insights from current genetic counseling (GC) students, case studies from practicing GCs, and a Q&A panel of Program Directors from across the country, all there to inform and inspire the next generation of GCs. Here are some key takeaways from my one-day immersion in all things GC!

Know Your Narrative

To open up the conversation around applications, a representative from the Association of GC Program Directors spoke a bit about what makes a strong applicant. The “classic profile”, loving to help others and learn about genetics, is a given. What makes you a great fit for genetic counseling? A well-rounded applicant is one who not only checks the boxes of pre-requisites, but one who shares their experiences in a meaningful and relevant way. You can think of the roles you’ve had in your family, school, or community. You can describe that “aha!” moment when you first discovered genetic counseling, or share the conversation with a patient that put it all in perspective. And when it comes to selecting programs, the panelists suggested reading each school’s mission statement- what is their vision for graduates? From here, you can feel out which curricula align with your personal values and professional goals, whether it be community service or industry research. For personal statements and interviews, I found the most helpful nugget of advice was to make a list of specific anecdotes highlighting moments of strength and insight: a client you helped in a tough situation or an interaction with a mentor, for example. Current students shared that, surprisingly, their interviewers asked thoroughly about their time as a barista or babysitter- think of the transferable skills! A big theme at NSGC this year was diversity and inclusion in the field. Your experiences navigating life as a first-generation student, living with an invisible disability, or being a single parent counts. Knowing yourself and your motivations well can help you in all aspects of the application process!

Network Authentically

The Prospective Students event concluded with a rotating networking session, giving us the chance to speak with GCs and students from all kinds of specialties and settings, revealing the diverse settings GCs can practice in. The activity was a great example of how valuable initiating and maintaining relationships in a relatively small field can be; you can learn something from every GC or student you encounter. One thing that initially drew me to the profession is the spirit of mentorship and generosity in GCs open to connecting with prospective students. Throughout the conference day, I even ran into GCs and prospectives I follow on Twitter (definitely fangirling). Jotting down names and notes from captivating presenters and students you chat with, then following up with them online or during breaks is one way to build your early career network. Striking up conversation with other GC hopefuls was also fun- it was a special feeling to be in a room full of future colleagues! Pro-tip: If you don’t already have an elevator pitch about why you’re interested in genetic counseling, make one up now!

Stay In the Loop

After the Outreach event, prospective students were invited to attend any afternoon Platform Presentation, educational sessions that feature a series of quick presentations in a particular area of genetic counseling. I attended the Innovations in Somatic Tumor Testing with a genetic counselor from my workplace, and it was fascinating to hear about research efforts in cancer genetics by other medical centers. Other Platform Presentations happening at the same time discussed ethics and psychosocial research, patient use of tests results, and neuromuscular/psychiatric genetics. Clearly, there is a lot going on in the field, which is great news for prospective students because the opportunities truly are endless. One way to find your own niche in the profession is by regularly sampling genetics news sources like blogs, articles, and podcasts that can both help your professional literacy and keep you acquainted with hot topics. I’ve also found following researchers, genetics companies, and patient advocates on Twitter to be helpful in getting the lay of the land. However you keep up, staying informed about current research and issues can initiate great conversations and inspire future goals!

These are just a few themes that really resonated with me during the event. I hope they inspire you to believe in yourself, get involved, and keep at it!

Have a happy holiday season!

Rushna

 

Learn more about the NSGC 2019 Annual Education Conference:

NSGC Website

#NSCG2019

DNA Today NSGC 2019 Reflection

 

 

Life as a GCA: Part 1 – Lab Genetic Counseling

Hello readers! It’s been awhile since we’ve posted, but thank you for being patient. With the 38th National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) Annual Conference wrapping up last week in Salt Lake City, attendees celebrated the 40th anniversary of NSGC – a proud accomplishment in our young profession! There were inspiring speakers, panelists, and GCs galore! Among the various engaging talks, there was discussion on how to best provide support to genetic counselors, especially in the role of support staff. With that being said, we have Moriah and Lauren, who are/were genetic counseling assistants (GCAs) that wrote a two-part guest post on their experiences and how they support genetic counselors and other staff in both the lab and clinic.

Do you have experience as a GCA or are interested in learning more about how to become one? Please let us know your questions/thoughts in the comments below. You can also join us on Twitter with our handle, @mapsandgenes!

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Hey all, this is the first in a two-part series about what it’s like to work as a genetic counseling assistant, also known as GCA. My name is Moriah, and I have worked as a laboratory GCA at GeneDx in Maryland since August of 2018. My lovely counterpart, Lauren, will also be sharing her experience as a clinical genetic counseling assistant in the next installment! While we have very different duties, we each play an important role in patient care.

Our goals are to communicate to you—potential applicants and prospective students—what it’s like to hold this position as we ready ourselves for a genetic counseling program. We will both address the main duties of our positions and the benefits that our roles have imparted to us. Both of us are reapplicants—Lauren is a matriculating student for the class of 2021, and I am a prospective student for the Class of 2022. Each of our positions has given us a unique experience which will not only strengthen our applications, but also provide us with a foundation of skills that we will utilize throughout our careers, including effective communication with patients, providers, insurance companies, and labs; patient advocacy; and patient and professional education. We hope that this will be an informative series for you and that it opens up possibilities as you embark on the journey to a genetic counseling program with us.

Main Duties

My job revolves around test utilization management with the primary responsibility of approving test orders before testing is started. The GCAs at GeneDx spend a good part of their day reviewing every single test order, to verify we have sufficient information to complete testing and that the order is clinically appropriate (we get hundreds of orders every day!). There are about 30 GCAs who are all split into different programs based on medical specialties or test methodologies— including cardiology, neurology, rare diseases, microarray tests, and exome sequencing—who screen and monitor the tests of each particular program. A typical day might look like this:

  • Review list of orders that arrived
  • Approve orders that can be started, or hold orders that are problematic
  • Communicate with providers about orders that were held, and resolve issues
  • Attend various meetings, trainings, and/or presentations
  • Work on individual rotating duties and projects

When there are errors in the way testing was ordered, we are responsible for communicating with the clinicians about the issue and working with them to resolve any problem so that appropriate testing can be started. For example: A provider who has rarely or never ordered genetic testing may order multiple tests to be run concurrently, but some of the tests are overlapping panels that evaluate the same genes and therefore are redundant.  As GCAs, we call the provider to explain the issue, ask some basic questions about conditions that they’re most suspicious for, and with the help of our lab GCs, we work to help the provider choose the most clinically relevant testing. We also may discuss with the provider the order in which testing is run. For example, we may suggest that tests be run one at a time—reflexively—rather than all at once, especially if there are existing clinical guidelines recommending this approach. If one of the early panels provides a molecular diagnosis, then later tests can be cancelled and excess testing is avoided. This is a win for the patient, because the overall cost of testing is reduced. And when the patient wins, we all win! Scenarios like this show that labs have valuable partnerships with providers—they give us their expertise on their patients, and we give them our expertise in how to best utilize our testing for the patient’s benefit.

Through my experience as a GCA I have learned that ordering testing can be very complex! Some providers may not be as familiar with varying testing methodologies or what information a particular test can or cannot provide. Even experts in the field may need guidance; every lab structures their testing options differently, and it can be challenging to figure out which tests will give them the information they need. Add in layers of complexity for appropriate familial testing, billing concerns, and lab logistics, and you can see how there are so many pieces of the puzzle when trying to achieve the right test and an accurate result for each patient. Between the lab GCs and the GCAs, we bear a large responsibility for client education in this regard, and we help them navigate the ins and outs of how to effectively use our tests so that the patient gets the absolute best care.

I have found there are a few important qualities which make someone a successful laboratory GCA at GeneDx. Firstly, having basic genetics knowledge is a huge benefit. Different GCAs have different educational/professional backgrounds and varying levels of interest in becoming GCs, but already having a foundational knowledge of genetics certainly makes learning our testing system much easier. Detection of different conditions is often test-dependent; for example, Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy  is unlike other disorders in that most pathogenic variants arise from large deletions or duplications in the DMD gene. Therefore, we initially recommend DMD deletion and duplication analysis first, with a reflex to DMD sequencing. For many other disorders, we would typically recommend starting with sequencing and then proceeding to del/dup testing. Therefore, a background in molecular genetics helps us understand the technology available in our lab and the “why” behind testing recommendations.

Secondly, attention to detail is crucial. We consider each sample that comes to us to be our own patient, so being able to gather all the details to ensure proper testing is being completed is very important to us. We don’t like having to hold up tests because of a small mistake, but fixing those issues can be vital for patient care! Can you imagine if we completed targeted carrier testing for the wrong genetic variant? A typo could lead in an incorrect result for the patient and an inappropriate follow-up.  Many of our calls to providers are to ensure that we have the all the right info before proceeding to testing as we try to minimize this risk.

Thirdly, having a communicative and team-oriented attitude will help you thrive in this position. Although each GCA has their own workload, they also have a team of other GCAs and GCs willing to support them. We are able to refer to our team when we have a problematic case, an unclear policy, or general genetics questions that relate to our tests. We all know that good coworkers can make or break a job experience, and I love my team because they are hardworking and dependable. Additionally, we can give and take constructive feedback on the quality of our work. For example, it’s important that we let each other know if we’ve made errors, because we want to avoid anything that may impact test turnaround time or patient care in the long run.

Benefits

As a reapplicant, the sheer number of things that I’ve learned while working in a diagnostic genetic testing lab in the past year makes me feel much more prepared for the next application cycle. Firstly, I’ve developed critical skills in science communication. To be an effective GCA, it is necessary to be competent in succinctly explaining test methodology, panel options, and lab logistics. As we all know, providers’ time is valuable, and they need concise and quality information from us to make decisions about how to care for their patients. This skill is valuable between teams, too. For example, GCAs from different educational backgrounds and with expertise in different departments exchange knowledge all the time about how different tests are run, what clinical information is needed about patients, and why. This skill will be helpful when communicating and educating patients, families, and other professionals in clinic, and is something to highlight when applying to genetic counseling programs.

Secondly, I work closely with our lab genetic counselors, and as a result, I am now familiar with the role of lab GCs, their scope of practice, and have gotten exposure to their genetics knowledge. We have some genetic counselors who primarily write our reports, and some who work specifically to provide customer service to providers. Many genetic counselors and others also act as experts on particular genes and conditions, and GCAs are afforded opportunities to attend various presentations and get a taste of report writing and variant classification. Needless to say, the educational value in this position is amazing. Everyone here has so much to contribute, and I am always so impressed at the scope of the knowledge that is contained in this one building—GCs are just a few of the many hands that it takes to keep this place running. To name a few, we have accessioners who process our incoming samples, review analysts who identify genetic variants from the sample data, lab directors who keep our lab operations running, and clinical directors who provide molecular and clinical expertise. Working closely with this staff provides a lot of opportunities to forge professional relationships and the possibility for mentorship. As a secondary benefit, many of my current fellow GCAs will someday be genetic counselors with their own special knowledge. Fostering good relationships now will allow us to continue to learn from and draw on each other in the future.

Lastly, I have developed a lot of “soft skills” that will be important in my future career. Besides the pure genetics-related knowledge that I have banked, having this work experience has helped me develop good leadership, multitasking, and problem-solving skills. I’ve taken initiative on various duties and projects that involve monitoring and coordinating multiple cases at once and providing proper case management. These skills are used beyond special projects, though; we all practice them as a team, whether it’s reminding each other to cover time-sensitive duties or pursuing testing solutions for cases with complex inheritance or complex family dynamics. These experiences have improved the quality of my communication skills—in science communication, yes, but also in the way that I communicate with my various co-workers. Since each employee has his or her own priorities and expertise, I need tailored communication for each person. I don’t use the same language for a lab director or an analyst who may be an expert in a particular gene or test when I’m talking to a sales representative who may not be as familiar with it. I also use different language to provide information to a patient compared to when I speak with a provider who is more familiar with genetics. Personally, this increased self-awareness of and improvement in how I communicate has showed growth; some of the feedback I’ve received from programs and other job interviews in the past has been about being able to more confidently and clearly tell them why I belong there. Where I lacked experience and examples in a prior application cycle, I now have enough experience under my belt to showcase that I have a strong knowledge base and concrete examples, that I’ve begun to learn the language of the field, and that I can be flexible and versatile.

Final Thoughts

Although I didn’t know what to initially expect from a genetic counseling assistant position, it has become much more valuable to me than I could have anticipated. As a prospective student, having exposure to different aspects of genetic counseling is highly sought after. Through GeneDx, I have gained experience in a lab, obtained knowledge and developed skill sets that are important for effective genetic counseling, and have found multiple valuable opportunities like volunteering and telegenetic shadowing. As genetic counseling programs become more competitive and as genetic counselors are voicing their need for administrative help, the number of GCA positions are continuing to increase. If you want or need to take time between college and grad school, this is an excellent position to consider.

2019 NSGC Professional Status Survey

The NSGC Professional Status Survey (PSS) is released every two years and offers an inside view of the profession, including salary ranges, benefits, work environments, faculty status and job satisfaction.

The executive summary can be found here.

Quick Summary: The future is bright!

Quick Stats:

PSS 1

PSS 2

✓Genetic Counselor was highlighted as a biology job for science lovers in a December 2018 article published by U.S. News and World Report.
✓ The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a growth rate of 29% for genetic counseling positions over the years 2016 to 2026. This exceeds the projected growth rate of 18% over the same period for all healthcare occupations.
✓ Genetic counselors work in a variety of settings, including university medical centers, private and public hospitals/medical facilities, diagnostic laboratories, health maintenance organizations, not-for-profit organizations, and government organizations and agencies.
✓ Genetic counselors can work in multiple areas of practice, including prenatal, cardiology, cancer, metabolic disease, neurology, pediatrics, infertility, pharmacogenetics, genomic medicine, and others.
✓ Increasing demands for genetic expertise in varied fields provides genetic counselors new ways of using their training in genetic counseling. These include working in administration, research, public and professional education, educational content development and editing, public health, laboratory support, public policy, and consulting.
✓ The average salary for a full-time genetic counselor is $91,318 USD3 but can reach up to $247,000 USD depending on specialty area and experience.
✓ Ninety-eight percent of genetic counselors have a Master’s degree in human genetics or genetic counseling.
✓ Nine out of ten genetic counselors report they are satisfied with their current job.
✓ The National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC), founded in 1979, promotes the professional interests of genetic counselors and provides a network for professional communications. As of 2019, NSGC has over 4,000 members.
✓ The American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) is a not-for-profit organization incorporated in 1993 for the purpose of certifying and recertifying genetic counselors. As of the date of this survey, ABGC has nearly 5,000 certified genetic counselors, an increase of 68% over the number of certified genetic counselors in 2009.
✓ The Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC) accredits genetic counseling training programs. As of May 2019, there are 45 accredited training programs in the U.S. and Canada.

GeneDx Prospective GC Visitors’ Day

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Interested in pursuing a career in genetic counseling?

Please join us at our GeneDx Prospective GC Visitors’ Day, an event dedicated to providing you with inside information about the field of genetic counseling. Learn about the many roles of genetic counselors at GeneDx, engage in lively discussions about navigating the admissions process and selecting a genetic counseling program, discover ways to become a more well-rounded GC graduate school applicant, and hear about the varied career options in the field.

 

Date:

Friday April 12, 2019

Time:

9-3pm

Location: *See remote option below*

GeneDx 207 Perry Parkway

Gaithersburg, MD 20877

 

RSVP: Amy Dameron, MS, LCGC (adameron@genedx.com) by March 29, 2019

 

If you are not in the Maryland area please join us remotely by video conference! For further information please contact adameron@genedx.com to RSVP and request a login to join us online.

 

Florida -Prospective Genetic Counselors Day

Pleased to provide information about our upcoming Prospective GC Day in Orlando on May 18th! I’ll be speaking, so you’ll get to meet me (Jade).

Here’s the registration link: https://goo.gl/forms/dRKRmckQvcOmjsDh2

Prospective Genetic Counselors Day Flier

FLAGC Day

How to know if genetic counseling is right for you…

Hi Everyone,

We recently did a morale event among my department’s GCs. We asked each other how/why we decided to enter this career. I thought the answers might be helpful for others wondering whether he/she also wants to be a GC.

You’ll notice a few of us say something along the lines of wanting to be a scientist, but one who doesn’t touch people or sit in a lab all day.  🙂

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  • “Initially I was on the pre-veterinary medicine track at my undergrad when I decided that wasn’t what I wanted to do with my life. I knew I wanted to do something in genetics since those classes and labs were my favorite. However, I hated sitting at a bench doing experiments and trying to come up with hypotheses! I really wanted to incorporate some level of education into my career so my advisor suggested genetic counseling. I did a google search and voila!”
  • “I got into genetic counseling because I enjoyed genetics and psychology and didn’t want to do anything involving infectious disease!”
  • “I always thought I’d be a therapist, or a doctor. When I heard about genetic counseling essentially being a combination of both (in a high school textbook), I knew this was for me. I feel very fortunate that I heard about it so early and could prepare myself through college to get to grad school!”
  • “I got into genetic counseling because I wanted a career with both medical and scientific components (sounds like the canned interview response, but it’s true!) and something that would be constantly evolving. I also wanted to know that I’d be working in a field with good work-life balance so that I could actually see my family!”
  • “I was a psych major in college and knew I’d end up going to grad school, but did not want to be a psychologist.  I took a few career assessments online and genetic counseling kept coming up at the top of list – I had no clue what it even was, so I researched it and it was exactly what I didn’t know I was looking for… I applied for a local internship and the rest is history.”
  • “I got into genetic counseling because I wanted to be a scientist, but wasn’t keen on touching people. I also like the work-life balance part of the career.”
  • “I was as senior Bio major in college and stumbled across a poster about Genetic Counseling outside my professor’s office. I knew I didn’t want to “look under a microscope” as a career, so genetic counseling seemed like a good combination of people contact and science. It was November, so I had 2 months to decide if I wanted to be a GC, and get my applications in by the January deadline! The rest is history.”
  • “I was initially interested in becoming a physician and had planned on doing so up until my sophomore year of college. I really enjoyed the genetics course I took, but after doing some research I realized I did not want to be a geneticist. I decided that I still wanted to work in the field of genetics, so I researched other professions within this field and came to genetic counseling. Although fewer GCs were in roles outside of clinic, I knew the degree would give me a variety of job options should I decide that I didn’t want to stay in clinic.”
  • “I always loved science and genetics in school, but didn’t learn about the profession of genetic counseling until my junior year of college. After spending time working in both research and pharmaceutical labs during college, I realized I wanted more interaction with people. I shadowed some local genetic counselors and decided being a genetic counselor would be the perfect combination of science and interpersonal interaction.”

GC GRAD SCHOOL APPLICATION ADVICE ((BY BRYNNA))

As we say goodbye to summer days spent at the beach, fall is right around the corner. Meaning, the next round of applications for the 2019 genetic counseling cycle!

To help prospective genetic students prepare, I recorded an episode with my good friend, Kira Dineen, on her genetics podcast, DNA Today. Along with two other amazing GC applicants, Brianna and Katie, we discussed our own experiences with the application process along with the brand new Match system. (A post on the Match system is in the works!)

Kira and I were also able to compile advice from over 50 accepted genetic counseling students! The results from the survey can be found on My Gene Counsel and on DNA Today.

GC App (Part 1) T (2)

Episode and survey data can be found here. Also, be sure to check out the follow up episode coming out in early 2019!

In other news, we have some updates! We currently rebooted our Twitter so please join in the #gcchat with us and others in the genetics community at @mapsandgenes. Also, stay tuned for updates in the Opportunities and Experiences tab!

U South Florida Genetic Counseling MSPH 2018 Open House – Online Viewing Available

Florida is a great state! I should know, I (Jade) live there. Check out the U of South Florida program, located in Tampa. This program puts you on track to earn a Masters in Genetic Counseling and Public Health — all good things in one! (Plus, the beach)

Open House Flyer 2018Open House Flyer 2018 Photo.PNG

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