Category Archives: prospective GC students

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.

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!

Prospective Genetic Counselor Day (Remote too!)

It’s that time of year again! (For me to plug GeneDx’s Prospective Genetic Counselor Day)

Are you interested in a career in Genetic Counseling?

 

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Consider attending the Prospective GC info session on April 27, 2018
RSVP: Meg Bradbury, MS, CGC, MSHS (mbradbury@genedx.com) by April 20, 2018
Not onsite? Join in remotely by video conference.
For further information please contact mbradbury@genedx.com

 

 

Genetic Counseling Case Series – Online series for prospective genetic counseling students

#expose yourself

Speaking of resume boosters… here’s an opportunity for individuals looking for more exposure to the field of genetic counseling before applying to graduate school:

The Genetic Counseling Program of the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center offers several online courses for genetic counselors and prospective students. The newest course, Genetic Counseling Case Series, provides an introduction to the genetic counseling profession through clinical and laboratory case examples. This would be a great option for prospective genetic counseling students who are looking to get more exposure to the field.

The course includes adult, cancer, laboratory, pediatric, preconception, and prenatal case presentations that can be accessed on demand from work or home at any time of day or night. Goals of the course include:

  • Introduce students to the genetic counseling profession through case examples
  • Describe the role of genetic counselors in healthcare and the major aspects of a genetic counseling session
  • Familiarize students with medical, genetic, and psychosocial issues that can present in genetic counseling cases.

 

More information on their online courses can be found here

Additional info:

 

  • Cost: $95
  • Hours of content: 5.3
  • NOT AVAILABLE FOR CEUs

 

 

 

The Interview Process: What to Expect and How to Make Your Mark ((Camille))

Interview season is upon us. For those of you booking flights and frantically scheduling visits to graduate programs here are a few pointers to boost your confidence and send you off to your interviews feeling prepared and ready to make an impression.

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First off, what does the interview process for genetic counseling programs really look like?

The night before:

Most graduate programs offer an informal dinner with the current students the night before the interview. This is generally optional but is a great way to learn more about the student experience and get a chance to ask more directly about the relationship with program staff. This is also the time to start keying into the vibe of the program – How do the students interact with one another? Do you see yourself fitting into a similar group? Do the opinions expressed about the program line up with what you hope to gain from your graduate education? Taking advantage of this opportunity to ask questions of the students can also give you some insight into topics you may want to address with your interviewers the following day. While this type of interaction is not meant to be a formal part of your program interview, it is always a good idea to be respectful, engaging and involved in the conversation.

The interview:

Interviews are a blur – long days, meeting a lot of people, being fully engaged in conversation and needing to think on your feet. Generally, programs schedule short 15-30 minute interviews with all available program staff. You should expect to speak directly with the program director as well as the medical director, rotation supervisors, research advisors or other program personnel. Most likely, you will be emailed or given a copy of your interview schedule beforehand. This gives you the opportunity to research the individuals you will be meeting. You might consider looking into their research interests, their role within the program or their professional and teaching experiences. Remember, you may only have 15 minutes with some individuals so prioritize your message and your questions. Some programs vary the structure of their interviews and may have short group discussions where they ask the interviewees to review a case or an ethical problem. This gives the program a chance to evaluate your group interactions and your ability to advocate for your own viewpoints while respectfully acknowledging and responding to the viewpoints of others. In my own experience, one of my interviews even included a timed, handwritten response to a given prompt. Keep an open mind – the program wants to get to know you and any seemingly odd experience or question may really be an effort to do just that!

What do you wear to a graduate program interview?

As many interviews include a tour of nearby clinics or hospitals, comfortable shoes are a must. If you choose to go with a higher heel, carrying flats in your bag can be a great compromise. While keeping professionalism in mind, try to show your personality. You should be considering a blazer, tailored dress or a blouse and pants but don’t feel restricted to the color black. Keep jewelry to a minimum or to pieces you know will not be bothersome or need adjusting during an interview. You want to feel confident, not uncomfortable. Carrying a bag is perfectly acceptable and programs will generally make arrangements to store your luggage or other belongings throughout the day. Finally, a portfolio is a great place to store extra copies of your resume and take notes about the program.

What types of questions will I be asked during graduate program interviews?

This is generally more difficult to pin down as different programs may focus on different things. However, most programs will be looking to assess 1) your understanding of the field 2) if you are the same accomplished and hard-working candidate they saw on paper 3) how your experience and interpersonal skills have prepared you for graduate training 4) if you fit with the current program staff and students.

So, what can you do to prepare?

As standard advice: take advantage of mock interview or other preparatory services offered through your current institution. You should also become familiar with what is unique about the programs where you are interviewing. Familiarity with the program website, rotations and program staff shows your level of interest and can allow you to have more meaningful exchanges with interviewers.

Prepare to talk about the experiences listed on your resume. More than a general overview, consider what was most valuable about each experience and think of examples which highlight your skills or ways in which you have grown. In doing this, think how you could use these examples to answer common interview questions (e.g. When is a time you have worked with a team? Tell me about a time you handled a difficult person or situation. When have you managed multiple time commitments at once?). You may want to make a list of these “highlight” experiences and add to it as you prepare for your interviews. Having a strong stockpile of examples to pull from can help you respond to similar interview questions with fresh insights.

Back up your weaknesses with examples of growth. It is safe to assume that during your interviews you may encounter a question about your weaknesses. It is okay to be honest and upfront when answering this question but make sure you can provide examples of how you have addressed your shortcomings and how you continue to grow and learn from your past experience.

Prioritize your message. In genetic counseling, we often talk about “take-home messages.” I think this concept applies quite nicely to interviews. Consider what it is you want most to communicate about yourself as a program candidate. Are you driven? Curious? Ambitious? Preparing your “take-home message” will make it easier to build upon these themes in your responses to interview questions and give you a quick go-to when offering your final thoughts.

Questions! Don’t forget this is your opportunity to evaluate the program. Think about what is most important to you in a graduate school experience and prepare some standard questions to help you evaluate programs in these areas. Open-ended questions generally get you better responses. These are questions that start with “Tell me about…” or “What do you think about…” or “What is important for…”, etc. As an additional point, don’t run out of questions! The more you ask, the more interested you appear. You can guarantee each interview will end with the question, “What questions do you have for me?”, so come prepared! And finally, don’t be afraid to get to know the person sitting across from you – questions do not have to be restricted to information about the program.

Be genuine. I’m sure you have read this advice elsewhere but it is worth the emphasis. You do not want to come across as anything other than yourself. This might mean feeling free to joke a bit with your interviewer or really answering questions honestly without a rehearsed feeling. Of course, be cognizant of the tone the interviewer sets, but don’t be so afraid of saying “the wrong thing” that you censor yourself. The people who get involved with training programs are generally very nice people. So, try your best not to let nerves get in the way of your authentic self.

You may find lists of interview questions specifically for genetic counseling posted online. I would say that some of these lists have useful information but I would not use an online list as your sole means of interview preparation. You are likely going to get more questions directed at you and your experiences. The interview is about getting to know who you are and that means questions about things you should have complete confidence in answering. Some programs choose to ask questions that might take an interviewee off-guard or might get at their opinion regarding an ethical or contemporary issue in the field. Again, this is likely meant to gauge your response and how you handle a little bit of pressure or unease as opposed to if you can give the exact “right answer.” In this situation, it is okay to feel a little bit flustered or to ask for a second to think through things. Take a breath and remember to be honest and diplomatic in your response.

Is there interview etiquette for genetic counseling programs that I should follow?

Yes. First off, do not try and gather information about questions from students or other interviewees. Beyond being inappropriate, this really defeats the purpose of the interview which is to evaluate your honest responses to questions. Second, play nice with everyone. Programs are small and one bad interaction with the front desk staff might get back to the admissions committee. I assume any person applying to a genetic counseling program is both mature and kind-hearted but it doesn’t hurt to remember that any interaction (big or small) can be a part of your evaluation. This also applies to email. Third, stay off of your cell phone. Obvious – just don’t do it; you have only a day or two to get to know the people and the program, so spend that time engaged and being respectful of others by giving your full attention. Finally, send “Thank you” notes to the programs who invited you to interview. Scheduling interviews can be a difficult process from the program’s perspective so showing your appreciation is a very nice touch. Additionally, it provides you one last opportunity to include a thoughtful detail or remind your interviewers of an enjoyable interaction you shared.

Best of luck on interviews from all of us at Maps & Genes! Have other questions? Just ask!

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It is NEVER too late to become a GC.

Hello dear readers.  All of us here at Maps & Genes are very excited to bring you this fantastic post– I hope you enjoy the inspiration from our esteemded colleague panel as much as we did!

1. How did you decide to make a career move?

Genetic counseling was my career choice when I was an undergrad student over 30 years ago, however my life went in a different direction.  Instead, I worked in research and academia.  Additionally, for 10 years I was a “stay at home mom”.  As my children got older, I began reconsidering my career.

I have always considered myself a lifelong learner. The first step in my decision to change careers was realizing that although I had many years before retirement, there were no further growth or leadership opportunities on my current path. The second step involved a long reflective period in which I inventoried my dreams, skill set, strengths, challenges and barriers.  The dream of becoming a genetic counselor resurfaced during this period.  I researched the career and decided it was a perfect fit.  The third step was addressing the challenges and barriers, namely cost and being decades removed from a higher education environment (not to mention the field changed dramatically in that time period).  I established a plan to pay for tuition and enrolled in classes to update my knowledge. The final step was the hardest:  taking a deep breath and jumping away from the comfort zone.

I had always had an interest in human anatomy, biology and medicine and intended for a career in this area when I first went to college. But, I lost my way and stumbled out of my major in biology into other majors. I also fell into a different career, which was exciting in my younger years, but I knew it wouldn’t remain a stable career so I began to think about going back to school for my original interest.

My story is a bit complicated. I completed a B.S. in Biology and M.A. in Biology, after which I taught middle/high school and community college biology courses for several years. I then made my first career switch and worked as a financial planner for almost five years. I found that to be unfulfilling and decided to go to graduate school to pursue a PhD in Genetics, with the intention of pursuing an academic career. When I learned more about genetic counseling, I felt that it would be a better fit for me, since it would allow me to spend more time working directly with patients. Rather than spending most of my time behind the scenes doing basic research and teaching undergraduates, I decided I wanted to apply my research and teaching skills in a different way. The fact that genetic counselors have the opportunity to pursue a variety of different types of positions is also very intriguing to me.

2. How did it feel being a GC student?

  It was exciting, terrifying and exhausting! I literally got goosebumps while sitting in lectures and hearing about the advancements in this field. However, I wouldn’t be honest if I didn’t admit to doubting myself occasionally. In those moments, I remembered the mantra of a famous, blue fish, “Just keep swimming”.

There are days where it feels weird sometimes because I am one of the oldest students amongst several young women. But then there are also days where I do not feel the age difference at all, but instead just see fellow classmates that I am on this journey together. There is also a humbling effect of being in school again after having a previous career.

I am really enjoying being a GC student because there is so much interesting information to learn!  I am especially enjoying my rotations, particularly my interactions with established genetic counselors, who have all been wonderful teachers.

3. What are your tips for the GC program interview process?

I sincerely believe your age and life experiences are assets, don’t downplay them.  However, you will also have your own unique challenges.  Know what they are.  Determine how you will or have addressed them. Finally, GC training programs are very competitive. If you are not accepted the first time you apply, don’t give up.  Apply again.

Be presentable, dress appropriately, maintain professional composure, take notes, and do not ask the current students questions about other schools’ interview process.

I would say that you should emphasize what draws you to the field of genetic counseling and why you believe you would be a good GC. Everyone who is being interviewed has already shown that they have the qualifications on paper, so you don’t need to prove that you have those. Show the programs that are interviewing you that you are passionate, professional, and willing to put in the work.

4. Do you have any Grad school survival recommendations?

Be open to new ideas and new ways of doing things.  Take one day at a time. Decide to learn from your younger classmates, they have a lot to teach you. Take care of yourself.  Embrace the experience and remember you are living a dream.

Be proactive and do not wait until the last minute. Be detail oriented, responsible and mature.

Lean on your classmates for support. They will be an invaluable resources in helping you get through your program. Even if you are at different stages in your life, you will find that you have more in common than you think. Make sure you stay organized and try to keep up with the work.

5. Would you do it all over again?

Absolutely!

Yes! Completing the GC training program was the biggest metaphorical mountain I’ve climbed.  I had a great group of classmates who helped me reach the top. It is a challenge worth taking

Definitely — deciding to apply to a genetic counseling program has been a wonderful decision so far.

6. What advice would you give a person who is just thinking about a second career as a GC?

Making this change is undoubtedly one of the bigger decisions in your life.  It will affect you and your family. You may consider waiting until the timing is better, until you are more prepared, etc. However, there likely will not be a time when all the circumstances are perfect.  I think the final analysis boils down to your willingness and ability to be move away from what is known and comfortable. Growth lies outside the comfort zone.

Conduct an informational interview with a practicing GC. Do the research, get as much exposure as you can before you make the decision. You have to make sure you are fully informed of what you are getting yourself into.

I think it is very important to think about your motivations and why you are changing careers. What are you looking to get out of the career? Do the requirements of the job match your personality? Will genetic counseling provide you with what your old career did not? For me, this was a great decision, but for you, things might be different. A graduate program is an investment, and a career change is a major decision, so I would recommend putting a lot of thought into it and speaking with at least one working genetic counselor to see if you think the job might be right for you.

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So You’re Interested in Becoming a Genetic Counselor?

opportunity

We hear from many of you asking how you can become a better applicant.  After hearing this question many times over, I started noticing some concrete opportunities out there.

In the last post, I sent a quick announcement on the GeneDx Prospective Visitors Day.  This date has now passed, but consider checking the GeneDx website for an opportunity in 2017.

NOTE (6/8/2016): The following list was composed in 2016 and has been edited per reader comments and information from colleagues. It is probably not a complete list – and some of the dates are probably past – but we’re happy to continue adding. I imagine we will create a new list for 2017. In the meantime, if you have an opportunity you would like added here, please comment below!

  • Sarah Lawrence College also hosts a Genetic Counseling Career Day.  According to their website, this day will be held in June 2016, though agenda and registration are still in development.  You’ll want to check here: https://www.sarahlawrence.edu/human-genetics/career-day.html
  • The University of South Carolina (alma mater shout out) also offers an online course with both Spring and Fall enrollment.  The course is called Genetic Counseling: Career for the Future.   The course is offered online over a twelve week period with 2-3 hours of self-paced activity.  Read more details here: http://geneticcounseling.med.sc.edu/onlinecourse.asp
  • Wayne State is offering an open house on two dates in 2016 (one in June and one in August).  The open house gives potential students the chance to learn more about the GC field and the Wayne State program.  The flyer is here: http://www.genetics.wayne.edu/sites/default/files/docs/Open%20House%20Flyer%202016.pdf
  • Indiana University opens applications May 2, 2016 for their graduate program open house: http://www.ingc.info/site/indiana-university-genetic-counseling-graduate-program-open-house/
  • The University of Cincinnati/Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Genetic Counseling Program has a DNA sample day every year as well as an Open House. The DNA Sample Day is an overview of genetic counseling as a whole. The Open House features the UC/CCHMC program itself. The next DNA Day is on August 12, 2016 (http://www.geneticcounseling4u.org/prospective_students/DNA%20Day%202016.pdf). The Open House is usually in the fall, around Thanksgiving.
  • The Genetic Task Force of Illinois and the Northwestern University Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling is hosting a genetic counseling workshop. This will occur August 12, 2016 at the Robert H. Lurie Medical Research Center. Additional details and registration information is available here: http://www.illinoisgenetics.org/event-2251863
  • The University of Wisconsin-Madison is offering a Master’s Program Open House on 8/23/2016: http://www.med.wisc.edu/event/master-of-genetic-counselor-studies-program-open-house/48946

 

Laboratory Genetic Counselor Q+A ((By Jade M.))

mad-science

A day in the lab.

I wanted to write a post about life as a lab counselor, but I wasn’t making much progress.  Luckily, Sarah posed some questions to help get the wheels spinning!

A little background: I work remotely as a report writer for cardiology testing and have been in this position for about 8 months.
Would you make the transition again?

Yes! However, I was always drawn to a laboratory position.
During graduate school, we had a laboratory counselor speak to us about her job – I loved the idea of flexibility in your work schedule along with the option to work remotely. Apart from these perks, I was always academically fascinated by the molecular aspect of genetic counseling and how the gene/protein level corresponded to the outward phenotype.  Combine this with a love for writing and research – and lab counseling was a perfect fit for me.
Is it more stressful or less stressful?

Much less stressful. However, I came from a busy clinic where we were short a genetic counselor for 50% of my employment. Furthermore, I had to navigate the stickiness of insurance authorization for commercial and medicaid providers – I do not miss that.

Do you spend more hours working or fewer?

Fewer.  But I was working a lot at my previous job.  Like, a lot. The whole crew was, so it’s not like I over-carried the burden.  But if I didn’t start working fewer hours, I would have all gray hair by now.

If you were to give advice to a senior GC student, would you recommend first taking a clinical position or do you wish you would have gone straight into working for a lab?
I would absolutely recommend working in a clinic first.  My thought is that if you want to be a great lab counselor, you need to put your brain through GC training camp.  You need to work out your clinical muscles and tone up your patient-centered thinking.  You need to do some heavy lifting in clinical note-writing and strengthen your core in clinical diagnoses.  You need to bench-press empathy and take a long, slow run through family histories.  Are you nervous that this explanation is becoming way too cross-fitty?
In other words: when you work in a laboratory, you tend to switch your brain to the molecular side of things.  But I am far better at variant interpretation when I call upon my clinical skills – for instance (1) how to read physician notes (2) how syndromes/conditions are identified clinically (3) how a variant call will affect a person/family (4) bearing in mind the “fight” the GC undertook for insurance authorization or the burden the family incurs for paying more than they can afford (5) recognizing the impact of turnaround times (6) feeling confident that I can speak to GCs/doctors who call with question from the clinic, because, hey, I’ve been there.

Best perk of the job?

No more “Sunday night blues.”  My Sundays are full, happy, beautiful days.  As opposed to the previous 3pm anxiety onset when you realize you have to do yet another workweek.
Also, I don’t have to run into people on the elevator who say stupid things like “Happy Humpday.”
Least favorite job duty?

I love reading scientific articles and digging deep into literature.  But sometimes, ugh.
Did anything surprise you about your new lab position?

I am surprised how transparent we are.  For instance, I assumed laboratories hid their classification calls and supporting evidence.  It’s quite the opposite – we upload all of our calls to ClinVar and make an effort to root out any inconsistencies with other labs.  This is excellent for patient care.

Rejection and how to handle it ((Camille))

Let’s face it, nobody really likes to talk about rejection but for those of you in the middle of interview season or anxiously awaiting program emails it is an important consideration. Genetic counseling programs as well as most other graduate programs are small and I mean seriously small. However, with genetic counseling in particular there is a disconnect. The field has grown by 75% since 2006 and is currently one of the fastest growing STEM careers. Programs have struggled to keep up with this rapid expansion – my program in particular enlarged its class size two years ago by an entire one person. This unparalleled growth has also created professional concerns – with programs graduating fewer genetic counselors than the mounting number of available positions, who will end up filling these posts? Specially trained nurses and other healthcare professionals may be brought in to satisfy a demand that the limited number of program graduates is failing to meet. So what does this mean for applicants?

Current applicants and interviewees are in between a huge expansion of the profession and the graduate programs that are struggling to produce more qualified, competent genetic counselors. This boils down to a lot of talented and qualified people who end up without an offer at the end of the final matching day. So if you are one of these people, whether you weren’t offered an interview or you didn’t move off of the waitlist, what are your next steps?

First off, try your best not to get too discouraged. There is a huge volume of competitive applicants. Thus, offers for interviews can come down to truly nitpicky details. I have had program directors specifically mention my “B” where other applicants had an “A”. Don’t take this personally, they have to narrow down the number of applicants they’re interviewing somehow. Once you make it to the interview stage, look around you, everyone there is qualified! Successfully matriculating into a program becomes more about being the “right fit.” Do you mesh well with the current program staff and students? Would you be able and willing to relocate? How will you fit in to the new class? Programs generally have a certain dynamic that they’re looking to find, sometimes you just won’t be their cup of tea and that’s okay.

Now, to get back on the horse… Self-care is an incredibly important part of the genetic counseling profession and dealing appropriately with rejection is an excellent way to practice or hone this ability. This could mean watching a movie with your friends, taking a trip somewhere nice, spending a day out of doors – remember nothing needs to happen immediately, so spend some time getting yourself brushed off and picked up before you begin moving forward.

Here’s what you can do:

    • Contact the program directors of the schools where you applied. Remember, this is a counseling profession and the people who are drawn to this type of work are people who genuinely want to help others! Program directors are fantastic, wonderful people who have a lot experience and are generally more than happy to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your application with you. Understand however that application and interview season is a tremendously busy time, if you do not receive a response try contacting them or other program personnel again in May.

 

    • Read the biographies of current students. Most, if not all, programs have a website. Make sure you are paying attention to the language used in program and class descriptions as well as reviewing the bios of current students. Not only can this tip you off to the types of experiences and background a program values but it can also give you ideas on how to beef up your resume.

 

    • Make greater time commitments. Now, this doesn’t necessarily have to mean more hours – trust me, we all understand you have work, school, friends and family, as well as yourself to take care of… What I mean by greater time commitments is greater stretches of time. If I have two applicants in front me, one with six months of advocacy experience and another with over a year of advocacy experience, who would you imagine gets the interview? I’m speaking from experience on this one. You’ve been given time until the next round of applications, use it. Even if that means volunteering once or twice a month, you’re gaining experience and building your skills.

 

    • Focus on advocacy and crisis counseling experiences. There is no denying that shadowing looks great on a resume and it is where you first get the chance to evaluate the profession and ask questions of practicing genetic counselors. However, although informative, shadowing does not make or break an application. Many programs understand that student access to a counselor or a clinic can be limited (phone interviews or online counseling videos can fill in some of these gaps). On the other hand, advocacy and crisis counseling experience is a must. Not only does it put you in a position to work directly with clients, allowing you to practice and develop certain counseling skills, but it also helps programs assess your ability to deal with the realities of a field such as genetic counseling. Focusing more time and energy on these experiences strengthens your application and gives you a greater background to pull from during interviews.

 

    • If possible, seek out genetic counseling internships or other types of field experience. This may not be possible for many applicants to achieve but if you are able to find a clinic or a genetic counselor who is willing to pull some strings for you, this is absolutely ideal experience. It never hurts to ask! Oftentimes program directors may be able to point you in the proper direction or connect you with a former student. The Northwestern Program actually offers a one-week summer internship and begins accepting applications in February. (http://www.cgm.northwestern.edu/education/graduate-genetic-medicine/summer-internship.html)

 

    • Revisit your personal statement. A lot of things can change between one application cycle and the next. It is important for your personal statement to reflect your most current feelings and attitudes so yes, you should be writing another one. Make sure to have a few readers look it over. If you’ve developed a good relationship with any of the counselors you’ve connected with or shadowed, ask them to give it read! They may not have a lot of time but they still might be able to offer some useful suggestions. If you received any feedback from programs regarding your personal statement, make sure you are addressing these concerns.

 

    • Reconsider your references. Again, this comes back to any feedback you received from programs. Now that you are free to discuss your application with program directors, they may tell you which letters of recommendation really stood out and which ones did not. Many recommendations can be good but not glowing. Is there something you can do to further your relationship with one of your letter writers? Or should you be looking for someone else? Letters from individuals who really know you can have a greater impact than letters from people with impressive titles.

 

    • Tell programs you are applying a second time around. As you may have guessed from this post, I chose to apply a second round for genetic counseling programs. I struggled a good deal with whether or not to discuss applying a second time. In my experience, mentioning this in my applications and interviews was actually beneficial. Programs like to know that they would be investing their resources in a committed student who can take their feedback seriously. So in short, if you’re applying again, say so, making sure to discuss what changes you’ve made to improve your skills and increase your experience.

 

    • Apply to more schools. Lastly, applying to more schools gives you more opportunities for success. In such a competitive field, this really is one of the best ways to increase your odds of getting invited to interview or accepted into a program. Most students, genetic counselors or program staff will tell you that generally speaking all genetic counseling graduate programs are well-rounded and offer great educational opportunities. With such consistent “hireability” for program graduates, you really can’t go wrong, so don’t be afraid to take a chance on some other schools. There are also advantages to applying to newly founded programs – being one of the first classes at a new program can mean greater time spent with supervisors and program staff as well as quick adjustments in response to student concerns. New programs are set to open at Baylor University, University of Iowa, Rutgers University and others.

 

In conclusion, be persistent, be patient, be professional.

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