Genetic Counselor

Life as a Genetic Counselor
Career path
Advice

CES: What are your duties as a genetic counselor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center?

KC: I meet with pregnant/pre-conception patients and their partners to discuss different testing options during the pregnancy or, in some cases, to discuss test or ultrasound results they've already gotten. I take a family history and a pregnancy history and assess any additional risk based on information I glean. I then write a note summarizing the session and send it to the patient's referring provider.

CES: What do you most enjoy about your work? Least enjoy?

KC: I love working with my patients. Most of them are so nice and interesting that they keep me going every day!

I least enjoy the incredible amount of bureaucratic red tape that comes with working for a huge hospital.

CES: How did you break into your career and what has been your career path?

KC: I heard about genetic counseling as a career sometime just a couple of months before I graduated from Puget Sound with my BA in psychology.

It seemed really interesting because I knew I did not want to become a psychologist, but loved a lot of things about the field. And I had always been fascinated by genetics, but also knew I didn't want to be a doctor. I had a family history of a genetic disease and was very drawn to the arena.

CES: What was your first job after college?

KC: I was very strongly interested in genetic counseling and had researched it a bit, so even though I applied for several jobs and got a few offers, I chose to accept a position as a receptionist at an OB/GYN clinic; I wanted to learn more about pregnancy and prenatal care. I later moved into billing there.

I am immensely grateful for that job because it exposed me to so much and really let me know I was in an area (pregnancy) that was fascinating and where I was happy. I also learned so much that I still use to this day.

CES: How did you make the decision to pursue your current path?

KC: I was pretty sure when I graduated that I wanted to be a genetic counselor after researching it some more, but to be sure, I arranged to shadow a genetic counselor to see what she actually did. It really cemented my interest in the profession and I knew that's what I was going to do.

CES: What do you wish you had done or known during college that might have been beneficial to your career development?

KC: I wish I had known about the career earlier because I had to go back and do about two years of prerequisites in order to have the right classes to apply to grad school. Luckily I already had biology, psychology and statistics out of the way, but I had to go back and take chem, o-chem, biochem, and then I threw in anatomy for kicks as well. Had I known about genetic counseling as a freshman, I might have actually tried to take all the classes throughout my Puget Sound career!

CES: What advice do you have for students considering a career in this field?

KC: My first advice would be to research it, and then if you're still interested, get in contact with a genetic counselor through the National Society of Genetic Counselors and see if you can arrange to shadow him or her to see what counseling is really about.  -It may require jumping through some hoops since many hospitals these days require anyone coming in contact with protected health information and patients to go through some sort of orientation.

There are three main areas of genetic counseling —prenatal, pediatric, and cancer (with some off-shoots like lab-based and cardiovascular, etc.)—so having some idea about each and which you're most interested in would be good. 

CES: What should students know in order to stand out from other candidates?

KC: I will address this question as if someone is applying for a Master's program because the reality is, you can't be hired as a genetic counselor unless you have that degree. 

Have some sort of experience (volunteer or paid) in something related to the field, i.e. a crisis counselor, a lab technician, etc.  Even if it's not directly related, be able to find a way to relate it to counseling. 

For example, I volunteered with Planned Parenthood as a sex ed educator for middle schoolers for about 18 months before I started my Master's. When I was interviewing for the programs, I was inevitably asked about it. Honestly, I had a blast doing the volunteering, and I always framed it in terms of "Well, if I can talk about sex with middle schoolers without fear or embarrassment, I'm quite sure I can learn to talk with patients about potentially uncomfortable subjects as well."

Alumni Sharing Knowledge

Kit is an ASK volunteer. Contact her through the ASK Network. (Search on Katherine Clark.)