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“I Am A Genetic Counselor”: Celebrating Genetic Counselors of Different Backgrounds

To celebrate the fourth annual Genetic Counselor Awareness Day on Nov. 12, we featured 12 stories of aspiring genetic counselors and genetic counselors from different backgrounds who embody the many facets of the profession in our annual “I am a Genetic Counselor” series on social media. Learn more about their work and what made them choose genetic counseling as a career.


“I enjoy being a genetic counselor because it allows me to serve families, including those from my community, who have historically been excluded from advances in medicine. Even today we have to be cognizant and purposeful to ensure that communities of color are able to take advantage of advances in personalized health. And as a genetic counselor, I am proud to be part of those efforts.” – Barbara Harrison, MS, CGC

 

“I chose to become a genetic counselor years ago because I felt that genetics held the potential to revolutionize medicine. I had a vision that our genetic code, along with some environmental factors, would become the key to personalizing our medical care and developing a plan for how each of us can live our longest, healthiest lives. I have watched the field of genetics inch closer to this dream since the conclusion of the Human Genome Project. I’ve specialized on the Marketing and Strategy side of genetics because this vital message of the great value of genetics and genetic counseling needs to be communicated widely in order for the average person to take advantage of it, and incorporate its benefits into their lives. I use my genetic counseling skills in communicating complex concepts in understandable terms on a daily basis in business. I am proud to be a genetic counselor, and I cannot wait to see the next groundbreaking developments in our field, just over the horizon.” – Kristina Habermann, MS, CGC, MBA

 

“I’m a cancer genetic counselor based in Norfolk, Virginia. I’ve been a genetic counselor for 16 years now. I originally chose this career out of my love for people and genetics as a subject. I’m an educator, an advocate and problem solver. Every single day, I get to wear each of these three hats in my profession. I enjoy working with individuals and educating them on the subject of genetics, helping them to make what are otherwise very difficult decisions and providing support for them and their family. I am a genetic counselor.” – Tifany Lewis, CGC #IAmAGeneticCounselor

 

“I began my career as one of the first graduates of the Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Genetic Counseling Program (1999). While attending the program, I started my career by working as a research study coordinator in a genetic study of hereditary aneurysms and later in hereditary lung cancer (1998). Currently, I am working on a COVID-19 research study with participants in our Detroit Research on Cancer Survivors (ROCS). The Detroit ROCS study collects surveys and biospecimens for DNA analysis on those at various stages of cancer survivorship. We have now added a new COVID-19 survey, asking this group of survivors, who are in various stages of their cancer journey, how the virus and subsequent quarantine has affected them, their family members, and their over-all medical care. I find being in genetic research extremely interesting and rewarding especially during the times we’re in today.” – Alicia Salkowski, MS #IAmAGeneticCounselor

 

“Being a genetic counselor has afforded me an abundance of transferable skills that I’ve been able to hone as I’ve advanced in my career from clinical counselor to a field-based industry role and now as a leader of leaders at my organization. My genetic counseling training has enabled me to communicate effectively to a diverse set of stakeholders while ultimately ensuring the patient perspective is considered in our decision making. When Ambry decided to stand up COVID-19 testing, I had the opportunity to head up our clinical working group and use my skills to effectively bring together various experts to make important decisions regarding how we would approach testing and our platform, while also using my clinical brain to stay informed of the ever-changing landscape. It was humbling to be able to apply the skillset I learned so long ago in grad school and have developed over the years to support my organization in doing our part to provide much needed testing capacity and solutions during the pandemic.” – Emily Dalton, MS, CGC #IAmAGeneticCounselor

 

“I want to spend my career helping individuals and families make sense of rare or inherited disease. That is why I wish to become a genetic counselor and look forward to applying to training programs to develop my skills in the clinical, psychosocial and research fields of genetic counseling. There are more than 5,000 genetic counselors in the country today and yet the demand for this profession is still growing and not one day is the same. That’s what excites me about becoming a genetic counselor.” – Elise Travis, BS

 

“I’ve been a genetic counselor for 30 years and for the last 20 years I’ve been working in my private practice Bay Area Genetic Counseling focusing on assisted reproductive technologies working with intended parents as well as egg donors. One of the things I love most about genetic counseling is not only being able to speak with so many patients and provide a human connection and education but also to be able to use my years of experience to really anticipate questions and issues that come up in order to help guide patients to make critical decisions during this time of their life. I’ve also spent a significant amount of time on provider education, publishing and research. There’s always new information that comes up in genetics and there’s so many opportunities for continuing education. It’s a really satisfying career.” – Amy Vance, MS, LCGC #IAmAGeneticCounselor

 

“To me, genetic counseling means connection, versatility and potential. I chose this career because of a love for studying genetics but I also love the process and nuance of communicating science in clinical settings, often in life changing conversations. I think it’s a privilege to be in those spaces. I also love the versatility accompanying this degree. I’m currently pursuing a PhD so that I can become a clinician scientist and every single day I use my genetic counseling skills in the lab to both contextualize and translate my research and to always, always consider how it will eventually impact the people I’ll see in clinical settings. The path that I chose is just one of many. By continuing to advance our profession, we acknowledge the potential this career path holds as well as our unique ability to impact healthcare and meet the current moment.” – Kelly Rich, MS, CGC #IAmAGeneticCounselor

 

“My favorite part about being a pediatric genetic counselor is working and communicating with Spanish speaking families. When I’m in the session, the look of relief on Mom’s face when I say ‘hola, hablas español,” is such an amazing feeling. Breaking the language barrier for Spanish speaking families opens the door for more fluid and meaningful dialogue. The connection between the family and myself is stronger. A genuine gratitude from these families is what makes my day and I’m proud to be able to bridge the language gap within our community. During these sessions is where it is most apparent to me of how important I am as a Spanish genetic counselor.” – Lenika De Simone, MS, CGC #IAmAGeneticCounselor

 

“I sought out the career field of genetic counseling for all the typical reasons we often hear about.  However, in 2008 when I started my genetic counseling program in Houston, I saw a Black dentist for the first time ever.  I remember being at ease and oddly more comfortable.  I never thought having a healthcare professional who looked like me would affect my demeanor and how the appointment went.  It was then that my motivation changed.   I became a genetic counselor because I wanted to see someone like me in this career field.  I am a genetic counselor because I want patients to feel that same kind of ease and openness that I did. I continue to be a genetic counselor because I hope to increase access to genetic testing for all those who are interested and not just those who can afford it.” – Deanna Darnes, MS, CGC #IAmAGeneticCounselor

 

“To me, being a genetic counselor means training the next generation of genetic service providers to be patient-centric, compassionate, strategic, and present. As co-director of the MS Program in Human Genetics and Genetic Counseling at Stanford, I have a front row seat to the innovative and principled ideas that come from fresh voices and teams working together. Every September, when we welcome a new cohort of students, I’m overwhelmed with hope and possibility that our profession is only getting wiser and stronger with each graduating class. In their hands, and with humility and accountability, I have no doubt that we will break down barriers, increase access to care, and make genetic information more relevant and useful to individuals and families from all walks of life.” MaryAnn Campion, EdD, MS, CGC #IAmAGeneticCounselor

 

“Thinking back at why I chose this as a career, I think this is a perfect accumulation of my love for science and my desire to help people. Today, it’s less of a profession and more of a lifestyle for me. It’s something that continues to fascinate me day after day. One of the things I love most about the profession is being a part of very intimate moments of families lives. For example, telling a couple if they’re having a boy or a girl and just being a part of that happiness, or even when I share really heartbreaking news, just knowing that that couple isn’t going to be alone and they’re going to have me to support them through this difficult journey. There are really rewarding parts of the profession. These are some of the reasons I love genetic counseling and I’m very proud it.” – Kanchi N. Bafiwala, MS, LCGC #IAmAGeneticCounselor

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