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5 Questions with Counsyl Genetic Counselors

Thursday, November 9th is the first ever Genetic Counselor Awareness Day. Genetic counselors serve a vital role in helping patients and providers better understand results and make more informed health decisions. At Counsyl, we are inspired by our 50+ genetic counselors and we are proud to support the genetic counseling community.

Meet two of our genetic counselors: JAMIE_BETH 1.0011. Why did you decide to become a genetic counselor?

Beth:  I was a Biology major in college because I had an interest in human genetics (aka, I really liked doing Punnett squares in high school biology!).  I was also a student peer-to-peer counselor and was talking to my advisor about potentially adding a minor in psychology.  Lucky for me, this advisor had a pamphlet about genetic counseling she had recently received from the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC).  I contacted NSGC and they mailed me the packet of information for people interested in learning more about the field (this was the early 90’s , before the internet…).  Reading through that material, I knew I had stumbled across the perfect career with a healthy mix of science, genetics, and patient care…and I was right!

Jamie: As a child, I had always had an interest in science. When I was around eight or so, my grandparents asked me what I wanted for my birthday and I replied, ‘a microscope.’ Then, when I was 10, my younger sister was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. This launched me into the trajectory of wanting to understand her condition and a desire to know more about genetics. While in college, I double majored in genetics and psychology. I contemplated going to medical school or nursing school, but ultimately genetic counseling was the right choice for me. It’s the perfect combination of science and patient care, where my passion truly lies.

2. What does it mean to be a genetic counselor?

Beth: No matter the work setting, all genetic counselors share one common trait: caring deeply about patients whose lives have been touched, in one way or another, by genetics. It means having a diverse skill set to pull from in order to help patients, providers, and other colleagues learn, understand, and apply information.  

Jamie: I couldn’t have said it better myself, Beth. We all know genetic counselors wear so many hats. Whether it’s educating the public about genetics, advocating for insurance coverage for a patient who needs screening, or delivering a diagnosis to a family who has been on a diagnostic odyssey, at our core, genetic counselors are patient advocates.

3. What does it mean to be a genetic counselor at Counsyl?

Beth: One of my favorite things about Counsyl is how we’ve utilized genetic counselors in so many diverse roles. We have a counseling team that provides post-test consultations directly to patients in probably the most “traditional” role inside our industry-setting.

Other genetic counselors on our medical science liaison (MSL) and lab/support teams act as liaisons between our ordering providers and the laboratory, and help to support our field sales team.  Our product directors are all genetic counselors who help to oversee all aspects of the development, testing, and growth of Counsyl’s three genetic screens.  

We have genetic counselors who work alongside other scientists and our lab directors in variant curation, as well as genetic counselors who help with training and onboarding of Counsyl employees on our learning and development team.  Genetic counselors at Counsyl also have the opportunity to be involved with research, publications, and presenting at conferences.  The common thread among all of these teams is that everyone is focused on excellence in care for the patients and providers Counsyl is serving.  

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A group of Counsyl genetic counselors

4. What are the various ways you have interacted with patients throughout your career?

Jamie: I started my career in clinical pediatrics, working specifically in metabolic genetics. I helped coordinate newborn screening as a part of that role as well. Then, I was a prenatal counselor working in various maternal-fetal medicine offices around Southern California. When I started at Counsyl I counseled patients over the phone regarding their carrier screening, hereditary cancer, and non-invasive prenatal screening results.

Beth: During the first 12 years of my career, I was a prenatal genetic counselor in the Maternal-Fetal Medicine Division at Johns Hopkins Hospital.  At Johns Hopkins, I saw patients during face-to-face consults in both individual and group counseling sessions.  Once I moved to Counsyl in 2012, I was able to continue with patient consults, but, like Jamie said, these consults are telephone based consults.  I was slightly nervous about the transition from face-to-face to phone-based counseling; however, I found the adjustment easier than expected. We hear from patients on a daily basis about how much they appreciate the alternative service delivery model Counsyl uses to release results and offer genetic counseling.  

5. Describe a genetic counselor with one word.

Jamie: Persistent.

Beth: Caring.

Counsyl is proud to support Genetic Counselor Awareness Day. Check out this short video and follow Counsyl on Twitter to learn more about our 50+ genetic counselors!