Congratulations genetic counseling class of 2021! You are a genetic counselor now! Through virtual graduations to jumping into the job market during year two of a global pandemic, you are beginning your career at an unprecedented time.
Starting a new job right out of graduate school filled me with a myriad of emotions - excitement, nervousness, gratefulness, skepticism, joy, pride and fear. Ultimately, it left me overwhelmed. While I thought that I had mastered the art of survival, I realized that it was now that I really had to learn to function in the “real” world of genetic counseling.
In grad school we have our supervisors with us at every step; someone to fall back on in case we end up fumbling in front of the patient, someone to hear out our session plans and correct us if we are wrong or point out if we miss something. Starting my first job, the thought that it would be me and solely me responsible for the case was just plain scary! My greatest fear was that I would miss something, like forgetting to offer a test or not picking up on a symptom. What if I get sued? While the last fear may be a little far-fetched, all the worst-case scenarios do cross your mind when you're anxious.
The number of things you must learn can feel overwhelming. Not only are you are figuring out your own counseling style and what works best for you, but you also have to learn the processes of a new institution, including their scheduling systems and triaging practices. Let’s not forget that you are also learning to master all the other responsibilities of a genetic counselor, like insurance, documentation and note writing.
Yes, it is a lot! But graduate school did teach us to deal with mayhem. You’ll get through this the same way you got through graduate school - with meticulous planning, hard work and perseverance. Below are some tips that got me through that tough first year.
Find a mentor. Find a genetic counselor you are comfortable with; someone you can run things by and ask all your ‘silly’ questions. It can be a classmate whom you have already spent numerous hours studying with, a new colleague or a mentor from NSGConnect, NSGC’s mentor program or grad school.
Take notes. While you know your genetics, there are many things specific to the new job that you will be learning. Write down everything. I used to take detailed notes, however small the task. You will need these notes for the first few weeks until they become a matter of habit.
Ask questions. Genetic counselors love questions and enjoy answering them. When you start out, it is the best time to ask for help. It is much better to ask ‘silly questions’ than to never get clarity and make mistakes. Even after you become an experienced genetic counselor, keep asking questions. We all have those moments where we need a second opinion and sometimes, we just need to hear that our instinct is correct.
Plan ahead. A new job comes with a lot of added requirements. For those of us starting our careers in a new city, state or even country, visas or other documents might be needed. Some states need licensure, and some of us want to take the board exam as soon as we graduate. You will have a lot on your plate, and it can be helpful to plan ahead of time and get as much of this done before you start the job.
Be patient. The learning curve is steep. With time, confidence will come. Within months you will blossom into the fully functioning, independent genetic counselor that you have been striving to become. Don’t be discouraged if a session didn’t go quite as planned-- even the most seasoned genetic counselors have days of doubt! Learn from it, and focus on what worked well in other sessions. Each day you’ll learn a little more from your colleagues, your students and from your patients.
Enjoy it! This is what you have worked so hard for and you deserve it! Enjoy your new desk, business cards and your independence. Take a moment to appreciate how far you have come and how much you have grown.
You are all going to be awesome genetic counselors! And remember, if you need help, all you need to do is ASK!
Are you looking for the next step in your career? Visit NSGC’s Job Connection to post your resume and receive job listing notifications.