Dear Genetic Counselor Community,
I write to you now with both disappointment and conviction. The decision to pivot the NSGC 40th Annual Conference from a hybrid to a completely virtual event, based on the fourth wave of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations which have been particularly pronounced in the city of New Orleans, was not made lightly, and it was made based on the best interests of our attendees, speakers and staff. Given the infectiousness of the Delta variant and the fact that many genetic counselors live or work with vulnerable populations, immunocompromised individuals and/or young children that cannot be vaccinated, the NSGC Board decided that we could not in good conscience put conference attendees at risk. On behalf of the Board I want to express the extreme sense of disappointment that we all feel in not being able to convene in person, and yet acknowledge that we wholeheartedly believe we made the decision that is right for our community’s health and well-being.
I also want to acknowledge and thank all of you that reached out to us in recent weeks with your concerns about the conference. Conversations, negotiations and decisions around making changes to an event of this size and scope are always heavily steeped in the legal, logistical and financial, and timing of when and how decisions are made is paramount. Seeing all of your poignant letters, emails and tweets about the risk of exposure in New Orleans, institutional travel bans and fear of exposing those back at home was emotional for NSGC Board, Program Planning Committee and staff members, but also ultimately helpful in the decision-making process.
In the midst of this disappointment and conviction, I’ve also been thinking a lot about optimism. Not the Pollyanna kind of optimism where we act like everything is perfect and ignore hard truths and realities, but the kind of optimism that requires you to accept the world as it is and still move forward in a way that is productive and future-focused. It is this kind of optimism that allows you to tap into your own reserves and lead others, whether that be your coworkers, classmates or your children, and inspire them to shoulder on. It is this kind of optimism that I hope we, as a genetic counselor community, can tap into together.
None of this is easy. A year and a half into a global pandemic, our reserves are all but depleted. We are fatigued in ways that many of us have never experienced before, with exhaustion that seeps through and penetrates our minds, hearts and limbs, and that doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon. But there is comfort and solace in community, even when that community is virtual. And there are many reasons to be excited about our second virtual Annual Conference.
Attendees will again be able to access all conference sessions. That means lots of CEU opportunities without having to travel (or even get out of your PJ bottoms)! The robust educational content that our Program Planning Committee, in partnership with session organizers and speakers, have been working on for months promises to be just as rich and engaging in a virtual format. Similar to last year’s virtual conference, there will be networking opportunities with your colleagues via breakout and chat rooms, and ways to connect and learn from industry sponsors and exhibitors with product demos and sponsored talks.
This is not what we had planned on, but it is what we must do. I’m grateful for our strong, resilient genetic counselor community, which I’m confident will come together to make this conference meaningful, educational and fun.
I’ll be seeing you soon on-screen,
Sara Riordan, MS, CGC is the president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ Board of Directors. Riordan’s 16-year genetic counseling career has spanned both academia and industry in the specialties of precision medicine, oncology, consumer genomics, and molecular diagnostics.