Genetic counseling is an evolving profession, and with the development of new genetic products from cell-free RNA analysis and machine learning-based screening that predicts pregnancy complications, to AI-assisted chatbots that can collect family histories and draw pedigrees, genetic counselors are making their mark as product managers. Product management involves discovering, designing, implementing, delivering, sustaining, and improving tests, tools, or services that meet the needs of users. Genetic counselors are uniquely qualified to excel in product management, building products to serve the needs of patients, healthcare providers, and researchers.
As genetic counselors, we leverage five key transferable skills in our work in product management: tailored communication, stakeholder management, active listening and motivational interviewing, logical and structured thinking, and empathy. These skills allow genetic counselors in product management to center users and their needs.
- Tailored communication is crucial in product management to convey complex information in a way that is both motivating and easily understood by customers, stakeholders, and collaborators, similar to how genetic counselors communicate information to patients. Shivani Nazareth, Vice President of Digital Products at Myriad Genetics, explains, “Good product managers are storytellers at heart. They understand the end user and can craft a compelling story about what to build and why it matters. I would argue that most genetic counselors know how to use stories to motivate behavioral change.”
- Stakeholder management is another critical skill for product managers, who may work with stakeholders from engineering, UX, marketing, sales, business development, legal, regulatory, clinical, product end users, and more. Similarly, genetic counselors must be able to work with a variety of stakeholders such as patients, healthcare providers, payors, and internal teams. Kaylene Ready, Vice President of Product Management at Strata Oncology explains, “Balancing the needs and concerns of multiple stakeholders is critical to success. You must be able to earn the trust of many people in the organization and reflect and represent their needs and concerns to others in order to build consensus and achieve the company's goals.
- Active listening and motivational interviewing are important skills for identifying the root causes of problems and finding meaningful solutions. Carrie Guy, previous Product Manager at Quest Diagnostics, emphasizes, “Knowing how to set a mutually agreed upon agenda, active listening, and informed decision making are critical to success in product development and test launch.”
- Logical and structured thinking is vital in product management, and genetic counselors already analyze complex data and information, identify patterns and trends, and make informed decisions. Sarah Witherington, Senior Product Director at Bioreference states, “The ability to critically evaluate and translate scientific literature and data are skills I use on a regular basis.”
- Empathy is perhaps the most important and fundamental aspect of product management and genetic counseling. Kenny Wong, Chief Product Officer at xCures, notes, “Being empathic to customers to truly understand their needs is necessary to build great products” and is a key transferable skill for genetic counselors in product management. We, as product managers, design and deliver products that meet these needs while considering technical specifications, regulatory requirements, cost, and other factors.
The number of genetic counselors reporting they work in product management (PM) has consistently risen in the NSGC Professional Status Survey since the role first became an option in 2015. Genetic counselors are also increasingly interested in learning about product management, as evidenced by the high attendance at events like the oversubscribed “GC Fingerprints on the Business Side” workshop at the 2019 NSGC Annual Conference in Salt Lake City and the “GCs in Business” webinar. In addition, we receive multiple requests for informational interviews, mentoring, and lectures on PM from aspiring product managers, GC training programs, and those simply curious to learn more about these roles. We love to see the growing interest and while admittedly biased, we know that genetic counselors make great product managers.
With our clinical and research expertise, genetic counselors bring a unique perspective to product development and help ensure that products meet the needs of customers – patients, clinicians, healthcare systems, payors, advocacy organizations, employers, and any other stakeholder in the healthcare ecosystem.
We hope that genetic counselors will continue to be curious about product management and become more knowledgeable and prepared to either work with those leading product development in their own workplaces or incorporate aspects of product work into their own career trajectory.
Ultimately, patient care is improved when genetic counselors are actively building the future of research and healthcare.