Life as a newly graduated genetic counselor is one of mixed and, for me, heightened emotions. The rush of finally finishing a rigorous two years, the tearful goodbyes to classmates who comprised my everyday support system, the anxiety over the upcoming boards examination. And underlying all of that, the thought: Now what do I do? Many of us work so hard and give so much of ourselves to the goal of becoming a genetic counselor that it’s all too easy to lose sight of what we’ll do once we get there.
That summarizes the state I was in upon starting my first genetic counseling job in pediatrics this summer. My position, which had remained unfilled for several years, is a split role involving both clinical care and coordination duties. This added another layer of complexity to my transition from student to working professional. I quickly began to worry that trying to take on two big things at once—learning how to be an independent genetic counselor and navigating the organizational aspects of my position that an already packed curriculum couldn’t cover—may be too much.
With NSGC’s latest Professional Status Survey reporting that 20% of genetic counselors work in a mixed position, 44% of whom are in involved in clinical coordination, I am certainly not alone in my situation. As our field grows, employers are recognizing that our training prepares us with both soft and technical skills that are well-suited to many roles in addition to direct patient care. I feel this is a trend to be celebrated and speaks to how hard genetic counselors have worked to establish ourselves in new and unexpected positions in healthcare and beyond. In line with the proverbial half-full glass, I began to see my situation as not a predicament at all; rather, it’s an opportunity to mold a still-evolving position to a still-evolving genetic counselor.
Less than three months into my role, to say I’m still verdant is an understatement. But every day I learn new things and feel my confidence in myself as a genetic counselor and clinical coordinator grow. I’ve learned to devote dedicated chunks of time to both of my roles to minimize how often my brain has to “switch” during the day. And, importantly, I’m fortunate to work alongside colleagues both within and outside my division with diverse bases of knowledge who have enriched me in this process. I’ve been taught things entirely unfamiliar to my previous training, like the steps involved in bringing patients living in other countries to our hospital for care.
I’m not sure how my position will look a year from now, but I do know it will involve a good deal of listening and learning— about genetics, my patients, the state of healthcare, and myself— to determine how I can best serve our families. Like many genetic counselors, the hat I wear will likely have to change frequently, but I think I’m on a good path to figuring out my size.