It has been incredible to see genetic counselors (GCs) acting as staunch advocates for increased access to student clinical rotations throughout the pandemic. Furthermore, recent publications and webinars have highlighted the dynamic changes “non-traditional” GCs have provided to support budding GC students when the world seemed to be turning upside down.
Many companies, including our employer, Natera, have taken time to reshape the opportunities offered to GC students. Providing rotations and summer internships to GC students expands their access and exposure, however the real need may lie with potential program applicants. It’s likely nearly all GCs felt this void at some point in their development as a prospective GC student. Unfortunately, this gap has persisted in our current climate fueled both by our small numbers and the lack of diversity within the profession. Creative and additional efforts are needed to expand knowledge and awareness about the GC field.
In January of 2022 we launched a “Natera Internal Clinical Experience,” which allowed any employee (i.e., “Nateran”) to participate in various activities to learn more about the GC field and our roles both internally and remotely. A company-wide survey was sent out to gauge interest in this program which was followed by distribution of a schedule for GC shadowing. Sign-ups were managed through SignUpGenius and participants were not limited to a specific number of experiences. Some opportunities had limited slots available (i.e., patient shadowing), while others were unlimited (journal club, GC graduate program overview, among others). Twenty-six experiences were offered via video call for two consecutive weeks. We covered GC job duties including telehealth comprehensive GC sessions, test-specific genetic information sessions, an overview of how specific genetic tests work, and a journal club. Each week an overview of GC graduate programs was offered which covered admission requirements, the scope of currently accredited programs, application considerations, general graduate school curriculum expectations, shared resources and recent applicants’ experiences. Additionally, there was a Q&A session led by GCs currently or previously active in graduate education or the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC).
Twenty-eight Naterans responded to the initial questionnaire and 11 joined at least one experience. Most participants joined three to five experiences. Although the number of participants was lower than expected, conflicts of attending during work hours may have posed a larger obstacle than anticipated. Eight of eleven (72.7%) participants provided ratings and feedback on the “Natera Internal Clinical Experience.” Using a modified Likert scale, each experience was rated 1-5 (1: poor, 3: average and 5: amazing). The average overall experience rating was 4.5. All participants that provided feedback would recommend the “Natera Internal Clinical Experience” to others. The weekly genetic counseling graduate program overview sessions received the highest average rating of 4.86. We received positive reflections, as well as feedback that will be used to improve this program in the future, including:
- “Learning about how I can strengthen my application in terms of relevant experiences pertaining to volunteering/crisis counseling [was helpful]. Also, it was great to learn about resources which are available to see and compare what a successful candidate looks like compared to myself.”
- “The length of time of the [GC program] meeting could be increased as the information presented was extremely valuable, especially input from various GCs who have all had a varied but equally insightful path towards becoming a GC; whether at undergraduate or at the particular graduate programs each GC attended.”
- “I think it is phenomenal if someone has not applied to programs yet, and I could see that the people in my group who had not [yet applied] got a lot [out] of it. However, I do think that timing it to be in maybe July or August would catch more people who are considering their applications rather than have submitted them already.”
We must continue to share ideas and create various opportunities for increasing access, exposure, and knowledge about the GC field. We are incredibly passionate about the profession and hope this article provides insight into an alternative method to increase accessibility and awareness for prospective students.