It wasn’t always this way. Genetic counseling was known to represent a small, but rapidly growing profession. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, a 29% growth rate was forecasted between 2014 and 2024, compared to the average rate of just 7% across all occupations. This meant that people graduating with a degree in genetic counseling often had their pick of jobs. Meanwhile, more genetic counselors were choosing laboratory or industry positions over clinical ones causing the prevalence of genetic counselors to fall short of patient demand. These market conditions left a generation of genetic counselors feeling falsely protected, maybe even immune to layoffs. Not a bad time to be a genetic counselor!
Then, the COVID-19 global pandemic turned our world upside down.
As people postponed routine healthcare visits, genetic testing appointments became even more sparse. While some genetic counselors experienced layoffs prior to the pandemic, this global health crisis exacerbated the uncertain job market. Words like austerity, pay cuts, furloughs, downsizing, layoffs, and reduction in force suddenly became a reality for many genetic counselors, regardless of employer, title, or years of experience. It became very clear that genetic counselors were not insulated from or immune to market pressures or unsustainable business models.
If you are directly impacted by a layoff, regardless of your situation, there is always a financial toll. Yet for some, the emotional side effects may feel greater. You loved what you did, you believed in the mission, and you enjoyed your colleagues whom you respected and who inspired you to think better, do better, be better. With your team ripped apart, even if everyone finds another opportunity, it likely won’t be together. Now what? Feelings of loss and less than may set in. Others may “move on” and it can be difficult to work through these new emotions especially if you feel like you were left behind.
As genetic counselors who lived through layoffs, may we offer some suggestions:
Allow yourself time to grieve the loss. Facing the fact that your livelihood is a vulnerable datapoint on a spreadsheet can be sobering. Remember, these decisions typically do not reflect on your performance. It’s not personal, it’s just business.
If you can, pause and reassess. Go on that trip or try that new hobby. Self-care is always important, but it is especially critical during unstable times. Is this a chance to rebrand or try something new? If you've always wanted to move into a different area of work, maybe now is the perfect opportunity.
When you’re ready, lean on your community: NSGC, former classmates, current or former colleagues, and even your social media networks. Ask about opportunities at organizations you are connected to even if no job postings are public. Engage in conversations about your unique skill set and find ways to continue those connections even after you find your next role.
Take advantage of resources often made available through layoffs in the form of job coaching, resume builders, and HR to recalibrate your current market value and prepare to re-enter the job market. If you weren’t offered these tools, explore publicly available resources. For example, Etsy has a multitude of resume templates at a very reasonable cost to purchase.
When you’re ready to find a new employer, take time to explore your options. If you’re applying to a publicly traded company, research financials, stock price and executive management. During the interview process, ask about funding sources, profitability, and business outlook.
To those who make it through a round of layoffs: we see you too. You may experience feelings of survivor’s guilt, tremendous uncertainty, and low team morale. You may have your head down to retain your new team, or be actively updating your resume, or a little of both. You still feel impacted, just without the outpouring of support you may have received if you had been the one let go. Neither is “easy.”
Unfortunately, layoffs can happen when we feel the least prepared to handle the fallout. However, the authors have found that the key to moving forward is to lean on professional and personal networks for both emotional support and practical tools. Taking time to celebrate even the smallest win during a crisis can also be immensely empowering. While a layoff is hardly ever welcomed, when the dust settles, may you find yourself stronger, happier, and even better positioned for your next chapter.
"Projections of occupational employment, 2014–24," Career Outlook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, December 2015. (visited August 08, 2022).