Dear Genetic Counselor Community,
Much has been studied and written about leading organizational change and change management — there are countless books, articles and podcasts on the topic. A prevailing theme of these works is that sustainable change only happens when the vision and desire for change pervades throughout an organization, when many people take up the mantle and lead those around them.
This is an unprecedented time of change for NSGC, both in terms of the amount of change we are experiencing and the big changes we are trying to effect.
We are all experiencing change that is brought upon us from external forces. A global pandemic has transformed the way we live, the way we work and the way we can gather and communicate within NSGC. Critical and far-reaching social justice issues and national political unrest have changed the way we view and interact with the world. Challenges to abortion access have negatively impacted genetic counselors’ ability to deliver services in accordance with our scope of practice and code of ethics. These immense changes are all being driven by the world in which we live.
However, we, as genetic counselors, are also trying to effect change. We are wholeheartedly focused on a future of greater justice, equity, diversity and inclusion within NSGC and the genetic counseling profession. This is a journey of assessment, action and accountability; the journey never ends because we must always assess, act and hold ourselves accountable. A cultural shift is necessary to move us forward on this journey. We are also trying to effect change for our broader patient community by increasing equitable access to genetic services — this means federal recognition for genetic counselors, service delivery that is inclusive of minoritized and underserved populations, and reproductive rights and justice for all.
Experiencing this degree of change while also trying to effect change can be unsettling and disorientating — we don’t always feel quite steady on our feet and are sometimes unsure of the right next step. It is difficult to move forward in this degree of change without some direction and support from those around us. Sometimes we need to reach out for a steadying hand or have a guiding voice in our ear. We must lead and be led by each other.
This year, I have witnessed our genetic counselor community lead each other in countless ways. We have been advocates for the Access to Genetic Counselor Services Act and, through our grassroots campaign led by genetic counselors, have achieved more cosponsors in a shorter amount of time than ever before. We have advocated for access to our services at the state level as well, with a banner year in new states enacting licensure. We have also created resources to support genetic counselors in advocating for our ability to provide complete and unbiased information about abortion and other reproductive health services to patients and families. Efforts to increase justice, equity, diversity and inclusion within our profession have been evident at all layers and facets of our organization; the progress of this collective work by volunteers and staff could be seen, heard and felt at our annual conference in a way that we had not experienced before.
Leadership through change is not unidirectional. It is multidirectional and multidimensional. And although it is challenging to experience change and effect change, there is beauty in the work. The act of leading change with colleagues, mentors and friends is transformative, such that by doing this work together each of us is changed ourselves. Being a volunteer for this organization has undeniably and irrevocably changed me for the better and helped me grow as a professional and a person. I hope it has for you as well.
While we have moved forward as individuals and collectively as a profession in many meaningful ways during 2021, we still have much building to do in 2022 and beyond! My greatest hope for our genetic counselor community is that we continue to push each other towards change and accountability, and also support and take care of each other in the process. I believe attaining this balance is key to achieving true excellence and sustainability for our profession, now and in the decades to come.
With respect, gratitude and encouragement always,
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.