I have spent much of the past ten years working in biotech, and since returning to school for genetic counseling, I have been rediscovering everything I treasured about being a student. It’s not just that I love learning or wanted an excuse to buy a crisp, new notebook. It’s that I’m allowed to get excited about the smallest of things — accurately reading a karyotype or finally drawing a pedigree with straight lines. I get to pepper my professors with questions, and I love that they care enough to keep answering. I’m astounded by my classmates and peers, all of whom are wiser and more interesting than I am. And as the newest editor of this column, I’m thrilled that my role is to listen to my fellow students’ ideas.
I came to genetic counseling by way of laboratory research, first as a lab rat in Silicon Valley, then as a researcher for a global health non-profit. While I enjoyed working to make healthcare more accessible, two years as a volunteer crisis counselor showed me that interacting with people is even more gratifying than interacting with bacteria; I’m now pursuing my MSGC at Boise State University. With a background in global health, I’ve been thinking about what accessibility means in the context of genetic counseling.
For instance, I lack the luxury of living near an in-person program and would not be here if not for an online program. I believe this is true for many of my classmates: whether they have young children or care for relatives, whether they cannot leave their jobs or cannot move to a city with a training program, our online program has worked with our life circumstances and allowed us entry into the field. I believe the online format will continue to expand into other genetic counselor training programs in the coming years. Even though it may not be for everyone, I appreciate that we are trying new things, as more variety in training programs will only make the field more accessible.
In many ways, it feels as though I’m entering a field at an inflection point. Medical genetics — in both technology and practice — is accelerating, and our profession is asking itself some difficult questions about who we are and who we want to be. In talking with my future colleagues, whether they work in a cancer clinic or a startup company, I’ve heard a quiet hum of excitement over tests and plans and experiments aiming to make our profession more accessible.
And while practicing counselors have many good ideas, which are worth discussing, this column is for the students — bright-eyed, ambitious, desperately erasing the smudges on our pedigrees. Truly, I’m excited about genetic counseling because I’m excited to hear what my peers are passionate about. So, to my classmates and cohort: Tell me what lights your fire; tell me what hacks you off. Tell me what the field is doing right, what it’s doing wrong and how we can do things better. This column is for you, the future of genetic counseling.