June marked my first anniversary as a practicing genetic counselor at University Hospitals in Cleveland, Ohio. While I earned my master’s degree in Columbus, just a two-hour drive south, none of my other nine classmates moved to Cleveland.
We started graduate school in August of 2020, in unprecedented times with the COVID-19 pandemic. Being accepted into a genetic counseling graduate program was exciting for the obvious reason of realizing a dream of becoming a genetic counselor, but it was also exciting to be in a small group of people that share lifelong interests with each other. I could finally be in a space where I told people I wanted to be a genetic counselor, and their immediate response was something other than, “what’s that?” This excitement turned to uneasiness, as I was completing my coursework alone from a desk in my bedroom, while also trying to make what I envisioned as everlasting friends this way. This was quite the struggle for me, a Type A extrovert.
Friendships and professional relationships began to form in the autumn 2020 semester, but they weren’t quite what I expected. COVID-19 vaccinations in early 2021 were not only necessary from a health and clinical learning perspective, but also marked the beginning of forming these close ties for which I was searching. We began attending classes in person, but also began growing together on a deeper level than just classmates. Whether we were cooking, playing board games, or even studying in the program’s conference room, I saw more of my classmates than I did my family and other loved ones over those two years.
So, to say I was nervous to start a new job in a new place is an understatement. I felt like I was starting over on my journey to becoming a genetic counselor. My classmates had built such a close community, in which no question was a dumb question. In which we could think through cases collaboratively and learn from others’ perspectives. In which we could share our struggles and successes without fear of judgement.
After graduation, I noticed that the group chat notifications didn’t decrease as much or as quickly as I expected. We still used each other to navigate onboarding at new hospital systems and applying for licensure in different states. We studied for boards together, whether that was through texting questions, or going back to the good ol’ days of Zoom study sessions. Over 14 months after graduation, we continue to connect about uncommon and unexpected results, difficult psychosocial situations, and new learning opportunities.
Now, when a question arises in this group, we have ten full-time genetic counselors who live from coast-to-coast practicing in cancer genetics, prenatal and preconception genetics, cardiogenetics, neurogenetics, and in commercial and hospital laboratories with answers. Leaving each other's physical proximity didn’t tear us apart. Rather, it allowed us to continue to grow together yet independently into ten strong and successful genetics professionals.