One of the things that drew me to Pitt’s Genetic Counseling Program was the fact that there are opportunities for students to have part time jobs. Additionally, many students do their thesis projects through their work positions. This attracted me to Pitt’s Genetic Counseling Program because I knew I wanted to continue to work while I got my degree. The ability to do my thesis through my work position allowed me to start thinking about projects earlier and gave me the connections I needed to set up my project.
For my student work position, I work at UPMC Shadyside in the Hereditary Gastrointestinal (GI) Tumor Program as a genetic counseling assistant. This group counsels patients who are referred for hereditary GI cancer risk assessment and manages care for individuals who have a hereditary predisposition to GI cancers, including Lynch Syndrome, Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP), Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer (HDGC), Familial Pancreatic Cancer (FPC) and more. The team consists of a gastroenterologist who specializes in hereditary gastrointestinal predispositions, two genetic counselors, and several research coordinators who enroll and coordinate patient participation in a variety of research studies.
The clinic sees 10 new patients a week, and my job is to prepare for each appointment to assist the genetic counselors. About a week in advance, I extract relevant information from patient medical records to complete intake forms. I call patients on the phone to review their personal history and see if any records need to be requested from other institutions before their appointments. While I have them on the phone, I also draw a pedigree so the counselors have more information about potential differential diagnoses before the session. After the appointment, I make the pedigrees in progeny, a secure pedigree database, so a clean copy can be uploaded to the electronic medical record system. Because of my past experiences as a research coordinator, I also occasionally consent patients to research studies and carry out study procedures.
Working as a GCA has been such a rewarding experience for me. During the first year of the program when I was focusing on classes, being able to speak with patients and learn more about cancer genetics (which I have always been interested in) was perfect for me. In the particularly stressful academic weeks, it reminded me why I became interested in genetic counseling in the first place. In addition, I was able to have months of practice preparing for cases before entering my clinical rotations, which allowed me to be more confident heading into my first rotation.
I truly enjoy the time I am able to spend in the office. It has allowed me to take a step back from the hectic class schedule while still being able to learn about topics relevant to my future career. I have made connections with people in the field who have become my mentors. My job allows me to continue to learn more about something I am passionate about, and I am very grateful for the experience. Now that clinical rotations have begun, this work position will be perhaps the only constant in my life as I change rotation sites regularly. I am excited to continue working and growing in the UPMC Hereditary GI Tumor Program for the next year.
Christine Drogan, class of 2020