Friday, May 11, 2018

Springtime Shenanigans:

The top ten things #PittGC students look forward to in the spring!

Although the weather in Pittsburgh has been nothing more than temperamental this year, it is finally starting to feel a bit like spring. So it’s time for our students to get outside and enjoy some sunshine...or stay in when it decides to rain (or even snow!).
A view of the cathedral of learning #HailtoPitt

  1.     Mt. Washington. On a clear day, going to Mt. Washington is a breathtaking sight. Seeing the city helps you appreciate where the Allegheny, Monongahela, and Ohio rivers meet. Not to mention, downtown looks gorgeous as well and you can take the Monongahela Incline!

The view! 

2.     Lumberjaxes. A good way to get some stress out, or have some fun, is axe throwing! You may even find yourself picking up a new hobby.

Just taking a study break and a stroll (Frick Park)
3.     A stroll through the park. With Schenley, Highland, and Frick parks, it’s easy to find a spot to go for a quiet, afternoon stroll. When you’re admiring the woods of Schenley Park or skirting the reservoir at Highland, you can forget you’re in the city.

4.     Phipps Conservatory. Right now, there is a butterfly room at the conservatory. In addition to seeing the beautiful blooms, you can watch these colorful creatures flit about without worrying they’ll fly out of your sight forever.

5.     Get a tea or a coffee. Don’t forget that your favorite cafe most likely offers cold versions of that Japanese Sencha you like so much! Cold brew season is upon us, and with hotter days spring-ing into Pittsburgh, it can certainly be needed. Plus, it’s important to stay hydrated

6.     Teatime. If it’s not enough to just grab a quick drink, there are some tea houses that have teatime once a week - so put on your teatime best and get ready for finger sandwiches.
7. Baseball anyone? Pittsburgh has sports for everyone all year round. This time of year is the perfect time to catch a game at PNC Park. You can watch the game and try out the “Tastes of Pittsburgh” (the food court at PNC Park) which includes famous Pittsburgh eateries like Primanti brothers, Mrs. T’s Pierogies and more traditional baseball food.

Spring means baseball season has started!

8.  The Roberto Clemente Museum. The legacy of baseball great Roberto Clemente can be found in a retired fire station near downtown area, it boasts an impressive amount of memorabilia, awards and photos of a Pittsburgh baseball hero. Clemente was born in Puerto Rico and used his baseball prowess to escape poverty. Clemente would go on to  have numerous awards and he was also posthumously inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (the first Latin American and Caribbean player to do so). He was also known for his philanthropic endeavors (such as earthquake relief missions). 
Roberto Clemente Museum (care of their website)

9.     Farmers market. It’s that time of year again, by the end of May the farmers markets will be back and amazing fresh fruit and vggies will be in your grasp. Many of our students love the Squirrel Hill farmers market, it is a great way to spend a Sunday morning.

10.  Dance in the park! Free weekly dance sessions in Schenley Plaza on Wednesdays starting May 30 through the rest of the summer. They start at seven and cover everything from Balkan dance to the waltz and the argentine tango!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Final Reflections: The Class of 2018

First get together at Mellon Park.

As the class of 2018 prepares to walk across the stage, they reflect upon the past two years of classes, clinicals, program activities, and time spent with friends. We know our graduates have the skills to make an impact on the genetic counseling world and wish them all the best as they set out as bona fide genetic counselors.

My time in the Pitt program has been one of the most transformative experiences of my life. I have learned so much and am excited to use these teachings as a foundation for continued growth throughout my career as a genetic counselor. The love, support, and laughs from my friends has, of course, been the best part of all. I am so thankful for everyone that helped Pittsburgh grow from a place where I went to school into another home. -- Emily Spoth

Celebrating the Fourth of July!
It feels simply surreal to be graduating. My goal for many years has been to become a genetic counselor, and now I am mere steps (and a large board exam) away from officially achieving that goal! It didn’t hit me until the conclusion of my last genetic counseling class that I am approaching the finish line. It still doesn’t feel real. I am incredibly excited for both myself and all my spectacular classmates who I’ve shared these last two years with. It pains me to see everyone going their separate ways, but I know all of us will have a positive impact wherever we go, and I am eager to hear about everyone’s new adventures in their new positions. I am immensely thankful for my time in the program, and I look forward to starting this new life chapter. -- Julia Stone

I am so excited to start my professional career as a genetic counselor. It was a long journey to get to this point, but I feel prepared to enter the workforce with the rigorous training I’ve had at Pitt. -- Emily Mazzei

#Selfies at NSGC!
Even though I have been in Pittsburgh for six years now, I have explored the city the most in these last two years through clinical rotations and adventures with my classmates! I have also grown the most as a person and professional in these years, again with the help of my classmates as well as the wonderful instructors and opportunities provided by the Pitt program. Despite being slightly nervous for my next steps as a full-fledged genetic counselor, I know I have been well trained and will always have my Pitt family to support me! -- Julia Verbiar

As graduation swiftly approaches, I can hardly believe that it’s been 2 years. I’ve known that I wanted to be a genetic counselor since high school and prodigiously researched genetic counseling programs, course curriculums, student bios and genetics publications for years in anticipation. However, none of this prepared me for the amount of personal and professional growth that I’ve experienced since becoming a part of the Pitt Genetic Counseling Program. I’m both exhilarated and sad to venture out into the “real world” bursting with all of the knowledge, experience, and support my incredible classmates, teachers, and advisors have provided. Hail to Pitt! -- Joya Petersen

An impromptu lunch at Prince of India during restaurant week.
Right now I find myself standing with one foot firmly planted in graduate school and one foot toeing its way out of the door into the “real” world. It is both a terrifying and exhilarating feeling. I can still remember the same electric feeling, sitting in my dorm room six years ago and deciding that I would rather pursue a career in biology and genetics than in journalism. The fear that it could be the wrong choice or the perfect choice swimming around my head as I enrolled in chemistry two weeks after the semester had begun. I am so thankful to have had these past two years within Pitt’s genetic counseling training program. While the journey was certainly a bumpy one, every success - and every failure - has shown me that genetic counseling is the right career path for me. I have learned so much from Robin and Andrea, and the rest of the Human Genetics department. In clinic, I have watched understanding fill someone’s eyes when I explain a particular condition or that they do not need BRCA testing. And I have spent what feels like too little time making memories with my wonderful classmates. I know Pitt has prepared me to become a great genetic counselor, and I think I’m ready to take the final step out of the door. -- Meg Hager

Axe throwing champs!

I am so grateful for the wonderful education and clinical experiences that I received at Pitt. I feel very confident entering into the workforce, and I owe it to all of the exceptional mentors that I have had over the last two years. -- Jackie Amurgis

The moment that I have envisioned since I was in high school is almost here, officially being a genetic counselor! My time at Pitt has prepared me beyond what I could ever have imagined. It is definitely a bittersweet time saying goodbye to my classmates, Robin and Andrea, our rotation supervisors, the city of Pittsburgh, and so much more. I am looking forward to reunions with my classmates and visits back to Pittsburgh! -- Claire Leifeste

-- The Class of 2018

Friday, April 13, 2018

Choose Your Own Adventure: A Certificate Story

The University and the Genetic Counseling Program offer many valuable experiences, and Pittsburgh is never at a shortage of events or neighborhoods to explore, but prioritizing is paramount for a successful learning experience.  When I considered adding a certificate to my educational experience, I knew I needed to feel confident it was the right fit before I would be willing to make the commitment.  The main issues I considered were my personal connection with the certificate topics, how they would impact my practice, time obligations, and, to a lesser extent, logistics. What follows is an abridged version of my decision-making process before adding the LGBT Health Certificate to my graduate experience.   Full disclosure: I’m a huge fan of Excel sheets, so this was originally done in more of a weighted calculation rubric set-up, but a narrative of my decision-making seemed more reader friendly. 

I insisted on taking summer classes throughout college, taught for four years, and still consider nonfiction a pleasure to read.  In short, I enjoy learning.  In undergrad, I ended up adding a minor and a certificate because I just couldn’t quit reading course descriptions and signing up.  It may be a problem, but it’s also led to some of my most enriching educational experiences.  A Global Politics of HIV/AIDS course changed the way I view access to healthcare and the stigmas that surround certain diseases.  A community engagement course led to a position as a volunteer coordinator in a fair-trade store where I was stunned by the impact that micro loans and artisan ownership can have on the global economy.  The certificate program would once again allow an opportunity to step outside of the prescribed curriculum and explore how other public health concerns could impact our practice as genetic counselors.  While some seemed to be close to classes I was already taking, classes that would allow the greatest chance to meet other students and step outside of the expected were of the most interest.  Everyone identifies with different aspects of our healthcare system and it was exciting to see that Pitt Public Health takes this into account.  There was Health Systems Leadership and Management or Health Care Systems Engineering for those most interested in management and infrastructure.  Other courses seemed to offer a more in-depth look at topics touched on in our required classes, like Global Health and Public Health Genetics.  Because of my interest and passion in health equity, I was interested in certificates that focused on how minority groups navigate their healthcare and how I could facilitate access for these groups.  Several certificates allowed the opportunity to work with different communities, so I knew it was not a matter of whether or not to pursue a certificate, but which one to choose

As professionals, we adopt the tenets of our chosen careers.  Genetic counseling focuses on empowerment of our clients and a holistic, non-directive, egalitarian approach to healthcare.  It was this focus on access to services and the client-centered care that initially drew me to genetic counseling, and Pitt specifically.  My personal tenets aligned with ensuring that despite barriers, a patient was able to understand their options and select next steps that aligned best with their values and beliefs.  Being in the Human Genetics Department in the School of Public Health, we have the unique experience of gaining a deep understanding of the biology while looking more globally at how individuals fit into the population approach to medicine.  I knew this inclusive perspective would provide an excellent basis for my future career, but the certificate allowed me to further inform my future practice.  I had already identified a few options that I was passionate about, and wanted to see what links could be made specifically to genetic counseling.  I met with Robin and Andrea to discuss certificate options and, as always, they were extremely supportive.  We talked through the various options, and although I felt that the Health Equity certificate may have the easiest translation, they could tell I was most interested in LGBT Individuals’ Health and Wellness.  I was passionate about the queer community’s rights to family planning and how they might use genetic counseling services in a unique way.  The final step was to contact the Director of the certificate, Dr. Ron Stall, to see how I might fit into the program. Within one conversation, he had given me no less than three thesis ideas connecting LGBT health and genetic counseling.  His excitement assured me that taking on these extra classes could have an impact on my learning and hopefully the field. 

Each certificate has unique classwork and practicum requirements.  The LGBT certificate involves three required courses, seven elective credits, a thesis project, and a practicum.  I wanted to make sure the schedule would still allow me to finish by the spring semester of my second year.  I work 20 hours a week remotely as a data entry clerk for a cancer genetics company.  Having the flexibility to work from home allowed me to work in a class this semester.  Moving forward I will have to find space for at least two classes and ensure that my thesis is focused on an LGBT health topic.  Dr. Stall worked with my schedule to make sure I could start on the coursework right away and the required classes are helping me to begin work on my thesis in a timely fashion.  As I’ve found with Pitt in general, the faculty is willing to go above and beyond to make sure your educational opportunities align with your future goals.  So as far as time commitment, I have had to add a few classes, but the faculty has been extremely accommodating about what classes qualify and how they would work in my schedule. 

The last consideration was the logistics.  No discussion about higher education is complete without some consideration for expense.  The Pitt program is very aware of the financial burden graduate students take on and is always willing to work with you.  While taking extra classes will inevitably mean more money, they have been very helpful about planning the timing of courses and ensuring the financial aid has been lined up.  Because so many of the human genetics students are genetic counseling students, classes in these programs often don’t conflict, but the same is not true when you step outside of the department.  Andrea and Robin were able to help me look at the schedule and move it around so I could meet all the requirement.  Honestly, I cannot stress how reassuring it’s been to have the faculty rooting for me and removing the road blocks along the way.  For me, the extra money and added hours were well worth the promise of this unique addition to my degree. 

In my case, all roads pointed to the certificate program.  After taking my first class this semester, my choice has been validated.  Advanced Topics in LGBT Research  required us to choose a LGBT health disparity and write a grant proposal for a future research endeavor.  The opportunity to work with students in other departments in an intimate, discussion-based atmosphere is one of the highlights of my week.  I would encourage anyone to just take a quick scroll through the website to see if you can spot a possible creative connection between genetic counseling and one of the other certificate topics.

Just a final note on a certificate versus dual degree:  Pitt also offers a dual MPH option.  As I divulged earlier, I find it nearly impossible to say no to an extra class, and so I also considered this option.  It required a lot of soul searching to decline that opportunity.  Because of my interests in research, my timeline for finishing the course, and outside obligations, the certificate was a better fit for me.  I had completed a Masters in Research last year and knew that the MPH focus was not where I pictured my career going.  Both the dual degree and certificate programs are wonderful options and warrant consideration before making your final decision for genetic counseling training. 

Kelsey Bohnert - Class of 2019