Doing anything for the first time can be a challenge, and for many of us (especially novice genetic counselors) it can be difficult to allow yourself to make mistakes. At the end of April my classmates and I prepared to begin rotations. At Pitt we spend our first year in the classroom, and at the start of May through the following March we spend the vast majority of our time in rotations. What this means for those of you who are perfectionists with high personal expectations, like me, is this: even armed with all of that new knowledge, you will not be an expert counselor when you walk through the door of your first or even your second rotation.
I spent a lot of time fretting over this concept, worrying and rehearsing what I would say (the rehearsing part is actually very helpful!). I went into my first rotation nervous and a little afraid; I wondered often: what if I say the wrong thing? What if I scare the patient? Or worse, what if I make them cry? My first day counseling patients was definitely frightening, and I certainly was not an expert. I stumbled through my first explanation of chromosomes, and my explanation of how a patients’ family history can contribute to their risk is still evolving. What I did learn is that we all have to start somewhere, and if you are afraid to be a beginner you can’t learn anything new either. I also found that the counselors are there to help, and I have felt this from each counselor I have come across. They give excellent feedback and are sincerely invested in our success. They often helped me craft a better way to explain things when I got stuck; they were also open and willing to share their own struggles as a student.
In short, I survived and so did all of my patients. In the process I also learned quite a bit about how to counsel patients, tears and all. Even more importantly, I found that when I didn’t take on something new I felt a little stuck and uncertain. Trying new ways to explain concepts helped to boost my confidence, and I was excited to see the next patient so I could try out my new skill. Many of us enter this field because we want to share what we know with others to help them make decisions, but the trick is that we have to allow ourselves to be new, to accept that we do not know everything, and that if all else fails, the counselor is there as a safety net.
-Nikki Walano, class of 2016