Friday, March 31, 2017

Transitioning from Student to Genetic Counselor

During the spring semester of my second year of graduate training, I accepted a position at the University of Iowa Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center (UIHC) as a cancer genetic counselor. From the time I first interviewed it was evident that a number of exciting things were on the horizon for genetic counseling at UIHC. I was recruited along with five other new genetic counseling hires for various positions across the hospital, breaking a national recorded for the most new clinical genetic counseling hires at an academic medical center institution.

Since starting my job just over seven months ago, I have had the opportunity to attend the National Society of Genetic Counselors Annual Education Conference in Seattle and the Iowa Cancer Consortium in Des Moines, as well as give a number of presentations at tumor boards, other specialty meetings, and conferences. The most memorable activity I have participated in, to date, was on my third day when we took part in one of the official satellites for former Vice President Biden’s  Cancer Moonshot. The Cancer Moonshot was a call to action for all those involved in cancer care and research to help end cancer as we know it. During the event we heard from a local panel including physicians, researchers, and patients as well as a moving and powerful speech from Vice President Biden as he shared the story of his son, Bo.

One of the most significant changes I noticed when starting my genetic counseling career was that I was now in charge. I was the expert in the room and had to be prepared to answer any question the patients may have. I was also seen as the expert in tumor boards, often fielding questions about appropriate referrals to our clinic. This was both exhilarating and overwhelming. Fortunately, I quickly overcame these feelings and became an integrated part of the patient care team. I found it important to remember that I may not know everything, but I am still the genetics expert. It is okay to say you do not know the answer, but you will look into the question to find the answer. I also found myself using the counseling strategies my supervisors used in clinical rotations, whether that is to get a patient to open up more, facilitate decision-making, or to help refocus a patient to get the session back on track.

Pitt did a wonderful job preparing us for our genetic counseling careers.  The only thing I was probably not prepared for is not being around the 10 wonderful classmates I spent so much time with for two years! This was a significant adjustment but luckily we keep in touch and are available to each other to discuss ideas and provide support after having a difficult case. We also make plans for class trips so we can see each other stress-free. Although it has been hard not seeing these wonderful friends every day, there is a great group of genetic counselors across UIHC who help provide support. I was hired at the same time as other new graduates and we areable to support each other and studied together for the ABGC certification examination.  I was thrilled to pass the exam!

At my job, we have a social chair who plans monthly activities for genetic counselors to get together, which helps foster a strong relationship and friendship with the other genetic counselors at our institution. There is a monthly book club that includes genetic counselors as well as other cancer center staff. I also have the opportunity to work with two (soon to be three) wonderful genetic counselors in the cancer center, that we endearingly refer to as “the dream team”.

With all the changes that are coming to the UIHC and the excellent training I received at Pitt, I know I will be able to take my career down whatever path I choose, whether that be teaching, research, or clinical work. Coming to UIHC has been a wonderful transition into the workforce that provides me with endless opportunity to grow.

-Kristin Gambin, Class of 2016

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