Friday, April 14, 2017

Pitt Genetic Counseling Assistants Share Their Experiences

I work as a genetic counseling assistant at Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC in the Center for Medical Genetics and Genomics. One of the aspects that attracted me to the genetic counseling assistant position was the opportunity to learn the ‘behind the scenes’ aspects and responsibilities of genetic counseling. Although most of my shadowing experience was in prenatal genetic counseling prior to entering the program, through this position I have learned a great deal more about prenatal counseling over these past few months. Through my position I have been able to be involved in various aspects of case preparation, ordering testing, calling out results, and case follow-up. I had no idea just how timing consuming and extensive case follow-up can be for counselors. Calling insurance companies about coverage for genetic testing can take hours.

Through my position I contact laboratories to determine the appropriate steps for testing specific genes, contacting patients with normal results, completing test requisition forms, preparing blood samples for shipping and consenting low risk patients referred for Non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT) with the appropriate supervision by the genetic counselors. My basic duties working within an academic research hospital with a busy genetic counseling and ultrasound staff every day is different but I’ve learned to expect the unexpected when I go to work. Cases are scheduled unexpectedly and unanticipated challenges arise but working at Magee over the past few months has helped me to learn how to embrace these challenges rather than becoming overwhelmed. I love being a part of a team that is always willing to collaborate with one another to tackle challenges or plan an office party. Even though I have only worked in this position for a few months, I truly feel like I am a part of the genetics team at Magee.

-- Joya B

As a Genetic Counseling Assistant, I spend my time at work immersed in the day-to-day operations of a busy genetic counseling office, which I believe will serve me well when I enter the field. As a GC assistant in the cancer genetics department of Magee Womens Hospital in Pittsburgh, I am involved in reviewing lab reports, insurance correspondence, case preparation materials, data entry, and collecting family history information. In working on these tasks, I gain valuable experience for my chosen career and contribute to the operation of a busy genetic counseling clinic and assist the genetic counselors in the office with administrative tasks that allow them to focus more on patient care. Having the opportunity to collaborate so closely with practicing genetic counselors is an amazing opportunity.

Working with the experienced staff at Magee Womens Hospital has helped me learn a great deal about genetic counseling as a profession. I have seen how they interact with patients, physicians, and each other. I envy their ability to manage their work so efficiently, and hope that I may somehow absorb some of that talent just by being there and watching the strategies they use. The part of my job I enjoy the most is seeing firsthand how my chosen profession is respected by clinicians, and appreciated by patients.

-- Seth Lascurain

I currently work as a Genetic Counseling Assistant at the Allegheny Health Network Cancer Genetics program. I was very excited to start the position because I have always had a strong interest in cancer genetics and have had very positive experiences working within the Allegheny Health Network previously. Through this position, I have been involved in a wide variety of different roles to help with the daily functioning of the clinic, and my work has helped to prepare me for the start of my clinical rotations.

One major role that I have been a part of is learning how to navigate the electronic medical record system called Epic. I was able to receive Epic training and have since been involved in scanning patient records, locating information relevant to their upcoming cancer genetic sessions, and learning how to construct template letters. I have also been fortunate enough to be able to call patients to gather their family history prior to appointments. This experience has immensely improved my confidence in talking to patients and knowing important questions to ask when gathering a comprehensive family history. Similarly, I occasionally gather surgical pathology records and progress reports for patients who have had previous biopsies. Gathering this information has allowed me to start to practice compiling both family history and pathology information to hypothesize about potential hereditary cancer syndromes. In the future, I may transition into gathering family histories prior to scheduling patients and presenting it to the counselors to help them to decide if the family history appears to be consistent with a hereditary cancer condition and if they would meet specific testing criteria. Other roles that I have such as updating standards and procedures for the clinic, tracking laboratory and insurance company relationships, and ordering testing supplies have all provided me with a better idea of the behind the scenes work that goes into running a cancer genetics clinic.

In addition to providing an opportunity to practice skills that I have learned in class such as taking a cancer family history, my position provides me with access to a wealth of educational resources. First and foremost, the counselors at AHN are incredibly knowledgeable and are always open to answering any questions that I may have about a particular cancer syndrome. I have also attended several multidisciplinary tumor board meetings during which oncologists, genetic counselors, surgeons, and other health care professionals discuss updates in their area of practice and often use cases to illustrate their points. Under the guidance of the counselors, I have also reviewed literature about specific cancer syndromes and helped to update patient educational materials to provide them with the most accurate information.

Another wonderful component about working as a GCA in the realm of cancer genetics is that I intend to focus my thesis project on information gathered from our clinic about surgical decision making patterns for clients found to have mutations in “lower risk,” moderate penetrance genes associated with hereditary breast and ovarian cancers. I am very excited to have the opportunity to be able to delve into studying an area of genetic counseling that I am particularly interested in and passionate about.

Overall, every time I go into work, I feel as though I have the opportunity to learn more about the science and skills involved in running a cancer genetics clinic. Working as a GCA has helped me to expand my knowledge and improve my confidence so that I feel more prepared to make the transition into rotations.

-- Jackie Amurgis

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