Friday, November 24, 2017

Genetic Counseling Assistant Experience at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh

A picture of Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh.
I currently work as a Genetic Counselor Assistant (GCA) in the Medical Genetics Department at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. I was hired in July, and having the opportunity to work part-time at Children’s while attending Pitt is a dream come true. I have always loved working with children, and directly helping the genetic counselors with their various day-to-day tasks gives me insight into the many roles and responsibilities of pediatric genetic counselors. As a GCA, some responsibilities I have include writing letters of medical necessity, contacting insurance companies regarding genetic testing, filling out test requisitions, and doing some preliminary prep work for patients who will be seen in the next week. Recently, I have started calling new patients to give them about a genetic counseling appointment, to ensure they know what to expect when they arrive at the hospital.

One thing that is exciting to see as both a genetic counseling student and a GCA is the rapid growth in the field. In addition to hiring me as a part-time GCA this summer, Children’s hired two other GCAs with whom I have the privilege of working. Also, four genetic counselors have been hired since I started my position (doubling the number of genetic counselors in the Medical Genetics Department!), and there is still a need for more. As an emerging professional in this field, having the chance to work with genetic counselors with wide ranges of experience, from recent graduates to experienced genetic counselors, has been an incredible learning opportunity.

Working as a GCA allows students to integrate
class and clinical knowledge while getting paid.
Although balancing work and school can sometimes be difficult, most of the time the material I learn in class and my work position go hand-in-hand. I am fortunate to have days where I work in the morning and then attend class in the afternoon, where we discuss symptomology, conditions, or genetic testing that I had just seen in my work setting. Being a GCA in a pediatric setting facilitates this learning process, due to the wide range of disorders and genetic variants that children may have who are referred to Medical Genetics. In a similar fashion, being a GCA also allows me to synthesize material I learn in class and gives me the opportunity to apply it in a clinical setting. I expect that my work position will also ease my transition from graduate student to genetic counselor, since I will have had almost two years of experience doing many of the daily tasks that are expected of genetic counselors. Just after a few months, I have grown comfortable using the electronic medical record systems, working with other medical professionals, and calling patients and families. My experience thus far has begun to equip me with core skills of genetic counselors, including knowledge and interpersonal communication, which will be invaluable to my future career.

While I have learned a great deal about genetic counseling as a GCA, I would have to say a highlight of my job is the entire Medical Genetics Department staff. My supervisor fosters a supportive, open environment, and I feel everyone at the office is a work family. Everyone has a strong work ethic, and the genetic counselors are incredibly kind and generous with their knowledge. Yet, there is still fun on a daily basis, as well as an ample supply of office treats! Recently, the department has begun organizing monthly social events, including escape rooms and haunted houses, to promote staff bonding and friendship outside of the office. The compassion and camaraderie among the counselors, new and experienced, really makes me excited to come to work every day. I am grateful for the professional opportunity to be a GCA at Children’s, and I look forward to learning more and continuing to hone my skills as a graduate student and future genetic counselor.

-- Rebecca Clark, Class of 2019

Friday, November 10, 2017

Expanding Public Health Genetics

NYMAC's logo.
Last month, we had the opportunity to attend the NYMAC (New York Mid-Atlantic Consortium for Genetics and Newborn Screening Services) steering committee meeting in Washington D.C.
NYMAC is one of seven regional genetics networks in the nation and encompasses seven states: Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York, as well as the District of Columbia. These regional genetic networks were established to increase awareness, knowledge, and access of genetic services. Historically, NYMAC has focused on assessing and improving newborn screening in the region’s states as well as other genetic initiatives.

The steering committee meeting focused on NYMAC’s projects for the new grant cycle, which started May of this year. The five main goals of this grant cycle include education, access, telegenetics, quality improvement, and newborn screening. Being new to the organization, it was a great opportunity to see first hand how an organization designs and implements projects.

We covered decision-making plans for metrics and deliverables, discussed how best to implement new technologies, and brainstormed educational priorities for health care providers and patients. There was no better way to get informed, get involved, and get to know our collaborators than to be at the steering committee meeting. Other attendees included a newborn screening nurse, two representatives of different parent-to-parent organizations, medical geneticists, several telehealth consultants, members from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) and the National Coordinating Center (NCC) for the Regional Genetics Networks, project managers and proposal coordinators, as well as several other professionals. We had the opportunity to speak with leaders in the field, to learn information we didn’t know we didn’t know (such as how to address state licensure issues in telecounseling), and also to contribute our unique perspective to the dialogue around us.

Some of our Pitt Graduate Student workers are helping
NYMAC establish a public health genetics hotline.
As student workers for NYMAC, our primary project is to establish a toll-free phone line that will serve to assist medically under served populations in finding genetic services. We will provide them with a list of clinics in their area and the average wait time for an appointment at these clinics. We will also make appropriate referrals to other outreach organizations if callers have specific questions about a genetic syndrome or if they want to be connected to other families for support. To prepare, we will be updating information on available genetics clinics and outreach sites. We will also be developing lists of “genetic red flags,” or symptoms that should elicit medical attention, organized by age to be used as a reference for both health professionals and patients.

Attending the NYMAC steering committee meeting was a great professional experience for us as current students in the dual degree program (MS in Genetic Counseling and MPH in Public Health Genetics). We are both enthusiastic to help establish the phone line, work with this team of leaders, and to improve the access of genetic services to under served populations in our region.
-- Sarah Brunker, Class of 2019
-- Claire Leifeste, Class of 2018