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

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