Friday, January 26, 2018

Deciding on the Dual Degree

While preparing for my genetic counseling graduate work, one of my favorite experiences was working with a local organization, Jewish Young Professionals, to set up a night that focused on genetics. We arranged for a certified genetic counselor to speak with a group of approximately 20 individuals aged 20-40, about a variety of genetic issues that might be important for them to know at different stages of life. Activities like this, while not always an everyday part of a genetic counselor's professional life, are important to providing basic education to the community and can be valuable in increasing awareness of relevant genetic issues. While I love individual interactions, and look forward to clinical genetic counseling, I also feel that it is important to think about the impact of genetics on population health (for example, what population screening measures are appropriate and why). Given this perspective, the addition of the MPH degree in Public Health Genetics just made sense.

        I didn't always know I wanted to be a genetic counselor. I didn't even know what genetic counseling was until a few years ago but experiences like the aforementioned one helped solidify my interest in getting involved in healthcare, specifically genetic counseling. I started the process of applying to genetic counseling training programs and continued to be passionate about people and their health. When I got into the genetic counseling program of my dreams, the option of entering the dual degree program (MS in Genetic Counseling/MPH in Public Health Genetics) seemed intriguing. I started to ask a number of questions: Was it right for me? I already had a different graduate degree, in a field I wasn't in, so what could the addition of an MPH do for me?  

        When considering the dual degree, I knew that I could see the benefit, but was it enough when weighed against the cost and time commitment? To be honest, I spent a good deal of time pondering practical issues.  I thought about what the addition of another degree could provide.  Maybe it could help me when I apply for jobs.  Maybe it would give me a bargaining chip for a slightly better salary.  While this information is important to keep in mind, it missed the larger picture of the relevancy of a dual degree to genetic counseling education and practice.  I had great conversations with the program directors as well as the faculty at the University of Pittsburgh, who helped focus my internal reflections.  I also had an informative discussion with an alumnus who graduated from the dual degree program and an alumnus who did not get the dual degree but who has recently started an educational program in public health.  They both shared with me how their clinical practice has been influenced by their public health education.

University of Pittsburgh Public Health
As a result of all these conversations and considerations, when I thought of my future as a genetic counselor, it became clear that I wanted the education as a public health professional to inform my work as a genetics professional within the larger context of our current healthcare system.
Much of genetic counseling work is intertwined with public health, and at times, it can be hard to separate the two. Some experience in public health is intrinsic to the University of Pittsburgh genetic counseling experience, but it became clear that the addition of the dual degree would help me better understand and reframe some of the debates we are currently having about genetics in a new and helpful way. The increased depth and breadth of experience provided by the MPH would also help me improve my ability to communicate with and care for patients in the clinical setting. For these reasons, I started my first dual degree class this semester.

-Natasha Robin Berman
Class of 2019

Friday, January 12, 2018

Winter Activities in Pittsburgh

Our winter break coincided with a bit of a cold snap, but that can’t stop the fun here in Pittsburgh. It has something for everyone over the winter:

Phipps Conservatory likes to decorated with brightly colored
lights during the winter months.
-        Looking to burn some calories? Hike in Frick Park (sure its cold but that didn’t stop us!).  Frick is the largest of the historic parks and covers 644 acres and provides individuals with the ability to use sustainable recreational trails in the middle of the city of Pittsburgh.  Those interested in birding have been able to identify over 100 different bird species, and those interested in learning about nature can check out the new Environmental Center.

-        Looking for a light display? Phipps Conservatory has a fantastic winter flower and light show from the end of November through the first week of January. The displays include both indoor and outdoor experiences, with a little bit of education for those amateur botanists.

-        Want to plan an indoor group activity? Check out the Arsenal Bowling Alley, which offers old school vibes and lots of fun bowling at a reasonable price. Or, if you’re in a more adventurous mood, you can try axe throwing at LumberJaxes.

A view onto the winter streets of Pitt's campus from inside a
Nationality Room in the Cathedral of Learning.
-        Want to kick back and relax? Take in a movie at Squirrel Hill’s Manor Theatre.  Manor Theatre is one of the oldest theaters in Pittsburgh, this landmark has been entertaining locals for 90 years.

-        Like old churches? St. Anthony’s Chapel is a Catholic church that was established in 1880 by Fr. Suitbert Mollinger. This chapel houses the largest collection of religious relics outside of the Vatican, coming in at a grand total of 5,000 relics!

-        Maybe the many trails of Frick Park have been discovered and you’re looking for a new outdoor adventure?  Try the Schenley Park, which has 456 acres and holds the Phipps Conservatory. It also can accommodate those who have been inspired by the winter games and want to work on their ice skating.

Pitt faculty and students on a Heinz History Museum tour.
-        In the mood to see some cute penguins? The penguins are on parade at the Pittsburgh Zoo throughout the winter months. Visitors can come watch the penguins play in the snow and run around just outside of the PPG aquarium! It will be sure to brighten anyone’s day.

-        Love the outdoors and fireworks?  Every year Pittsburgh celebrates Light Up Night which includes a tree lighting and fireworks.

-        Ready to learn something new or see something incredible? On those frostbite-inducing days, you can still get out of the house and go to one of the many museums located throughout Pittsburgh. Some attractions include the many Carnegie museums, the Heinz History Center, Randyland, and the Andy Warhol Museum. There’s also the Western Pennsylvania Model Railroad Museum, which only opens during the winter season.

-        Haven’t made it to the Cathedral yet? The Cathedral of Learning is dressed up for the holidays, making it the perfect time to go see the Nationality Rooms.  Thirty different classrooms represent different groups that all settled in Allegheny county. Not to mention, you can still get a great view from the top!
Some of the artwork displayed at Randyland.

-        Want the enjoyment of seeing others on the ice? Check out a Pittsburgh Penguins game! Pittsburgh is proud to be home of the 2016 & 2017 Stanley Cup winners!

-        Want an athletic event, not on ice? A Steelers game might be up your alley.

-        Just looking for a place to warm up? There are many tea and coffee houses more than happy to support a student just looking for somewhere to read. Or check out Pittsburgh Glass Center, a teaching and art gallery that has live demonstrations of artists creating amazing glass works. The fires keep you both warm and entertained. They even offer classes from beginner to expert so you can make your own glass creation!