The first question I get when I mention I am a genetic counselor is usually; “a genetic what?”. I don’t mind the questions, because I love to talk about what I do.
A genetic counselor is a healthcare professional who has special education in genetics and counseling. Our genes are like a set of directions that tell our bodies how to grow and function. We get our sets of our directions from our parents, half from mom and half from dad. If there are differences in the spelling, amount, or order of these directions, it can change how our body grows or functions. Genetic counselors are experts on the impacts of these differences and genetic testing that can clarify risks of disorders or find the answer for what is causing specific symptoms.
Who does a genetic counselor see?
A lot of people have heard of prenatal genetic counseling (during pregnancy) and cancer genetic counseling but there are many other instances where a patient might see a genetic counselor, such as:
• A women who is pregnant and has a family member with Cystic Fibrosis, and who wants to know the chances she will have a child with Cystic Fibrosis.
• Someone with multiple family members with cancer, or a personal history of a young or rare cancer to talk about testing that can better clarify their personal risks, the risks for family and recommended screenings.
• A couple who is having trouble getting pregnant, and looking for a reason and possible solution.
• Someone with multiple family members with a heart condition like dilated cardiomyopathy and help them decide if testing to see if they are at increased risk is right for them.
• A couple who has had abnormal prenatal testing or ultrasounds that raise suspicion for a genetic disorder.
Those are just a few reasons, but there are many others!
What does a genetic counselor Do?
If I had to breakdown what a genetic counselor does into two words, those would be education and empowerment.
A genetic counselor’s job is to give education on a wide array of topics including: genetic testing options, genetic disorders, inheritance patterns (how genetic disorders are passed down through a family), possible genetic risks, treatment options, and support resources.
The “empower” aspect is where the counseling comes in. When most people hear counseling they think we are going to have them lay down on a couch and tell us their life story, but that isn’t true at all! Our counseling is assisting a patient in considering all their options after they have been educated on them, and supporting the patient in making the best decision for their current circumstance. I know and recognize that sometimes these decisions are difficult, and I work to make sure that the patient feels equipped and supported to feel comfortable with their choice.
Typically, an appointment involves me speaking with a patient about their personal history, asking about their family history, and walking through genetic conditions and genetic testing and then working with the patient to see what avenue is best for them. If a patient opts for testing, I arrange that and will be there for them during the whole process, explaining the results and what they mean for the patient and their family, supporting the patient in any way needed, and going over next steps.
I am so thankful for the support of the Foundation, the community and providers here at Liberty Hospital. I am so excited to be starting this genetic counseling service at Liberty and look forward to meeting and serving the community!
If you want more information on genetic counseling, you can visit www.aboutgeneticcounselors.org/