Thursday, September 7, 2023
February’s ABGC Certification Examination welcomed 116 new Diplomates as certified genetic counselors. ABGC wishes each one a sincere congratulations, and we hope all Diplomates will join us in welcoming them, whether online or in person at the next genetics event! In this article, find out more about a few of these new Diplomates — their passion for the field decision to take the exam, and their career journeys through now. We look forward to welcoming even more CGCs after the results of August’s exam are in!
Ashlyn Stackhouse, MS, CGC
Who she is: I’m delighted to be a pediatric genetic counselor in my home state, North Carolina. I grew up in a small town in the foothills of the mountains where beauty is all around. I completed my undergraduate education at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-Chapel Hill) with a major in biology and minors in chemistry and neuroscience. Before completing graduate school, I was a part of the Theology, Medicine, and Culture Fellowship at Duke Divinity. After an incredible and formative year as a fellow, I attended the Virginia Commonwealth University’s Genetic Counseling program from 2020 through 2022 where I was also a Virginia Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities (VA-LEND) trainee. I was thrilled to be offered a pediatric genetic counseling position at my old stomping ground of UNC-Chapel Hill and love what I do. Why she took the exam: One of the main reasons was in preparation, since North Carolina is in progress of becoming a licensure state. Another was to check my own knowledge and ensure that I am providing my patients and their families with the best competent care.
Why she’s passionate: My passion was first sparked by my own diagnostic odyssey that has involved an extraordinary genetics team. Much of their impact inspired me to want to help others in a similar way. It is a gift to get to walk with patients and their families through part of their journey. Helping them navigate through the complexities of a potential genetics diagnosis is something I am keenly aware of. Getting to know their stories and support them to be the best they can be is something I am committed to. The people we work with fuel my passion and make me grateful to be a genetic counselor every day.
Her advice: Join a study group as you prepare for boards!
Christina Spears, MS, CGC, LGC
Who she is: I received my Master of Science in Genetic Counseling from The Ohio State University in 2022. I accepted a Faculty position at The Ohio State University as an assistant professor, where I help run the High-Risk Breast Cancer Clinic as a genetic counselor and also see patients for surgical decision-making. My passions outside of work include dogs, murder mystery podcasts/books/documentaries and going to the Columbus Crew soccer games!
Why she’s passionate: My mom's diagnosis of breast cancer introduced me to the world of genetic counseling and is the reason I pursued a career in the field: to help people like my mom's genetic counselor helped her during her diagnosis.
Her advice: There are so many different indications and opportunities for genetic counselors today whether that is working in a lab doing variant interpretation, report, writing, research, teaching or seeing patients in so many different clinical specialties (prenatal, neuro, cardio, etc.). What you think you want to pursue can change over time and that's okay!
Ellen Kassay, LGC, CGC
Who she is: I am a graduate from the Boise State University Program, where I earned my Genetic Counseling master's degree in 2022. I received my undergraduate degree from Northern Arizona University in 2016. I currently work in Helena, MT at Shodair Children's Hospital and see a variety of patients including pediatrics, general adult and cancer. I am also contracted with Billings Clinic primarily focusing on cancer genetics. I love working as a genetic counselor and have fantastic colleagues. In my free time I mountain bike, climb and ski.
Why she took the exam: I took the CGC exam to be able to be licensed in MT. I had my provisional license for nine months and was looking forward to getting my certification.
Why she’s passionate: I am passionate about genetic counseling because it gives me the opportunity to educate patients and their families about genetic syndromes. I love to be a part of the process and be a support and guide when it comes to the genetic odyssey that so many families face.
Her advice: My advice would be to expect the unexpected. Continue to educate yourself so you remain a reliable source for genetic information.
Gina Sanchez, MS, CGC, MB(ASCP)
Who she is: Genetic counseling is my second career after being in the laboratory workforce for around seven years. I am passionate about providing equitable healthcare to Spanish-speaking patients, increasing the diversity of the genetic counseling field, and fighting for reproductive rights.
Why she took the exam: I think it shows patients that I have passed the national certifying exam and will make me a better overall candidate for states where certification is required for licensure.
Why she’s passionate: I think it is very important to have providers who look like their patients and can speak the same language as them. I am passionate about providing genetic counseling services to patients in Spanish and advocating for them.
Her advice: Find a mentor to help with applications and who can review your personal statements and help connect you with others in the field.
Leah Hammond, MSc, CGC
Who she is: I graduated from the University of Toronto MSc Genetic Counselling Program in June 2022. Currently, I work as a prenatal genetic counselor at the Montreal Jewish General Hospital. Pre-GC me: I completed an undergraduate degree in biology and a master’s degree in human genetics at McGill University. I also worked for a science education company, where my science communication skills and creativity were constantly put to the test (gel electrophoresis blob tag, anyone?).
Why she’s passionate: This job enables me to share what I find cool about genetics in a way that is relevant to others.
Her advice: Most of us are excited by at least one aspect of genetics. Lean into that as you study for the board exam, to help you push through the sections you find more difficult.
Meaghan Leslie, MSc, CGC
Who she is: I am a genetic counselor at the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. I completed three degrees at the University of Toronto, including an Honors Bachelor of Science in Human Biology, a research-based master’s degree in molecular genetics, and most recently, a master’s degree in Genetic Counseling. I also have volunteer experience with LifeLabs Genetics and Distress Centres of Greater Toronto. In my free time, I enjoy keeping active and supporting my favorite basketball team, the Toronto Raptors.
Why she took the exam: The Genetic Counseling program at the University of Toronto provided me with the knowledge and skill set to become a well-rounded GC. I decided to take the CGC exam as it was time to put the theory into practice — to officially become a certified genetic counselor and a part of the ABGC community. I am so glad that I did!
Why she’s passionate: The role that genetic counselors play in patient education has always drawn me to the profession. I thoroughly enjoy explaining fundamental genetics concepts to patients, tailoring counseling sessions based on the unique background of a given patient and contributing to their learning. It is incredibly gratifying to provide the patient with knowledge to support them in their informed decision-making.
Her advice: Talk to your colleagues and mentors to learn about their experiences in preparing for and maintaining certification, as well as being a part of the ABGC community. My colleagues were extremely insightful in guiding me throughout the process.:
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