The current COVID-19 pandemic has impacted us all. Betsy Swope, CGC at Genome Medical, shares her experience during the pandemic as well as a few tips for certified genetic counselors working from home during COVID-19.
- How, if at all, has your work been impacted by the current COVID-19 situation?
My company-level work has stayed pretty consistent and even increased during the pandemic. We’re a telehealth practice, so the operation itself has stayed pretty much the same. One of the main differences is we’re trying to connect more with patients to make sure they’re not impacted financially to see if we need to support them in a certain way. We’re also seeing more distractions – it’s pretty normal now for patients to have children, animals, or spouses in the background during their sessions!
We’ve also tried to support our colleagues and acknowledge that when you’re sheltering in place, you may feel alone and disconnected so we’re trying really hard to connect in unique ways - co-working through Zoom, as an example.
Personally, while my home office is the same workspace for me, it’s now being inundated with children coming in during the day. I try to still have a normal work life, but I am also homeschooling and making sure my kids are getting their work done. I’m trying to fit breaks in my day so that I can check on that and help them. I’m allowing myself more flexibility – in the grand scheme of things we all have way more disruptions we’re trying to manage right now.
- You mentioned that you were diagnosed with COVID-19 yourself and we are very happy to hear that you are doing better now! What can you tell us about that experience?
I feel extremely fortunate and lucky – my case overall was considered mild to moderate. It is definitely anxiety inducing, even when you’re trying to get diagnosed. We started social distancing here in Michigan around March 13 but, all of a sudden, I developed a fever even though I did nothing that would have put me at risk for exposure. I still have no idea where I caught it.
When you work remotely, you feel like you can still do your work. In the initial phases of the symptoms, I’d try to rest by lying in bed and then join a meeting and then rest again until the next meeting or consult. We also tried to keep me isolated; I just worked in my room. I didn’t know if it was COVID-19 because the only symptom I really had was a fever. When it wouldn’t go away, I decided to set up a telehealth appointment. At that time, people were only being tested if they had severe symptoms. The doctor thought I just had a respiratory infection. After several changes in symptoms (including sinus infection, chest pressure, exhaustion, and sore throat) and a few additional telehealth calls, I was finally able to go to my local urgent care for a throat culture because I thought it might be strep throat.
At that point, they were testing anyone who came in for an appointment if you mentioned you had any of the symptoms. They did the nasal swab test and a finger-prick, although the doctor who came to my car didn’t think I had COVID-19 either! She came out 15 minutes later to let me know I was positive but that I was the mildest case she’d seen. When I got the final test results back a few days later it was positive for an active infection.
One thing I realized during this process is that you’ll feel like you’re getting better and then a new symptom will just show up. It’s not something that goes away easily. It’s been almost five or six weeks and I still have random symptoms. It’s really frustrating, and exhausting.
At the time that I was sick, testing was not readily available. Now, testing is easier and I encourage anyone who wants to know if they have the virus to advocate for yourself and seek testing.
- What advice would you give other certified genetic counselors who might have also been diagnosed with COVID-19 or may be diagnosed in the future?
Give yourself some time and some grace and mental and physical breaks. Continue to be grateful for what you have because when you’re not feeling good, it’s easy to forget all of the things you have to be grateful for. Fortunately, I think many genetic counselors have been able to transition to work from home which I think makes us feel like we can do it all. But, I don’t think I did a good job of listening to my body and taking the time I needed.
For those adjusting to working from home, in a time like now, do your best to divide your work from your personal life – it will help with your mental health and your relationship with your family members. And be sure to stay connected with your colleagues.
Lastly, your work is likely to have resources in place to help you receive a diagnosis, to support those who are sick, or those who are caring for someone with a diagnosis. I would recommend knowing what is available to you and reaching out to your HR department if you need support.
Betsy Swope, MS, CGC, specializes in prenatal and reproductive genetic counseling and currently serves as the Reproductive Service Lead at Genome Medical, a nationwide virtual medical practice that specializes in genomic services. With about 20 years of genetic counseling experience, Betsy found her passion for genetic counseling in high school, although it took her a year as an engineering major, and some time off from school, before admitting it to herself.
Prior to joining Genome Medical, where she’s worked for the past two-and-a-half years, Betsy served as a Senior Medical Science Liaison at Progenity, Inc., a certified genetic counselor for the University of Michigan Health System and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among other roles. Because her previous roles were so diverse and served a variety of different populations, Betsy has a keen understanding of the needs of her patients and the way they digest information, allowing her to best serve patients remotely and in various innovative ways.
In her current role with Genome Medical, Betsy wears a lot of different hats including leading the team of reproductive genetic counselors, developing protocols, conducting lab agnostics, developing commercial materials, attending conferences and submitting abstracts. In addition, Betsy provides genetic counseling to her patients remotely from her home office. Betsy finds that serving patients remotely is very similar to in-person office visits and sometimes even more fun because patients feel more comfortable in their own homes; however, she notices that learning to read social cues over a phone call can sometimes be a bit more challenging if you don’t have the option to read visual cues such as body language.
Looking ahead for the genetic counseling profession, Betsy foresees continued changes, much like what the profession has experienced in recent years due to new technology and an increased interest in understanding one’s own genetics. Her hope is that telemedicine opportunities for genetic counseling continue to grow to help the profession meet the growing demand and also allowing genetic counseling to be more accessible to patients. Betsy believes that telegenetics will open more opportunities for the profession moving forward in a patient-centric way.