Khalida Liaquat, MS, CGC
® (she/her) is a Licensed, Certified Genetic Counselor and Senior Manager, Genomic Services, Advanced Diagnostics for Quest Diagnostics | Athena Diagnostics.
What made you choose to become a genetic counselor?
Choosing to become a genetic counselor came in three steps for me. I heard about the field from the late Dr. George Carmody while learning about Bayesian analysis in a population genetics class. Only genetic counselors really use this math, I recall him saying. My interest was piqued, not in the math but in this career path I had never heard of. Moving to Japan shortly after graduating from university and editing manuscripts in English for an oncology research group made me realize that the application of genetic discovery, not the bench work and basic research, is what really married my love of science, teaching and people. Lastly, shadowing Laura Robb, MS, CGC® at Hotel Dieu Hospital in Montreal, Canada upon my return from abroad, learning to take pedigrees over the phone for large French Canadian families at risk for cancer and participating in genetic education one patient or family at a time solidified this career path for me.
Tell us about your role as Senior Manager of Genomics Services at Quest. (What you do, how your genetic counseling background helps in this role, what other skills you needed to develop beyond GC skills if any).
In my role as one of the Senior Managers of Genomic Services at Quest, I oversee and support eight laboratory genetic counselors, two field genetic counselors and one genetic coordinator, all of whom specialize in neurogenetics. Surprisingly to some, I utilize GC skills daily in this role! I spend my days advocating for the very best patient care our group can deliver, actively listening to what patients and clients need from a diagnostic testing company, and translating these specific genomic health needs to inform decision-making across departments from direct patient services to billing to testing and reporting. I also create space for my team to find better ways of doing what we do, advocate for the needs of GCs within the company, communicate and often translate the science that we create and support for colleagues and leaders outside of genomic services. The skillset that genetic counselors hone through graduate school, including active listening, flexibility, advocacy, thinking about health care with a global as well as local mindset and confidence in our knowledge of genetics and genomics are crucial to succeeding in a leadership role. Beyond these skills, an open-minded willingness to learn new vocabulary and point of view from a business perspective is important in achieving effective and successful communication. Lastly, the ability to think about genetic counseling as a skillset and training rather than an identity allows for growth and opportunity in so many directions that do not have “GC” in the title or job description.
What path did you take to get to your current role?
My path to this role started with working for five years in a clinical role, predominantly in prenatal and pediatric genetics at Kings County Hospital and Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, New York. I transitioned to Quest Diagnostics as a laboratory genetic counselor supporting the neurology business (which I knew little about!) housed within the Athena Diagnostics lab and over the last 10 years have had no two similar years in terms of workload or responsibilities. My involvement in cross-functional teams, patient and client support and internal support for sales, marketing and other departments, has led to what many GCs experience—leadership without authority, because of our knowledge base and communication skills. When the opportunity to lead the neurogenetics team arose, I took the leap (with much trepidation) to the role of leadership with authority and it’s been such
a fulfilling role.
As you know, August is Spinal Muscular Atrophy Awareness (SMA) month. Tell us about your work with CureSMA. What is the mission of Cure SMA? How did you get involved? How do you contribute to the group?
With a family history of SMA and working in the neurogenetics space, I take a lot of pride in being on the medical advisory committee for CureSMA along with Melissa Gibbons, MS, CGC® and Helen Chen, MS, CGC®. CureSMA leads the way to a world without spinal muscular atrophy, the number one genetic cause of death for infants. They fund and direct comprehensive research that drives breakthroughs in treatment and care, and provide individuals with SMA and their families the support they need. As genetic counselors, we help with editing family support documents, participate in annual conference planning and delivery talks to families. I was introduced to CureSMA by a Board member and applied for a position on the committee an opening became available.
Given your experience with SMA, what do you think it is important for families who have an affected relative to know about the condition and current treatment options?
For family members of an affected relative, it is important to know that there is information and support in the health care and advocacy communities. No family is alone in rare disease, though it may feel that way at first. Genetic counselors and multidisciplinary teams of highly specialized clinicians along with MDA clinics, SMA Centers of Excellence and many other clinicians are available to chat and help them understand all aspects of this condition and its treatment from risk assessment to pregnancy and/or delivery management, diagnosis, and ultimately, one day, a cure. No question is too basic, no information too complex to be explained. For more information, CureSMA
is a great place to start.
ABGC Spotlight is a monthly series that features Diplomates, health care professionals
and students sharing their unique experiences with genetic counseling.