Kristin Paulyson Nuñez, MS, CGC® is a Senior Genetic Counselor at the Duke University Health System. She is also President of ABGC’s 2021 Board of Directors.
Why did you choose to become a genetic counselor?
Genetic counseling wasn’t my initial chosen profession. Sometimes, I believe the profession chose me.
I was actively completing applications for Physician Assistant programs, when my genetics professor suggested genetic counseling as a better path for me. I sought out three genetic counselors at Brigham and Women who, together with my professor, profoundly and forever changed my life. Following my first observed session with them, I knew I wanted to be a genetic counselor. Without knowing much about where or how to apply, I ripped up my PA applications and never looked back (and yes, it was that dramatic).
Genetic counseling merges all the areas of science that interest me: medicine, genetics, and psychology. It’s fast-paced and ever-evolving. I am consistently impressed with how intelligent, thoughtful, and strategic we are !
Why did you choose to specialize in reproductive genetics and hereditary blood disorders?
When I started, genetic counselors did ALL their clinical roles in either an Obstetric or Pediatric clinical setting. Even though we all understood that genetics impacts all areas of medicine and were knowledgeable about so much, I think most academic institutions (also where we were limited to) didn’t know where to put us other than with a Geneticist. While both areas interested me, I was fortunate to obtain my first job in Ob and fell in love with both the patient population and the specialty.
My entrance into hematology, was equally fortuitous. Over time, my love for benign heme and the opportunity to combine that with obstetrics and pediatric/adolescents, with a focus on women and girls (which is hugely under-represented area of care), has become my niche and is truly rewarding. I am so excited to see how women are empowering themselves in their knowledge of their condition and advocacy in their healthcare.
What is the most rewarding part of being a genetic counselor? The most challenging?
The most rewarding is when I’ve “done good work.” You know, that feeling of knowing you’ve met a patient where they are in their journey, helped them to understand their circumstance and supported them to thrive, even in the most difficult medical situation. I have kept EVERY note, birth announcement and gift given to me by my patients over 27 years. When I have a challenging day, I read those notes to remind myself of the importance of the work I do.
The most challenging aspect, I believe, is that despite our professional progress, there are some areas of healthcare that have not evolved to recognize the diverse skillset we bring to an organization and how we leverage those skills and strengths to improve care and outcomes. The fact that H.R.3235 has still not passed is frustrating for me. Getting that recognition will further the legitimacy and need for our services/work.
What changes have you seen in genetic counseling and where do you see additional opportunities for the profession to grow?
More genetic counselors are taking on leadership roles within healthcare, industry and public health sectors. I am so excited to see how CGCs® are using their strengths to bring awareness and value to areas such as marketing and federal policy development. I am impressed with the understanding, knowledge and skills they bring to areas of work that would not otherwise consider genetic counselors as necessary
members of the team. I am inspired and motivated to do the same.
Where do you see the profession going in the next five to 10 years?
I don’t think I can project what genetic counseling will look like in a decade, as our profession is evolving at warp speed. Ideally, H.R. 3235
will pass and be implemented, and the landscape of the profession continues to evolve and reflect inclusivity, equality and diversity in all areas. I am optimistic that genetic counselors will continue to push further into unchartered territory, by leveraging their uniquely powerful, varied and remarkable skillsets.
What advice would you give to prospective genetic counselors about to enter the profession?
I would encourage prospective genetic counselors to seek out CGCs® to gain exposure and grow their network. Having the opportunity to see the profession in action provides a perspective that reading cannot. Ask multiple CGCs® about their experiences and feelings about their chosen field: what are the peaks, what are the valleys? This exploration may reveal the foundation for how or what to practice. Finally, take a risk. Don’t be your own “NO.”
Is there anything else about your experience as a genetic counselor that you would like to share?
Being a genetic counselor is incredibly rewarding to me personally. I am very happy in my work, and I learn each day. Additionally, serving on ABGC’s Board of Directors has been a pivotal highlight of my professional path. It has enabled me to view our work through a lens that enables me to appreciate the larger landscape of our profession, how the field works within the larger societal infrastructure. On a personal note, the work I’ve contributed to and the Directors I have had the privilege to work with have allowed me to grow professionally and personally. ho
What made you want to step up and serve as ABGC’s new Board President?
Current and past ABGC Board members have brought a tremendous level of commitment to ABGC’s mission and vision; evolving the organization in order to meet the needs of Diplomates. I believe I can effectively support and build upon those efforts, and represent ABGC proactively, so that all Diplomates are proud to be a part of the CGC® community.
I want Diplomates to feel empowered to be involved through volunteerism and to actively come to ABGC with questions and their visions of the future for CGCs®. I hope to motivate Diplomates, encourage growth and appropriately and thoughtfully initiate changes that reflect the progress taking place within our profession and how they can directly impact our community.
CGCs rose to meet many challenges in 2020 to serve their clients and communities. As the organization’s new president, is there anything you like to say to your fellow ABGC Diplomates?
I have been so impressed with colleagues’ resiliency during this past year and am thankful for the ongoing commitment and meaningful work that is being done both in ABGC and across our profession. I appreciate those who have challenged us to consider how we will address issues of inclusivity and diversity within ABGC. Even during the most difficult of days, I believe that we have met one another with respect and kindness.
The success of ABGC is dependent upon Diplomates and how we support you in your professional growth, while maintaining strict standards that ensure patient safety at both the clinical and federal levels. I believe it is imperative that all current and future Diplomates have a better understanding of ABGC as an organization. Familiarizing oneself with the mission and strategic objectives of the organization encourages Diplomates to leverage that knowledge and may spark a desire to become more involved in volunteering and advocating for CGCs®. We should all be invested in the work ABGC does, as it directly impacts our practice.
ABGC Spotlight is a monthly series that features Diplomates, healthcare professionals and students sharing their unique experiences with genetic counseling.