Executive Director, Genomic Services
What made you choose to become a genetic counselor?
I was fascinated with genetics in school and not only found it interesting, but also enjoyed figuring out risks and probability. In college, I first came across the field of genetic counseling and was lucky enough to have a genetic counselor locally who I could shadow. I didn’t realize just how lucky I was in 1983 to have a genetic counselor in the town of Binghamton where I was attending college.
Tell us a little bit about your professional path.
My first job was covering two different hospitals for Kaiser Permanente in the Los Angeles area. Since I was the only counselor, I was involved in everything from prenatal to adult-onset conditions and gained a lot of experience. I was always somewhat of an entrepreneur during my 15 years in the clinic. I was always involved with extra jobs including consulting for several companies, seeing patients for private practices, teaching and working with several genetics companies along with the way. It eventually led me to a new startup laboratory called Ambry Genetics where I ultimately spent 14 years helping grow the company. Currently, I am leading the genetics group at Quest Diagnostics. In my seven years here, we have more than doubled the number of GCs and expanded our roles and reach within the company. I learned so much at each stop along the way, which has allowed me to continually expand my roles, responsibilities and ultimately my impact on the company.
How have the roles of genetic counselors evolved since you started in the field?
When I started, almost all GC roles were patient-facing prenatal and pediatric roles. Not only are the direct patient-facing roles expanding into so many other specialties, but the roles not directly facing patients are also growing in type and number.
Tell us about some of the things you have done to create new roles and/or support advancement opportunities for genetic counselors.
Putting GCs into roles that had not been previously held by genetic counselors and having them be successful. This highlights the value that GCs can bring to a company by filling many different roles. Over the years we have been able to place GCs in roles involving variant science, report writing, marketing, product management, payer relations, sales training and commercial support. It was also important to develop leadership capabilities so GCs were better prepared to take on leadership roles with the company both within the genetics group as well as other related areas.
How do you see the profession continuing to evolve in the future?
Unlimited potential for growth of GCs in leadership positions in companies and health systems. I believe our skill set allows us to take on many different roles beyond the typical ones in our training.
What advice do you have for genetic counselors looking for new ways to use their skills?
My best advice is for GCs to think outside the box. Do not look at the job title, look at the skills needed to do the job. If you believe you can do the job, then go for it. Don’t just look for jobs where they are advertising for a GC. Many jobs are perfect for a GC and the skill set we possess; we just need to convince them we can do the job better than anyone else. When they say “we aren’t looking for a GC for this position,” my response is “yes you are, you just don’t know it yet."