An Exciting Time for the First Years

The first year genetic counseling students at the University of Cincinnati are finishing up their first clinical rotations.  It is crazy how fast they have gone by!  We were spread out in a variety of different clinics.  I was in a general pediatric clinic and tuberous sclerosis clinic; other first years were in cardiomyopathy clinics, cancer clinics, prenatal clinics, epilepsy clinics, connective tissue clinics, and lysosomal storage disorder clinics.  This wide assortment of rotational clinics has allowed us first years to have many different experiences.  Some of us have observed the genetic counselor deliver bad news, others have seen rare diseases such as osteogenesis imperfecta type 3, and other students have already started taking on roles with the patients.  Brooke, a fellow first year student has already taken a pedigree during her rotation, she says, “taking a pedigree was exciting and I enjoyed interacting with the family”. 

Starting clinical rotations so early in our training has allowed us to observe, or even practice the skills we are learning in classes.  In our ‘Introduction to Genetic Counseling’ class we have learned about taking pediatric and prenatal medical intakes, and taking family pedigrees.  Watching genetic counselors putting these skills to use, and performing them ourselves, with real patients, help us to better learn them. 

The first years also just received their thesis assignments.  After weeks of listening to physicians, researchers, and genetic counselors present many interesting research topics the first years ranked their top five choices.  We were lucky enough to all receive our first or second picks.  Some of this years topics include: examining symptoms in males and females with Ehlers-Danlos syndrome pre- and post- puberty, assessing the possibility of an expanded role for genetic counselors in hematology oncology clinics and in clinical laboratories related to counseling for acquired genetic changes, and looking into what protocols neurologist follow when presenting genetic testing to asymptomatic individuals being tested for Huntington disease including pre-test counseling, results disclosure, and the follow up.  We are all really excited to meet with our research advisors and begin writing up our research questions. 

The National Society of Genetic Counselors Annual Education Conference

October marks a unique and exciting time for the second year genetic counseling students at the University of Cincinnati. It gives students a unique and exciting opportunity to learn more about the profession of genetic counseling, new technologies, and interact with others in the profession during the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) Annual Education Conference (AEC).  This is an event that students look forward to from their first day in the graduate program. As a first year graduate student last year, I remember hearing the second year genetic counseling students make their plans for attending the conference, what lectures they planned to attend, and talking about their great experiences after the conference. In addition, they returned with fun little gifts for the first year students including pens, notepads, and the infamous GeneDx zebras.

The GeneDx zebras

When our class found out that the conference would be in Boston this year, we began to make our preparations for travel and accommodations. Needless to say we were excited for the conference, and eager to get a jumpstart planning this wonderful experience. I booked my plane ticket right away. For me, having the conference in Boston was thrilling because I also have family in the city and was looking forward to visiting with them while in the city.  As the conference approached, I grew more and more excited to stay with my cousin in her charming apartment in Beacon Hill and have my own tour guide of the city. Other planning included reviewing the AEC schedule and making a plan for the conference. With so many wonderful talks scheduled, it was difficult to decide which events to attend. My interest in prenatal genetic counseling and the newer technology of noninvasive prenatal testing biased my scheduling. The talks were about many new or up-and-coming technologies including: pan-ethnic expanded carrier screening, whole genome sequencing, stem cell transplant in utero for sickle cell disease, and many other interesting topics.

With my flight booked and my schedule planned out, I was ready to attend the AEC. The first event was a welcome and overview to the AEC for those who were attending the conference for the first time. After the welcoming, we split into groups and were able to meet with representatives of the many Special Interest Groups (SIG) of the NSGC. I had the opportunity to talk with representatives from the Cardiovascular SIG who I had been in contact with through email about a grant award for my research.  It was a fantastic chance to put faces with names. I couldn’t get over how friendly the genetic counselors were, and how willing they were to talk with me about my research, interests, and their own experiences. I knew the conference would be a great chance to visit Boston and learn about new topics in the field, but I didn’t realize how great of an opportunity the AEC would be to interact with genetic counselors from all over the country.  It was great to talk with many different genetic counselors with a wide range of specialties and interests.

The second years in Boston

The talks at the conference covered diverse topics about prenatal, pediatric, and cancer counseling in addition to professional issues. The speakers were experts in their fields, and it was a privilege to hear their expertise and passion for the topics they presented. In addition to the talks, there were also many exhibitors at the conference. These exhibitors represented laboratories, support organizations, and other programs from around the country. It was a great chance to talk with representatives of the different organizations to talk about what they have to offer, new technologies, and collect many free pens and notepads. The conference talks were great, but the main highlight of my experience at the AEC was my interactions with genetic counselors. I was able to catch up with my supervisors from my summer rotation in South Carolina and talk about the large degree of changes in the field of prenatal counseling in the last few months alone. One of the most memorable nights of the conference was the University of Cincinnati Reunion dinner. It was a great chance to see classmates who graduated last year and meet other alumni of the program. The alumni provided invaluable insight into what it was like working in their city and specialty. Overall, the AEC was a treasured experience that I will never forget, and I look forward to attending more conferences in the future         

Current and past students enjoying time in Boston


The Ohio Genetic Counselor's Conference

Friday, September 21st, was the Ohio Genetic Counselor’s Conference.  It took place at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC).  As students of the University of Cincinnati’s genetic counseling program, we were able to attend the conference and listen to presentations given by genetic counselors from around the state. 
            We attended a lecture on newborn screening first.  Here we learned what is currently being tested for in the state of Ohio, the history of newborn screening and what to expect in the future.  We learned that the state is working to get the severe combined immunodeficiencies screening panel onto the newborn screen during 2013, and add the critical congenital heart disease panel onto the newborn screen in the near future.  During this presentation I learned that Ohio is the state with the 7th largest birth rate with around 140,000 births a year.  This is really exciting as a student especially interested in prenatal genetic counseling. 
            We also attended a talk entitled “Defining the Role of the Genetic Counselor in Epilepsy”.  I thought this talk was extremely interesting.  It discussed a genetic counselor working in a neurology clinic.  The speaker talked about the challenges of setting up her own role within this clinic, learning the specific terminology, and educating other providers on her scope of practice.  It was really exciting to hear about other genetic counselors creating their own roles, and expanding our field. 
            Many of the first years also got to introduce themselves to their first clinical supervisors.  It was nice to meet them and hear a little bit about their clinics before rotations start in two weeks. 
            In other news the student work area has been re-modeled and looks great.  The student area is in the Division of Human Genetics at CCHMC and is steps away from faculty and many of the geneticists we will be working with.  It’s a prime location to work on homework, do research, or meet with members of the faculty. 

Kate Heraty
First year student of the University of Cincinnati's Genetic Counseling Masters Program


Time flies when you're having fun

              Another week has flown by for the first years in the University of Cincinnati’s Genetic Counseling Program.  We got to go to our first journal club meeting this week.   We reviewed an article entitled “Genomics: The Breast Cancer Landscape” by Joe Gray and Brian Druker, which was recently published by Nature.  The authors discussed whole genome sequencing and how it could be used to examine tumor diversity so physicians could use targeted therapies. 
                In other exciting news, we are looking forward to attending the 2012 Ohio Genetic Counselor Meeting next Friday, September 21st, which our Assistant Director, Carrie Atzinger, has helped to coordinate.   This conference will be held at the Cincinnati’s Children Hospital this year which ensures all the University of Cincinnati genetic counseling students will be able to attend.  Practicing genetic counselors and students from all over the state will attend the meeting.  Topics addressed throughout the day include: updates on the Ohio Newborn Screening, genetic research studies in Ohio, defining the role of genetic counselors in Epilepsy and Hematology/Oncology and many more. 

                As October draws closer and the weather begins cooling down the first year students are getting more and more excited about clinical rotations.  Our first clinical rotation begins in early October.  This first rotation mostly involves observation of the genetic counseling session.  My first rotation is in Pediatrics with a focus on Tuberous Sclerosis (TS).  Understanding that I might not have any background knowledge on TS the genetic counselor I am observing has posted a few journal articles to help me familiarize myself with the disorder.  I can’t wait to start seeing patients, but more to come on that in a few weeks.
                Many of us our eager to attend our first UC football game against Delaware State this Saturday (Go Bearcats!).  Hope you guys have a great weekend. 
Some first years at the University of Cincinnati football game
Second years enjoying the game


An exciting start to the fall 2012 semester

The Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Program students are off to another great start this year! To kick off the program’s 31st year, we attended an in depth orientation series followed by a team building exercise and picnic in the park with program faculty and staff prior to the start of classes. 
The first years are wrapping up their second week of classes.  This semester the first years are taking human genetics, molecular genetics, introduction to genetic counseling, epidemiology, counseling techniques, and emerging topics in genetic counseling.  Since many of our classes take place at Cincinnati’s Children’s Hospital we are lucky enough to have specialists in different fields come and lecture for our classes.  So far we have had lectures on metabolic disorders, newborn screenings and chromosomal structure abnormalities.  It’s refreshing to be in graduate school taking only classes that directly relate to the field of genetic counseling. 
The second years are taking advanced genetic counseling, statistics and emerging topics in genetic counseling.  The rest of their time is filled up meeting with clients in clinic and working on their theses. 
In addition to the classes listed above the first and second years also attend case conferences.  These conferences give the second years a chance to discuss cases they saw during their summer rotations, and a chance for first years to hear about things they may encounter in their future rotations.  Psychosocial issues, rare disorders and new treatments are some of the topics discussed at case conference every week.
At the University of Cincinnati all first years are matched up with a second year student.  These second years act as mentors to help answer any questions the first years have and address any of their concerns.  This weekend I was able to meet up with my mentor, Rebecca, outside of school to talk about how I have been adjusting to graduate school.  It is comforting to have someone to talk to that has been through their first year of the program, it gives me a first-hand account of what to expect this year. 
A long awaited renovation to the Cincinnati Children’s Department of Human Genetics was just completed and the genetic counseling students have a new student work area equipped with our own personal computers and desks. This space allows us to be in proximity to the department faculty and in reach of all of the departmental resources.
Outside of class the first years have been getting together to explore the city.  We’ve gone to baseball games, checked out farmers markets and enjoyed concerts downtown. 
-Kate Heraty
Genetic Counseling Graduate Student, Class of 2014
University of Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Program
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center


We are in the middle of spring quarter and the GCP is buzzing with excitement here at Cincinnati and CCHMC.  Us first years are working on our thesis projects and getting ready for IRB submission within the next few months.  The second years are getting interviews, landing jobs, and looking forward to graduation in just a few short weeks.  Classes are in full swing, and first years are anxiously waiting as our summer rotations will begin when classes end.  As part of one of our classes, Introduction to Genetic Counseling, we are putting in time at either Easter Seals or Starfire Counsel of Greater Cincinnati to experience different types of community outreach and programs for individuals with developmental disorders.  I am putting in my hours at Starfire and I have to say it is an incredible experience thus far.  I baked cookies and brownies for local firefighters to thank the firefighters for all of their hard work with three Starfire Members.  I also got to do some great craft projects and visit the Asian Culture Festival at the Cincinnati Museum Center.  The Culture Festival in particular was a great experience for the Members as well as me because we got to learn a lot of great tidbits while really getting out into the Cincinnati community.   These have all been valuable experiences for me as the individuals over at Starfire have showed me glimpses into their lives such as where they go to school, where they work, where they live, and what they enjoy doing in their free time.  I get the incredible opportunity to work closely with the Starfire members, and they have taught me a lot.Leslie, one of my second years, wrote a previous post on how ipads have changed interactions and communication for individuals who previously struggled with communicating due to various genetic conditions.  I had a similar experience at a Starfire craft afternoon, and I really wanted to share it. 
Everyone has a cellphone now.  Whether it is a smartphone to check e-mails or just a basic texting phone, we all can’t live without it as our communication to friends, parents, and others would be limited.  Well, three girls with whom I was making spring wreaths with showed me that they needed a cell phone to not just have friendly conversations, but any conversations at all.  Due to various reasons or conditions, these three girls are deaf.  One had cochlear implants and could translate for the other two, but in instances where they forgot how to finger spell a word or their home signs conflicted, they texted their thoughts out on their large-screened cell phone to each other and to me.  I was amazed as I have only used my cell phone as a way to keep in contact with my long-distance relationships, to check e-maiIs, and occasionally as a calorie tracker when I am particularly motivated.  I walked into the group feeling like an outsider because it had been 4 years since I’ve had an ASL class to knowing these girls and having a great relationship with them.  Thank you texting!!  I will admit before this experience texting was obnoxious to me and I couldn’t see the reason why people don’t just call each other for answers or to chat.  While I still am the rare person who prefers phone calls to texting on my phone, this Starfire experience really opened my eyes to what we see as a mundane comfort can really be critical in communication for others.  Instead of not getting your needs accomplished due to conflicting sign understandings, or not remembering the exact ASL for a thought, you can just text out what you want to say and thus communicate with medical professionals, order lunch, or even just have conversation over a Saturday afternoon arts and crafts session.  Experiences like these really allow me to see different utilities for technology.  So, like Leslie had mentioned previously, although this wasn’t the point of texting when it first became a standard in life, we can all now take a step back and realize that for some individuals texting has really improved their quality of life.  How great is that? 
-Amy Gladstone, First Year Student


Reminicing on the Past Year

Interview season is quickly approaching, and soon the Division of Human Genetics will be holding interviews with prospective students.  As a current student, I will be taking applicants on tours around the Division and throughout Children’s Hospital.  I find it hard to believe that I will be a tour guide, because it seems like just yesterday that I was still figuring out the labyrinth that is the hospital.  Come to think of it, it seems like I was just interviewing here as a prospective student.  As I reminisce about my interview experience, I marvel at everything that I’ve learned and accomplished since coming to the program one year ago.  The University of Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Program has given me the opportunity to accomplish goals that I never expected to achieve in such a short time.
First, I already have already selected a thesis project to work on with the help of my research advisor and research advisory committee.   I will survey clinical geneticists and genetic counselors to learn about the future of the ever-evolving genetic counseling field as well as the additional training that changes in the profession will necessitate.  I plan to ask respondents to identify the emerging content and skill areas in the field of genetic counseling, as well as to select the best method of incorporating emerging areas into training for genetic counselors.  I’m excited about my thesis because I feel that it will make a significant contribution to the genetic counseling field.   My first year classmates are equally as excited about starting their projects, which focus on everything from determining the needs of parents who adopt children with genetic conditions to learning about the accuracy of risk assessments provided by direct-to-consumer testing companies. 
In addition, I’m already starting to actively participate in clinic.  I have gained experience taking medical histories, drawing pedigrees, and explaining inheritance and recurrence risks to patients.  Some of my first year classmates have even led entire counseling sessions already!  We have seen a wide variety of conditions, some of which we may never see again in our practice because they’re so rare.  The Craniofacial Center, the Cardiovascular Genetics Program, and the Skeletal Dysplasia Center at Children’s Hospital are only a few of the unique clinics in which we have observed patients and taken on roles.  My classmates and I are excited to have the opportunity to become involved in clinic early on in our schooling. 
Lastly, I’m grateful to say that since beginning the program, I have made 25 new friends (11 full-time first year students, not including myself, 12 full-time second year students, and 2 part-time students).  I’m eager to come into school every morning to spend time with my classmates, and I don’t mind studying because there are always people in the Division to encourage me.  One of my favorite aspects of the genetic counseling program here is the strong sense of community that it fosters.  The students not only help each other with school work, but support one another on a personal level.  We’ve grown tremendously close over the past few months, and have developed friendships that will likely last a lifetime. 
As a side note, I’ve also mastered an unbelievable amount of medical terminology since beginning the program.   Words like hepatosplenomegaly simply roll of the tongue now.  Reflecting on everything that I’ve learned since I interviewed here a year ago, I’ve come to realize how lucky I am to be a student at the University of Cincinnati. 

-Maureen Osak, First Year Student


Program Events

We are now half way through our winter quarter and things are getting busy.  Second years are applying for graduation and finishing up with their thesis.  First years are starting to define thesis projects and are taking on roles in clinic.  Also, we are getting so excited to participate in another year of interviews for next year’s class of 2014.  In just a few short weeks the process will start and we are very excited to make the interviewees feel welcome and provide a great experience here at CCHMC.  In addition to interviews, the genetic counseling program is having two exciting new events coming up this summer. 
                First, DNA Sample Day: An Introduction to the Field of Genetic Counseling is being held from 8am to 3pm on June 15,2012.  This program is geared towards those interested in learning more about the genetic counseling profession, but due to location or lack of opportunity, some are not able to get exposed to what a genetic counselor does.  Members of the profession as well as the program will be there, and there is more information on the program website at: http://geneticcounseling4u.org/prospective_students/DNA%20Sample.html
Another exciting event coming up is the University of Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Program’s 30th Anniversary!  Events will be held June 15th and 16th 2012.  Events such as a celebration dinner and events around University of Cincinnati and the city will be held.  More information can be found out about this as well on the program website. 
So, the program is staying busy and has an exciting few months coming up!  Stay posted for more updates. 

- Amy Gladstone, First Year Student