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