This article was written by Mariangelie Beaudry a Beyond the PhD’ Spring 2022 Campus Ambassador. She is a rising senior at the University of Hartford studying biology.
Beyond the PhD recently hosted Jennifer Stroop, a genetic counselor for the Hereditary Cancer Program at UConn Health Center to discuss her career path. Before becoming a genetic counselor, Jennifer received her MS in genetic counseling from the University of Cincinnati. She has held her position at UConn Health since 2001. Jennifer provided her insight on what it is like to be a genetic counselor and provide advice for prospective students interested in careers in genetic counseling. Jennifer explained what genetic counseling is through the definition provided by the National Society of Genetic Counseling. They state that they are healthcare workers who are specialized in an array of specialties such as prenatal, pediatric, oncology, and many others. Jennifer then described what she does as a genetic counselor through a case study. As a genetic counselor in hereditary cancer, she primarily sees breast and ovarian cancer patients, generally in the age range of 20 to 70 years old. In a typical consultation, she spends about 30 to 45 minutes chatting with the patient about their medical history and family medical history. She highlighted the importance of the core concept of risk assessment in familial and hereditary cancer. When discussing risk assessment, this can single-handedly affect the impact of the medical management of the patient she is working with. Jennifer also elaborated on the counseling portion of genetic counseling where key things to keep in mind are the benefits and limitations to taking a genetic test, the various outcomes, and who else may be at risk by the results.
Jennifer was able to provide statistics on the profession of genetic counseling and how it is constantly evolving and growing. As of 2021, there are over 5,000 certified genetic counselors. Within the last ten years, genetic counseling has increased by over 100% and is anticipated to grow another 100% over the next ten years as well. Jennifer explained her experiences with the evolution as rewarding to have a continuation of education. She has especially enjoyed the aspect of collaboration amongst other divisions of genetic counseling such as cardiac, prenatal, and pediatrics. She also cited how the National Society of Genetic Counseling has expanded to discussing growth in terms of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) across the genetic counseling profession.
After providing her insight into the profession and giving some advice for prospective genetic counselors, Jennifer answered some questions from the audience. The first question was in regard to picking an area of study as a new graduate. In response, Jennifer discussed her experience in deciding which specialty she chose. Jennifer wrote her thesis on cancer genetics and then gained some experience in both prenatal and pediatrics. She explains during graduate school the training will prepare you for all areas of study and it is best to follow what you desire the most; for her, it ended up being cancer genetics. Another question that Jennifer received was regarding patients: how long does a genetic counselor see a patient after care? Jennifer explained that this is very much reliant on which area you are practicing in, and the amount of risk posed by the genetic test that is performed. From her experience, there are not many meetings with patients once her care has been complete, but for divisions in pediatrics that can be very different. Other great questions that Jennifer fielded included what is the biggest challenge she faces as a genetic counselor and what is the most rewarding aspect of her career. She stated the most challenging part of genetic counseling is receiving inconclusive results of genetic testing. Patients always come in with questions and it can be difficult to not have answers for families. On the contrary, the most rewarding thing is being able to have extensive amounts of time with her patients. She enjoys having the time to hear about patients’ family histories and the concerns of her patients. One of the last questions that Jennifer received was, “What is the biggest piece of advice you have for prospective students that are looking to go into the field?” Jennifer suggested checking out the National Society for Genetic Counseling website, as it has lots of resources for prospective students and is a great starting place to begin a career search. Jennifer mentioned that she loves what she does and loves the people she works with. She closed by recommending everyone finds a workplace that makes them feel the same.
As a student who is wanting to become a genetic counselor and about to apply to a master’s program, I found speaking with Jennifer was extremely insightful. I was able to see more of the profession and what it was like from her perspective working with hereditary cancer.