It’s 9 pm on a Friday night and I walk into a friend’s apartment all ready to catch up on meaningless gossip with friends.
“Kelly! I have a genetics question for you.”
“What if I have a family history of *insert condition* what are the chances of me having that condition?”
“Is it okay to take this medicine during the first trimester of my pregnancy?”
I imagine many of you have found yourselves in similar situations. I constantly get questions from friends and family members regarding their chances for developing a genetic condition. I also get many questions from friends who are pregnant.
My initial reaction is always one where I want to just sit them down and counsel them. I want to give them all the information they’re looking for. I want to help them. I love when people I’m close with show an interest in my passion and I want to seize that opportunity. It also means something to me that they trust me with some of their most personal question regarding their health.
I have a personal rule that I stop and think before I answer these types of questions. I remind myself to take off my genetic counselor hat and to be a friend/family member first. I do sometimes give very general and basic textbook scientific information. I do not counsel a friend’s risk of developing a condition nor do I give them any medical advice. I have never and will not counsel friends/family members outside of a clinic setting. This not only protects me, it also protects them. I cannot provide quality services outside of a clinic setting if I don’t have access to accurate medical information, can’t order tests, and I can’t protect their privacy.
What do you feel your responsibilities are as a genetic counselor outside of “work?” Do you always wear your genetic counselor hat? What are our responsibilities when we know we could provide a lot of helpful information? Do we hold all that information from them and encourage our loved ones to make an appointment with a genetic counselor/geneticist/doctor? What if they never make that appointment?
What are some experiences you have had? Where and how do you draw the line between being a counselor and a friend/family member?