Last week, I began my third maternity leave contract position. For the most part, I have been very lucky in my career so far. In 2008, I accepted a 9-month maternity leave contract right out of school. The position was posted as part-time (3 days per week), but on my second day it became full time. So I could breathe easy for a while knowing that I could count on 9 months of a full-time paycheck. Beyond the financial security, I also lucked out in that the clinic in which I work is perfectly suited to my career interests and preferred work culture. A few months after I started working, one of the counselors announced she was pregnant, due only a couple of weeks after my contract was set to expire. And thus I began my second year of my genetic counseling position (maternity leave in Ontario is one full year). And then, a couple months before my second contract was up a colleague again announced she was expecting. And here I am, beginning year three.
Genetic Counseling: The Career of the Future
We have all seen the lists and media reports that consistently put genetic counseling in the category of top careers for the 21st century. When thinking about genetic counseling as a career, I did my due diligence, as I am sure most of us did, and collected anecdotal information about the availability of positions beyond graduation. I learned that if you’re flexible in your location, you can find a job. But if you’re set on working in a specific region, it might be more difficult.
Any student who graduated in 2008, or more significantly 2009 or 2010, knows first-hand that the global recession has done little to help in the area of job seeking and creation. From my experience, in Toronto since 2008 there have been a handful of genetic counseling contract positions that have become available. However, in the past 2 years, there has only been one Toronto-based full time permanent genetic counseling job posting. This posting came out a couple of weeks ago, and is for a relatively unknown and questionable private genetic testing company.
What’s a new GC to do?
While historically there may have been stigma around genetic counselors taking on non-traditional roles, my sense is that this sentiment is now pretty obsolete. However, I do think there is a big difference between an experienced GC moving to a non-traditional role and a new graduate taking on such a role right out of school. Personally, I’d consider a less traditional opportunity in the future, but I must admit that I feel a lot of pressure to get some solid experience in a traditional genetics clinic before thinking about moving elsewhere. From speaking with friends, colleagues and other new graduates I know I am not alone in this thinking. There is a fear of being stigmatized and a fear that taking on a non-traditional role out of school will make it difficult to get a more traditional GC job down the road.
Perhaps this is the downfall of such a specialized profession. GC students spend 2 years getting prepared for one very specific role, only to find that they aren’t able to secure this very specialized position in their city of choice. These young professionals have no choice but to look beyond the more traditional genetics clinics. On the other hand, perhaps the job limitations are a blessing in disguise for our profession. We have young and bright minds heading into the workforce and creating new opportunities for themselves and hopefully paving the way for others.
For me, even though I have been blessed with two, going on three years of wonderful and challenging full-time work right out of school, I do struggle a little with living from contract to contract. This has prevented me from being able to plan ahead in significant ways, such as buying a house and committing to a mortgage. My hope is that at some point I will be filling my own position, rather than someone else’s.
I write about the Toronto GC job market because that is what I know. But I recognize that the job market varies considerably across North America and internationally. What has been your experience finding a job out of school? Have you had to create your own opportunity? If so, how did you go about doing it?
Do you think it is necessary to have some traditional genetic counseling experience in order to be taken seriously as a genetic counselor?