Guest Post: Using your Skills Outside the GC Session

By Leslie Ordal

Leslie Ordal writes and works in continuing medical education in Ottawa. A graduate of Wellesley College, she is in the process of making a career change to genetic counselling. She maintains the Twitter account GenCounsNews, devoted exclusively to the topic of genetic counselling, and is also active in community health education activities.

Having spent the last year and a half preparing to apply to a graduate program for genetic counseling, I’ve read with interest the entries on this blog about “non-traditional” roles for genetic counselors. My own aspirations in the field fall more on the traditional side, but coming from a varied academic and professional background it’s interesting to see how genetic counselors are applying their skills outside of the textbook definition.

I work in health care and have observed a growing movement to improve communication between providers and patients. I’ve been to a few informational sessions about the need to communicate in plain language, or take into account an individual’s background and beliefs when advising them about their health. It occurred to me that the ideal person to coordinate this kind of education would be a genetic counselor. GCs are able to tailor their information to a patient’s individual level of knowledge, know how to discuss sensitive topics in an unbiased way, and have a keen understanding of the impact of even seemingly minor health care decisions on people’s lives. These skills are useful beyond the field of genetics: nurses giving discharge orders to patients need to be able to simplify their instructions appropriately, for example, while physicians may benefit from understanding the cultural reasons behind a patient’s refusal to answer particular questions or undergo a certain procedure. All health care providers can improve their care by understanding how a poorly phrased diagnosis or comment about a patient’s condition may have a major effect on that patient’s life and well-being.

A genetic counselor would be well-equipped to share this kind of knowledge and insight with other health care professionals. This kind of work, while not a career in and of itself, seems like an interesting “side project” for the genetic counselor who wants to expand the field they work in and at the same time raise awareness of their own profession.

Have you had any experiences where you used your genetic counseling skills outside your field? If so, please comment–I’d be interested to hear about them.

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