Tag Archives: non-traditional roles

“Traditional versus Non-Traditional” ?

To be honest, I really dislike that phrase.

Related to Allie’s recent and timely post as well as my own recent job change, I have been thinking about “traditional versus non-traditional roles”. This phrase sometimes feels like code in “Genetic Counselor Speak” for seeing patients versus not seeing patients, or , employment in a genetics clinic in some capacity versus some engagement with genetic testing companies/interpretation of testing (admittedly, research counselors seem to fall somewhere in-between).

Non-traditional roles always seem to focus on the “genetics” side of being a genetic counselor, but there is little discussion regarding non-traditional roles related to the “counseling” side of being a genetic counselor.

Perhaps this is because GCs see some degree of counseling as intrinsic to the “traditional” model. Perhaps this focus on the genetics side is because there is little pay or other tangible incentive to take a counseling-centric approach. Perhaps it is primarily because we are not as well-trained to take on the more intensive, long-term counseling roles some patients made need as we are trained to take on the more intensive genetic interpretation roles. Perhaps many genetic counselors have less interest in this side of our field.

But, there is no doubt that the current emphasis in clinical genetics and genetic counseling is on factual information, patient education, patient autonomy, and yielding a profit (understandably) and NOT on therapeutic counseling. There is often less time to focus on the counseling side of our work unless you work extra hours, which leads to increased risk for burnout along with a decreasing ability to connect with patients and even coworkers. However, I think there is an alternative niche out here for us GCs with an interest in this type of “non-traditional” role. I think there is another way for GCs to remain interested in their work and grow.

I have been fortunate enough to feel that I frequently form a strong/meaningful patient-counselor bond and I do tend to derive a great deal of satisfaction from this, in both settings I have worked. But, I worry about burnout…I worry my abilities may diminish over time, or, equally scary, not improve without additional support.

Because I want to be as engaged and productive as possible in all areas of my life (as most of us want) without burning out, I can’t help asking myself the cliché question:

Do I work to live or live to work?

I think many genetic counselors face this question as the demands of “traditional” genetics roles become overwhelming and tiring (ordering and coordinating testing, keeping up on new trends in genetics, administrative tasks, insurances, attention to varied patient needs, etc, etc, etc..)

I do not want to live by either mantra above. I want my work to be meaningful, thought provoking, and impact others in varied ways. I want to be engaged with my work. At the same time, I do not want to work to be only defining factor to who I am or control my ability to engage in other interests, relationships, hobbies, travel, [insert your interest here]. I think the increasing demands on genetics departments from a genetics point of view can make it harder to find a satisfying work-life balance, particularly when it has been shown that the greatest deal of satisfaction from work often comes from the personal meaning we can find in our patient care. See quote from Genetics in Medicine in 2009:

We show here that increased “personal meaning in patient care” is inversely related to distress and burnout. Increased meaning may be derived by forming strong connections with patients. Such connections are fostered through bearing witness, which has been described by Naef as a fundamental process of “being there and being with, listening and attending to, and staying with persons as they live situations of health and illness, shape their quality of life, search for meaning, struggle to make difficult choices, and experience intense moments of recognition, fear, joy, and sorrow. (“Distress and burnout among genetic service providers” in Genetics in Medicine Volume 11, July 2009)

My recent silence on the public side of this blog has been partially related to some sense of disillusionment and internal confusion about where this profession is heading, where my own career is heading, and how much control I have over that in light of the economy and demands on genetics departments (perhaps common concerns to many GCs these days). When I hear or read someone is moving into a “non-traditional role” I get a little worried – where is the space for a “non-traditional” role that allows for more in-depth analysis with patients of the issues and implications of hereditary disease on people’s lives and families? Where is a role for me when/if I get “burnt-out” from the “traditional roles” of a GC in a genetics clinic?

Burnout and work-life balancing are big issues in many professions, but I wonder when and how often other GCs are feeling this strain. I wonder how many other GCs see furthering their counseling skills as another opportunity for a “non-traditional” role.


Filed under Jessica Giordano

The Genetic Counseling Job Search

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?


Filed under Allie Janson Hazell