Photo: Members of our genetic counseling team in the Northwell Division of Genetics & Genomics
What is a Genetic Counselor?
What it is.
According to the National Society of Genetic Counselors genetic counselors: “have advanced training in medical genetics and counseling to guide and support patients seeking more information about how inherited diseases and conditions might affect them or their families, and to interpret test results.”
How to become one.
Genetic counselors (GCs) have master’s degrees from one of 30 programs across the country. Applicants generally have a science or psychology background, but they can come from any field. Other valuable experiences include working with people with disabilities, crisis counseling, laboratory work, and shadowing genetic counselors. GCs are accredited through an examination offered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Genetic counseling programs are also becoming more common around the world.
Why our employees became one.
“My undergraduate degree and first 20 years of work experience were in theater lighting. Like many GCs, the field was a career change for me. Several personal experiences over the years had sent me to GCs, and I was always impressed at how much they seemed to love their work. Now I am proud to count myself among them.” Michele Disco, Senior Genetic Counselor
“I found out about the profession during high school and during my undergraduate degree, found myself more and more attracted to the science of genetics, but basic science lab work was not for me. When I got the chance to shadow within a genetic counseling clinic was the moment I made the commitment that that was what I wanted to do. I transitioned into a genetic counseling graduate program immediately after my undergraduate degree and now here I am!” Amber Gamma, Genetic Counselor
Why you’ll love it.
“I love supporting families in learning more about genetics and their health, listening to their stories, and guiding them in their decisions. Sometimes the scientific information can help dispel fears about conditions running in the family; other times I need strong counseling skills to compassionately convey difficult news. Constantly staying informed about the rapidly changing field of genetics means that I am always learning. I am also fortunate to teach genetic counseling students, and to give educational presentations, both ways to learn more myself.” Michele Disco, Senior Genetic Counselor
“My favorite part of this field is the blending of education, human connection and science. Genetics is becoming increasingly more important in the field of medicine and being on the forefront of that innovation is incredibly exciting, but being able to translate it to everyday patient care and how the information affects these people and their families is where the real reward lies for me. Through an emphasis on strong patient relationships via empathy and advocacy, I find that not only am I always on a journey of learning to stay abreast of new scientific developments within the field, but I’m also on a journey of learning about my patients, what’s most important to them and how we can use this information to empower them in their healthcare and reproductive choices.” Amber Gamma, Genetic Counselor
What your role will be.
At Northwell, genetic counselors see prenatal, pediatric, and adult patients. For example, prenatal genetic counselors work with expecting couples interested in knowing more about their baby’s health and pediatric counselors work with children. Cancer genetic counselors at the Northwell Cancer Institute and the recently launched, multidisciplinary Northwell Center for Cancer Prevention and Wellness work with patients and families concerned about a family history of cancer, or who have cancer themselves.
We are also integrated into many Northwell Health departments and programs, including cardiology, hemophilia and sickle cell disease, pediatric hematology/oncology, reproductive endocrinology/fertility, and the Craniofacial, Marfan’s, and Neurofibromatosis Clinics, among others. Our role is continually expanding. Part of our expansion within the health system means increasing our close collaboration with physicians, advanced care practitioners, nutritionists, social workers, and other health care professionals, and partnering with them to provide patients with the highest level of compassionate care. We also serve as mentors for prospective and current genetic counseling master’s students completing their clinical rotations at Northwell, and are involved in research initiatives through the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.