November 14th is Genetic Counselor Awareness Day!
The American Board of Genetic Counseling recently reported that there are now 5,000 certified genetic counselors – a big milestone for a growing profession!
The Greenwood Genetic Center employs 13 of these healthcare professionals across its statewide network of offices.
But, who are they and why is their role so important?
Genetic counselors are healthcare providers who function as a vital part of the care team for patients with genetic disorders. Genetic counselors have
earned a Master’s degree in genetic counseling where they are educated in the science of clinical genetics, as well as receive training in the areas
of counseling, family support, and communication skills.
Genetic counselors are certified through an examination by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Certification must be renewed every five years through
continuing education. Licensure for genetic counselors is available in some states. South Carolina currently has a genetic counseling licensure bill
in the state legislature.
In their traditional clinical roles, genetic counselors provide education and support and serve as an important resource for families who are often facing very challenging situations.
“Genetic counselors are integral to quality patient care at GGC, communicating vital information to families,” said Mike Lyons, MD
Director of Clinical Services. “They are skilled at a wide range of activities such as gathering and reviewing complex medical histories, generating
and discussing detailed family pedigrees, conveying difficult news with compassion, explaining complicated test results, sharing useful resources,
and providing ongoing support for patients and families.”
“As a genetic counselor, my role is to work to understand the science and then use that knowledge to help our patients apply available genetic testing
and treatments to their specific needs,” shared Jennifer Stallworth, MS, CGC
genetic counselor in GGC’s Greenville office. “For patients with rare diseases, finding a medical provider who has even heard of their condition is
very valuable, and it is even better when we can offer specific support resources and information that is useful to their family.”
“Genetic counselors are well-trained in medical genetics, communication, providing education, counseling, and helping families get connected to the medical
services and social supports that they need,” said Katy Drazba, MS, CGC
of GGC’s Columbia
office. “I use some, if not all, of these skills with each patient and family that I work with. I truly enjoy the team-based approach at GGC to provide
high-quality care for our patients and their families.”
As the field has grown, so have the opportunities for genetic counselors to use their skills in other areas of genetics.
Drazba noted that she has expanded her clinical role as part of GGC’s telegenetics program, “While I did not have specific training for telemedicine while
in school, I have learned to adapt to and utilize new technologies to help improve and expand our telemedicine program. I have to maintain the comprehensiveness
of genetic counseling through our telemedicine appointments, but also do my best to make them engaging for families.”
“After 15 years as a clinical genetic counselor and seven years in education, I turned my focus to laboratory technologies,” said Fletcher. “I serve as
a liaison between the GGC Diagnostic Laboratories and our network of referring physicians, genetic counselors and other healthcare providers, making
sure their patients are receiving the best testing options that we have to offer.”
Stallworth has transitioned from a prenatal genetic counselor into the field of research and clinical trials. “I enjoy being involved in clinical trials
because genetic knowledge and options for treatment of genetic disorders are continually advancing. I am learning something new every day.”