Given the rapid and numerous developments in the field of genetics, there is a growing need for genetic counselors in nearly every area of medicine, as well as a need for students that represent all of us. This includes people of color, men, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, non-science majors, and those looking to make a career change.

In response, My Gene Counsel hosted its first virtual Genetic Counseling Case Conference to introduce students of all ages to important topics in the field of genetic counseling.

In this kick-off session, Ellen Matloff, President and CEO of My Gene Counsel, discusses:

  • An overview of genetic counselors – who they are, what they do, and why you might be interested in this career
  • The crucial role genetic counselors play in health care and personalized medicine
  • Real-world genetic counseling case examples, challenges encountered, and best practices

To watch the on-demand recording click here.

Webinar Q&A

The second half of the Genetic Counseling Case Conference was devoted to questions and answers. The My Gene Counsel team of genetic counselors was able to answer the majority of questions raised, but there were a few they were not able to get to, so we wanted to share those answers below for anyone interested.

Q: I read an article recently stating that adult genetic counseling isn’t as emphasized as pediatric, prenatal, or cancer. Why is that and is it changing?

A: I’m not sure I would agree that adult genetic counseling isn’t emphasized. In fact, most genetic counseling is for adults, whether it is in cardiac, cancer, prenatal, or other areas.

Q: For direct-to-consumer cancer risk testing, does insurance typically cover clinical-grade testing if the patient has no family history of cancer?

A: A few insurance companies will cover confirmation testing if the patient is Jewish and there was a BRCA finding on direct-to-consumer testing. For other findings, it is more challenging, but some of the genetic testing companies offer fairly reasonable confirmation testing if the patient must pay out of pocket.

Q: How many of your patients have been long-term and how many have been short-term? How often do they come in for counseling and/or testing on average?

A: The majority of patients come in once or twice and then never again. We tend to stay in closest touch with patients who carry a mutation, although we are starting to change that dynamic with our Living Lab Reports at My Gene Counsel.

Q: Is there a research component to genetic counseling graduate programs?

A: Most genetic counseling programs do have a research component, including a thesis or similar student-led research project. However, some programs place a greater emphasis on research. You can learn more about each program’s focus by reading their overviews.

Q: Where can we learn more about efforts going on to make genetic counseling and testing more available to minorities or efforts combating health care disparities?

A: This is a very hot topic right now. I recommend that you follow the Minority Genetic Professionals Network on Twitter @minoritygenetic. Read through their past posts and it will lead you to more information.

Q: Do you often have to advocate for your patients in regards to insurance coverage? Do you find that with new testing technologies it is difficult to get testing covered?

A: Yes, advocacy for patients in regards to insurance coverage is a big part of most clinical positions in health care settings. Yes, it often takes a long time for payers to cover new testing technologies. However, it is amazing how much genetic counselors get done based on relationships in the field and with genetic testing companies. We make it happen.

Q: Is there anywhere we can go to watch actual genetic counseling sessions?

A: During normal non-pandemic times, students can reach out to genetic counselors and ask about spending a day with them to shadow. That is more challenging right now, but you should check out the student toolkit and and reach out to genetic counselors who are mentors to interested students and see what is available.

Q: Can you elaborate on how genetic counselors can grow in the field of educating the public? Is there any specific training we need to take?

A: I am a big fan of genetic counselors, and other health care providers, getting training in public speaking and education. There are groups like Toastmasters that can help you learn about public speaking and many other groups that focus on health care education for providers. This is a worthwhile investment of time.