This is the second installment in our new series, “Trailblazing Genetic Counselors”, in which we highlight genetic counselors who are pioneers in the field. Genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counseling. Genetic counseling is a rapidly growing field offering professionals a wide range of opportunities, which we explore in this new series.
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Jehannine Austin, PhD, @J9_Austin, has focused her career on closing the gap between genetic counseling and psychiatry. Her passion for this advocacy was inspired by her family history of Schizophrenia and bipolar disorders. To begin making an impact she earned her PhD in neuropsychiatric genetics followed by her masters in genetic counseling. With her two degrees she became a research genetic counselor within the Schizophrenia Program at the University of British Columbia.
Armed with this field experience she established a psychiatric genetic counseling clinic to address the urgent need to translate the progress in mental illness made so far. Austin’s clinic uses “a clinical genetics perspective to inform the development of novel biological and non-biological interventions to improve outcomes for individuals with psychiatric disorders and to support their families”. A major focus of her practice is to educate patients by explaining aspects of mental illness, such as what can contribute to its onset. Austin also educates healthcare professionals to modify their attitudes towards mental illness. She shares her knowledge and expertise as the current President of the National Society of Genetic Counselors and as an Associate Professor and the Acting Head of the Department of Psychiatry at the University of British Columbia.
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Brianne Kirkpatrick, MS, LGC, @GCBrianne, is an entrepreneur in the genetic counseling field specializing in genetic genealogy. She is a leader in increasing availability of genetic counseling services to customers of at-home DNA testing also known as direct-to-consumer genetic tests. Kirkpatrick addresses a widespread problem many patients face, having limited or no information about family health history or even knowledge of their ethnicity.
After graduating from Northwestern University with a Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling, Kirkpatrick  joined St. Vincent Health as a prenatal genetic counselor, where she wrote and published multiple articles in Perspectives of Genetic Counseling. Continuing her scientific writing career she became the “Our Family Table” columnist/contributor for FamilyTalk Magazine. Kirkpatrick then led the development of GenomeConnect, the Clinical Genome (ClinGen) Resource patient portal (Check out our recent blog highlighting resources for patients to share data).
At her private practice, Watershed DNA, she continues to counsel patients by offering DNA consulting and genetic counseling in person or via phone/video. Kirkpatrick is also a Committee Member in the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ Public Policy Committee contributing to the society’s position on an array of topics including Reproductive Freedom, Genetic Testing and Adoption, Stem Cell Therapy, Clinical Data Sharing, and DTC/Direct Access to Genetic Testing. Kirkpatrick is an advocate for the continued advancement of the field of genetic counseling through her previous involvement in state licensure efforts for genetic counselors in the states of Indiana and Virginia.
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Katie Stoll, MS, LGC, @katie_stoll, is focused on developing resources and programs to expand the availability of quality information about genetics, and to improve access to genetic counseling services. Stoll shares this information as Director of Program Development at the nonprofit organization Genetic Support Foundation. Here she is identifying innovative ways to engage with patients and healthcare providers through telehealth, grassroots outreach, and education. In a similar role, Stoll has participated in developing prenatal genetic test educational tools for both patients and providers as part of the National Society of Genetic Counseling.
A graduate from Brandeis’ Genetic Counseling program, Stoll has been immersed in multiple fields of genetic counseling, including pediatric, prenatal, adult and cancer, and an array of settings such as military healthcare systems, health maintenance organizations, community hospitals, outpatient clinics, and research.
Check back for the next episode of “Trailblazing Genetic Counselors”!