Genetic Counseling Wants You

There have been a number of popular news articles discussing professions that traditionally seem to attract more women than men. One of those professions often mentioned is genetic counseling.  Two things to know about me:  I’m a man; I’m a genetic counselor.  Here is my personal story and some reasons that genetic counseling is a great fit for me – and might be for you.

Holding on to childhood values

I grew up in a household where service was instilled in us from a young age.  Growing up on a farm, my parents were always quick to help other farmers or members of the local congregation we attended.  I also love sports.  Sports really teach you how to work as a team member and how the sum is greater than the parts. 

Therefore, when I started to consider professions, I was drawn to the “helping professions.”  Teaching, coaching, medicine, counseling and ministry were all in the running.  I decided that I wanted to do something in medicine, but being from a small community, I had only been exposed to nursing and being a physician.

Because I had never been exposed to a male working in nursing, it didn’t even occur to me that it was an option.  So, the only thing I considered studying was pre-med.  It wasn’t until my senior year in college that I realized that being a physician might not be the best option for me.  At that point, I felt like I had hit a dead end.  I began to wonder if my education would go to waste.

Finding my calling

My wife was accepted into physical therapy school at the University of Iowa.  When we got to Iowa, I applied to many different jobs, but eventually started working as a research assistant in a muscular dystrophy lab at the University.  It was there that I really developed a passion for science and discovery, but I was still drawn to my roots of service and interaction.  At Iowa, I learned about a profession that melded these two things together: genetic counseling.

Genetic counseling is a great profession because there are so many different avenues you can consider. I enjoy the one-on-one interactions with families.  I love working through hard life experiences with patients and, hopefully offering support through tough times.  That said, I also love the fast-paced discoveries and the need to stay current on medical research.  Every day is a new experience.

The clinic setting is a perfect fit for me because of the interaction with physicians, nurses, medical records staff, front desk staff, etc.  The teamwork of a clinical setting is very rewarding and harkens back to my love of sports.  I have found that in my career, a genetic counselor is most successful as a member of a team as opposed to being an outside resource to a team.  The stronger the cohesion between the physician, nursing staff and the genetic counselor, the better care we provide to patients and the more rewarding the job experience.

Genetic counseling might be for you

If you are a male or female that loves science and is drawn to a helping profession, give genetic counseling a look.  If you aren’t sure you want to work one-on-one with patients, there are many other areas to consider like working for a genetic testing lab, working for the government, or even working at an executive level.  Many genetic counselors now own businesses or hold important positions in top diagnostic companies.

It’s important to me that I be a role model for everyone considering this profession.  I remember how easy it was to disregard nursing as a career because I didn’t know any nurses who were men. I don’t want the genetic counseling profession to miss out on a great candidate just because you don’t see someone in the profession like you and think it might not be the right fit. There are genetic counselors of all backgrounds. If you have questions that might help you decide if this is a good option for you, please visit the NSGC website and find someone locally that you can talk with.  I also am very happy to take a call or an email, so don’t hesitate to reach out to me if I can help you on your journey. 

Jay Flanagan, MS, CGC is a preconception and prenatal expert for the National Society of Genetic Counselors and is a genetic counselor at Sanford Health in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

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