Case study

Pre-registration genetic counsellor — Emma

Emma has a degree in genetics and is currently working as a trainee genetic counsellor. Find out what she enjoys most about the job and the challenges she faces

How did you get your job?

After graduating with a degree in genetics, I spent a few years gaining work experience in various roles in support work and healthcare research before applying for a two-year Masters in genetic counselling course at The University of Manchester, which I completed in 2017.

While finishing my Masters, I applied for and was offered a job as a trainee/pre-registration genetic counsellor, working for NHS Scotland.

What's a typical working day like?

It varies. One day may be spent seeing patients in clinic for a variety of different genetic conditions. This can include predictive genetic testing (where someone wants to find out if they're at risk of developing a condition that runs in their family) or diagnostic genetic testing (testing to see if a diagnosed condition has a genetic cause).

Others may involve seeing patients to give results of tests and follow up their diagnosis, assisting them in adapting to it. This work can involve corresponding with colleagues from many different specialities.

I'm also part of an on-call rota for dealing with urgent queries, such as genetic testing of a pregnancy.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy working in a role that helps not only my patients, but often their families too. The job is intellectually stimulating, as I have to learn about different conditions, new treatments and technological advancements in genetic testing. I also enjoy the variety of the job as patients can vary greatly.

The implications of a genetic test can often have a wide-reaching impact on the family, and I enjoy working through the challenges that this can present.

What are the challenges?

Ensuring you manage your case load appropriately, while at the same gathering evidence for a registration portfolio, can be stressful. One of the biggest challenges is helping people to understand and adapt to new information, but this is also one of the most rewarding parts of the job.

In what way is your degree relevant?

As my degree was in genetics, I already had a good grounding in the scientific aspect of the training.

How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?

As my training's progressed, I've been given more independence to manage my own case load and am able to see a wider variety of patients. Next year, I hope to become a registered genetic counsellor.

Genetic counsellors have the opportunity to progress to both principal and then consultant level, which I hope to one day achieve. I'll also have the option to teach on Masters programmes and support prospective genetic counsellors through their training by becoming a sign-off mentor.

I'd also like to become involved in research into the psychosocial aspects of genetic conditions.

What are your top tips for choosing a Masters?

First of all, it's important to consider the financial implications, as some training options are self-funded. Secondly, look into the modules that are on offer and make sure the course is accredited by a genetic counselling registration board.

Finally, if you're not accepted onto a course the first time you apply, there's every chance you will be accepted if you take on board any advice and re-apply.

What advice can you give to others wanting to get into this job?

  • Shadowing genetic counsellors will help you decide if a career in genetic counselling is right for you, and will help you secure an interview for a training programme. Make sure you research the different routes into the profession and choose the one most appropriate for you.
  • Getting work or voluntary experience with vulnerable people is vital in this profession.
  • It's important to be resilient, have good coping strategies to help you deal with stress and to have interests outside of work.

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