Could you tell us a little bit about your educational background?
I graduated from Cal Poly SLO in December 2019, with a BS in Biological Sciences and a minor in Biotechnology. I chose Cal Poly’s Biology Department because of their learn-by-doing approach, but found myself loving most of all their commitment to inclusion, respect, and responsibility. Along with a few great research opportunities, I was fortunate to take two public health fieldwork courses. These allowed me to intern both with the county public health office, along with First 5 SLO County. Being involved in exceptional health and partner health agencies, which focused on maternal/child health and well-being, solidified my desire to enter the health field. Once I had my heart set on genetic counseling, I sought out genetic counseling shadowing experiences. Ridley Tree Cancer Center (located in Santa Barbara, CA) allowed me to develop my skills as a volunteer in their genetics department. One of the most impactful aspects of my educational background was an incredible group of mentors. This diverse group taught me how to approach everything from communicating genetics, to advocating for underrepresented groups, to balancing life as a mother with many roles, to so much more.
What first got you interested in the healthcare field as a career choice? There are a lot of career options in the field -nursing, physician assistant, etc., what made you decide that genetic counseling was the right practice area/career choice for you?
On the journey to my interest in genetic counseling, I have a very clear memory of reading a popular science article titled, “How It's Possible for a Baby to Have Three Parents.” Contrary to its eye-catching title, the article reported thoughtfully on mitochondrial replacement therapy (parent sperm plus parent egg plus donor mitochondria.) AP Biology coursework had already shown me the exhilaration of genetic puzzles, but here I was reading about the human side of genetic medicine. I was thrilled to see the providers consider ethics, family dynamics, access, and more, while working to help families have a healthy baby. I couldn’t imagine a career without this integrated, whole-person approach to care. The fact that volunteerism and advocacy are an integral part of the GC role made me really excited about taking on a multi-hyphenated role. For similar reasons, I long considered a career in public health. Luckily, genetic counseling still allows me to contribute to health education, accessibility, and policy, while also providing individualized care to patients and families. While I wasn’t pulled strongly toward other healthcare roles, I do appreciate the relative autonomy and time genetic counselors seem to have, compared to other providers. Genetic counseling sessions are generally longer than other appointments, and I’ll appreciate being able to take all the time a patient needs. In this same patient-centered approach, genetic counselors emphasize their non-directive role. I want the patients I serve to feel truly heard, and I can help them explore the best option for their individual experience. I am energized to be surrounded by such a compassionate, collaborative, dynamic community of genetic counselors that share collective values. Rather than competition, I get the sense that genetic counselors support one another and continually innovate as a team. I sought a career path that could evolve as my life circumstances do, and genetic counselors are expanding in their career choices. The broad spectrum stretches across fully clinical settings to industry roles to policy advocates. I’m looking forward to jumping in to a growing profession. I am inspired by the chance to build projects from the group up, be they new graduate programs or new genetic counseling centers.
What type of obstacles have you had to overcome on the road to getting your education and in particular in pursuing your Genetic Counseling degree?
I’m constantly amazed by my peers and all of the obstacles we have collectively overcome to join this program. For me, many of my challenges ultimately came down to chasing a dream that sometimes seemed out of reach. In my first quarter away at college, I started experiencing unexplained health issues. This took me on my own diagnostic odyssey, navigating the health care system and seeking answers to inconclusive symptoms. Ultimately, I was treated and returned quickly to full health. I came away with greater understanding of the patient perspective, and hope that experience informs my practice as a genetic counselor. The biggest long-term challenge for me was feeling out of step with my peers. Instead of hitting the ground running as I had planned, I felt left behind, and wondered whether I could take on all that I had hoped. Luckily, a supportive community helped me again reach for the stars. I needed to again lean on this community when I found myself feeling alone as a pre-GC student. My university did not have a centralized group of people interested in genetic counseling, not to mention nearby genetic counselors. As many others do, I was able to reach out and find mentors, and discovered other ways to learn about the field. I spent many hours on the road to reach distant shadowing, volunteering, and networking opportunities (although, genetic counseling podcasts did help pass the time enjoyably.) For the other students and I who eventually found each other, there was a sense of building a bridge together- as we walked across it. Shaky as it was, I’m grateful that we leaned on each other, rather than competing. I was increasingly aware that I needed to advocate for myself: not only for opportunities, but for self-care. With only a few others in the same pre-GC space, it was challenging not to compare or feel imposters syndrome. Especially while volunteering in emotionally exhausting spaces, while going through the acute stress of application season, I discovered that restorative practices were absolutely necessary. I had to coach myself to confidence in my own path, even when it differed from others. Even when I could have pushed myself to do more, or to accomplish something that I wasn’t 100% invested in, I learned to trust my genuine motivations over “checking the box.” With so many GC’s who enter the field from different backgrounds, I’m glad I accepted that we all have varied paths that uniquely equip us as genetic counselors.
What are you most looking forward to about beginning your Genetic Counseling studies?
I’m really looking forward to growing close with my cohort. It’s a unique experience to grow together, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to learn from and alongside. KGI is exceptionally innovative, so I’m also excited to see what kind of learning opportunities are in store for us. I learn better in a hands-on, experiential setting, and I can take on this challenge because I know I’m surrounded by an immensely supportive group. While I’m grateful that most of our courses are taught specifically by GC’s to our group, I’m also glad that we take courses with the MSGDA students. The MS in Genomic Data Analytics program as a huge part of what first attracted me to KGI. Learning alongside the MSGDA students will not only expand our learning community, but also allow us to look at information from a different perspective. With KGI’s broad network of rotation sites, plus an outstanding faculty team, I know that “different perspectives” will continue to be a theme throughout my education. Lastly, so many members of the program leadership team (and current/ graduated students!) have been extremely influential on my GC journey. From introducing me to GC graduate education at KGI’s Visit Day, to connecting me to a peer network of pre-GC students, to welcoming me during interview day, I already have so many stories of wonderful people supporting me. I truly cannot wait to join them at KGI, and to make them proud!
What is one fun and interesting fact about you?
While at Cal Poly SLO, I became a design lead for the Rose Float team! Each year, the Cal Poly Universities design, construct, and decorate a float for the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade. While on the team, I’ve learned to weld steel, tend flower fields, climb scaffolding, and cook a meal for dozens of hungry volunteers. My favorite time of year is “Deco Week,” where we cover the entire float in floral or natural materials, like lentils, coffee, marigolds, and of course, roses! Nothing beats watching your artistic creation join the parade on New Year’s Day!