OAGC Member Spotlight Fall 2022

We are well into the summer months and ready for fall. The new academic year is just around the corner. In our latest OAGC Member Spotlight genetic counselor Emily Wakefield discusses her role in training genetic counseling students and shares her advice for those considering taking a more active role in student education and to new graduates.

Emily Wakefield, MS, CGC
Emily Wakefield, MS, CGC

Emily is a licensed, certified genetic counselor who received her undergraduate degree in Molecular Genetics from The Ohio State University in 2010 and graduated from University of Alabama at Birmingham Graduate Program in 2014. She works as a laboratory and cancer genetic counselor at Cincinnati Children’s and is the Admissions/Distance Learning Coordinator and Course Instructor for the Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Graduate Program

What led you to a career in genetic counseling?

I first learned about genetic counseling at a Molecular Genetics Club meeting  as an undergraduate student at OSU. It sounded like a great way to work in healthcare while also using my genetics background and I immediately sought out shadowing/internship experiences to further solidify my interest. When I was shadowing, I was amazed when genetic counselors picked up on tiny verbal and nonverbal cues to modify their phrasing of questions and to guide the session. While it was hard to watch patients get difficult news, I thought it was so impressive the way the genetic counselors used their skills to help make a terrible situation feel a little less terrible.

When I wasn’t accepted into graduate school on my first attempt, I took some graduate level coursework and gained real-world experience working as a research coordinator for a medical institute. Getting the call that I was accepted into UAB’s Class of 2014 remains one of my happiest memories!

What aspect of genetic counseling do you find the most challenging?

I find anything related to insurance really challenging. It’s difficult to see access issues created by (nonsensical) insurance policies and processes. I’m grateful that in my current clinical specialty (cancer), my interaction with insurance companies is limited and patients can typically access the testing they desire.

You work as the admissions and distance learning coordinator, as well as a course instructor for the University of Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Program. What led you to take on these roles? What advice might you give to a genetic counselor who is looking to become more involved in student training?

I’ve always jumped at any opportunity to lecture to current students, attend prospective student events, and review prospective student applications. When the Program Coordinator announced her retirement, I approached the Program Director about creating an admissions coordinator position so I could focus  on these prospective student experiences.  At the same time, they were looking for someone to take over as course instructor for one of the program courses so I took that on as well. When the opportunity became available to take over the distance learning courses that prospective students often take, I thought it would pair well with my existing program roles. I really love these roles because I find it invigorating to be around those who are so excited to learn about genetic counseling!  

My advice to genetic counselors who are interested in student training is to identify what you love doing and find ways to become more involved. Be creative and don’t be afraid to suggest something that hasn’t been done before.

What advice would you give a new genetic counseling graduate?

I remember being very overwhelmed when I was working full-time and studying for boards so one thing I’d say is to remember that this season will not be forever. I also remember feeling like I was a fake genetic counselor and that I didn’t know what I was doing. This is completely normal and it is impossible to know everything about everything! Remember your training and utilize your colleagues to come up with solutions.

Practice self-care and do the best you can to establish a healthy work-life balance from the very beginning. Feel empowered to explore different specialties to find what is the best fit for you. Your interests may change over time and that can be stressful but also exciting.

Give us a (non-genetic counseling) fun fact about yourself!

I love to bake! I like the technical aspects of baking where my attention to detail and rule-following get rewarded but I also like being creative with flavors and textures. While quarantining in Spring 2020, I baked my way through a season of Great British Bake-Off and recently applied to be a contestant of the upcoming spin-off the Great American Bake Show. It was a fun experience to reflect on my baking journey and share pics of some of my favorite creations!

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