OAGC Member Spotlight Spring 2023

It is our first OAGC member spotlight of 2023! If you have been practicing in Ohio for any length of time, chances are you have spoken to Sayaka Hashimoto about a test result (maybe more than one result!). This month, Sayaka shares with us how she found her way to genetic counseling and where she sees genetic counseling in five years.

Sayaka Hashimoto

Sayaka is a genetic counselor with 21 years of experience currently working as a lead laboratory genetic counselor at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center’s Genetics and Genomics Diagnostics Laboratory. She obtained  a M.S. degree in Medical Genetics in 2002 from the University of Cincinnati Genetic Counseling Program. She has held various positions in her genetic counseling career, including working as a prenatal genetic counselor in community hospitals, as a laboratory genetic counselor in cytogenetic and molecular genetic laboratories as well as in test utilization management program, and as a genomic data analyst and report writer for a commercial genetic testing laboratory. Sayaka has been a chair and co-chair of the Ohio Genetic Counselors’ Annual Educational Conference. She enjoys learning about new genetic technologies and teaching genetic counseling students, residents, and genetic laboratory fellows.

What led you to a career in genetic counseling?

I was a double major in molecular genetics and psychology in my undergraduate program at the Ohio State University (OSU), and I was looking for a career that would allow me to use knowledge from both of these areas. I worked in genetic and psychology research labs in the last couple years of my undergrad, feeding and sacrificing fruit flies and rats. It made me realize I wanted to work with people and wanted a career that would give me the opportunity to make a positive impact on someone’s life. In my final year of undergrad, I heard Heather Hampel (who was a cancer genetic counselor at OSU at that time) give a talk about her career as a genetic counselor at one of the OSU molecular genetics club meetings, and I knew that is exactly what I wanted to do.

You have worked in a laboratory setting for quite some time. What aspect of this work do you find the most satisfying?

I find lab report drafting to be one of the most satisfying parts of the lab genetic counselor job. Many different pieces of information go into the result interpretation and summary, such as literature review of patients with the same or similar finding(s), whether the finding(s) has been reported in the general population, in silico prediction, functional study results, etc. Trying to package all this information together in a succinct and clear summary in a lab report is a form of art. Many genetic tests are performed only once in someone’s lifetime, and the same genetic lab report gets reviewed by healthcare providers over many years, as well as gets shared among patient family members. There is something very special about being able to be a part of that report making, and to think that a report I helped to write may be used by someone even after I retire or die.

What do you think will be different about genetic counseling in five years?

With recent refinement in AI technology, such as ChatGPT, I can see incorporation of these AI technologies becoming more common in genetic counseling in the next 5 years. As large scale genomic screening and testing become more mainstream, there will be increased demand for genetic counselors. Strategic use of these new technologies likely can help meet the demands while reserving the limited genetic counselor availability for areas that cannot be met by these technologies.

What advice would you give a new genetic counseling graduate (or a person considering genetic counseling as a career)?

The biggest piece of advice I can give is to be nice and respectful to people you work with, and be the best coworker you can be to your team members. The clinical genetics community is pretty small, and most genetic counselors know each other by only 2 or 3 degrees of separation. This means that if you are applying for a new job in the clinical genetics area (including industry), there is likely someone there who probably knows someone who knows you. Most jobs require teamwork, so employers want someone who not only can do the job but who is able to work well in a team setting. No one wants to work with a mean or difficult person, no matter how smart or competent that person may be.

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

I was born in a very small private hospital in rural Japan. The hospital lost power when my mom was delivering me, and it did not have a generator, so my dad was asked to help the nurse light candles in the delivery room. 

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