You Asked – GCAs Answer!

Do you know someone who wants to be a genetic counseling assistant (GCA)? Are you thinking of adding a GCA to your team? Just curious about what a day in the life of a GCA looks like? You have come to the right place! The GCAs at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center have graciously agreed to answer some frequently asked questions about their position.

Meet the Authors

Caroline Cavender graduated with a B.S. in Animal and Nutritional Sciences with a minor in Equine Science. She began working as a GCA after working in veterinary medicine for a year and a half. Most of her free time is spent exploring nature with her Great Dane, finding jazz music around Cincinnati, or helping socialize some of the animals in local shelters.

Katherine Parks graduated with a Bachelor’s degree with a major in Biology and a minor in Psychology from Capital University in 2020. She is currently volunteering at Crisis Text Line where she has learned a lot about counseling skills. During her time off, she loves to crochet which she learned to do at the beginning of quarantine.

Hannah Than Win graduated in 2020 with a Bachelor’s degree in Health Sciences. Her favorite hobby is wheel throwing and ceramics hand-building. During her free time she is most likely catching up on reading webtoons or watching anime. Recently she added two four-legged family members, Winston and Lola – both English bulldogs.

How did you find this job?

Caroline (C): I just started as a GCA at Cincinnati Children’s about two months ago. I was working in veterinary medicine when I was first exposed to genetic counseling and decided to change career paths to pursue becoming a genetic counselor. I emailed a few faculty members and got in touch with the clinical manager where I found out they had an opening for a GCA. I was then able to apply and got the position.

Katherine (K): I became interested in the field of genetic counseling in high school. After not matching to a program, I decided that I still wanted to become a GC and needed more experience in the field. I personally emailed different GCs at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and asked them if they had any open positions and applied once the position was posted.

Hannah (H): I am currently one of three GCAs at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. I applied for genetic counseling programs while an undergraduate, and did not match. During the feedback interview, I asked if there was any opportunity to work alongside the genetic counselors, and applied to interview as a GCA. A few months later, I started as one of two new GCAs and am currently reapplying two cycles later.

What type of responsibilities do you hold at your job?

C: I primarily work with our lab genetic counselors in both our Genetics and Genomics Diagnostic Laboratory and our send out lab. In these roles, I order testing for the GCs and physicians, manage the parts needed for our whole exome sequencing, contact labs for testing information, write gene summaries, and plan on getting involved with writing genetic test reports.

K: Manage the incoming patients for the GC Only clinic, answer patient questions about referrals and general appointment inquiries such as: “What happens in a genetic counseling session? Can I get my blood drawn at the appointment?” and obtain medical history, family history, and create pedigrees prior to patient appointments.

H: I support the clinical genetic counselors and specialize in the Hereditary Cancer Program (HCP). For our weekly HCP clinic, I contact patients for pre-visit planning where I collect personal medical history, family history, and draw out a pedigree. After clinic, I submit the genetic testing orders on behalf of the GCs. At this point, I’ve completed intake for over 100 patients, and submitted over 400 genetic testing orders!

Favorite part of the job?

C: My favorite part so far has been seeing the patient advocacy all of our GCs provide in both the clinical and laboratory settings. Watching the genetic counselors advocate for their patients in areas such as access to affordable testing, helping with insurance coverage, and valuing each patient’s identity is amazing and being able to be a part of that advocacy is a great aspect.

K: I have been able to make a difference in a lot of patient’s lives and create a lot of job satisfaction for the GCs I support.

H: My favorite part is being able to contact patients or prospective patients to answer their questions about the appointment. It is rewarding to see how their anxiety and stress can decrease after conversation.

How has your role evolved in the past year?

C: I have only been a GCA for a little over two months, but even within that short amount of time, I have learned so much and hope to take on more specialized tasks as I become more comfortable in my role.

K: After a year of learning more about indications patients have when coming to general genetics clinic and GC only clinic, I have been able to ensure that patients are seen in the best clinic for their care.

H: Prior to specialization, the role in laboratory genetic counseling, general clinic, and cancer clinic was shared between the two GCAs. After our roles expanded, it became beneficial to specialize in certain areas of clinic and laboratory.  We hired a third GCA recently, and we can now focus even more on our respective clinics.

Where do you see the future of GCAs?

C: As the profession grows at a substantial rate, I think the need for GCAs will also increase. I think the responsibilities of GCAs will also increase as GCs utilize us more and allow more tasks to be taken on by the GCAs. Even just seeing how the GCA roles here have grown and specialized over the last year that the other two GCAS have been here I think shows there are a lot of opportunities for GCA roles to expand into many areas and specialties.

K: I think that GCAs will be able to help in different specialty clinics and be able to be an expert for a group of similar clinics and support a group of GCs full time. I think that this would be beneficial because they would have the expertise to request specific records and make tailored pedigrees for GCs before the appointment.

H: I hope to see more GCA positions available as more evidence of the benefits of our role is documented.  These benefits are evident, not only for personal growth and experience, but also for the GCs to practice at the top of their scope. At our institution, I think there would be benefit in having a GCA present in the clinical workspace in addition to the office space.

What is one thing you wish you’d known before you started as a GCA?

C: Technology shortcuts! There are so many little tools that are so helpful in making our lives easier with emails, excel sheets, and more!

K: I wish I had bought a planner much sooner! Learning how to manage my time has been a game changer.

H: A task-tracking spreadsheet, calendar reminders, and the ability to prioritize will become a life saver when things start piling up!

Biggest thing you have learned about the genetic counseling field?

C: There are so many things I have learned, even in such a short time. One thing that is very interesting is seeing how different GCs practice. Seeing their different styles, how they interact with patients, and approach situations has been extremely helpful in learning and developing my own approach when speaking with patients and will be helpful to hone in future clinical experiences

K: I learned a lot about how GCs can be the best patient advocate. Also, I saw how vital genetic counseling was in effective prolonged patient care because it ensures that patients understand their diagnosis throughout different stages in their life.

H: I think the most surprising thing I learned was that, despite the team being all genetic counselors, they do very different things. For example, even though prenatal genetic counselors and fetal care center genetic counselors both have tendency to work with people who are pregnant, the reasons are different for why a patient would see these two specialists. My role in working so closely with the GCs has taught me to differentiate what happens in each specialty appointment and what would lead a patient to meet with the different GCs.

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