Genetic Counselling fits the bill
Over 10 years ago, Rosie O’Shea decided genetic counselling fit the bill.
Rosie O'Shea, Associate Lecturer, Genetic Counselling
Qualifications: BSc in Genetics, University College Cork, Ireland, and MSc in Genetic Counselling, Cardiff University, Wales, United Kingdom
PhD: "Preparing the health system for new genetic testing pathways for colorectal cancer"
Rosie describes Genetic Counselling as the perfect mixture of what she loves – science, medicine, communication and the “human factor”. Her journey in Genetic Counselling has seen her work all over Europe, including high profile clinical research projects such as whole exome sequencing in children with developmental disorders. She recently joined the Graduate School of Health to help develop the curriculum for a new Genetic Counselling course launching next year. Read her Q&A below.
Can you tell us a bit about your journey that lead you to become a Genetic Counsellor?
I have always had a love for biology and a keen interest in how our bodies work. This curiosity and fascination, drew me into science, which lead to my completion of a Bachelor of Science, with a major in genetics. In this course, there was the opportunity to work in a molecular genetics laboratory. I enjoyed the experience, but found that the human element and communication about genetics was missing for me. Speaking with genetic counsellors in that unit, I knew I had found a profession that was the perfect mixture of knowing about science and genetics in medicine, but one that also incorporates counselling and effective communication. I then embarked on a Master of Science in Genetic Counselling which teaches an approach to communication and counselling that aims to help a person assimilate often complex genetic information, in order to make informed decisions for their healthcare and to share the genetic information with their family. I think genetic counselling is just an ideal combination of science, medicine, communication and the “human factor”.
I think genetic counselling is just an ideal combination of science, medicine, communication and the “human factor”.
Where did you work before joining UTS Graduate School of Health?
Genetic Counselling has lead me to work all over Europe – my first position was in the Highlands of Scotland, then back to Ireland, with some time spent in Italy. Over this time, I have worked in various clinical environments, from general, prenatal, metabolic and oncology practice, with experience in clinical research also. This has given me a broad clinical experience to draw from in terms of the education and research that I am now involved in. My passion for genetics also lead me to be part of the Rare Disease community in Europe, helping those affected with genetic and rare disorders to raise awareness about their experience and healthcare needs. Often people with genetic and rare disease experience a difficult diagnostic journey and have challenges getting reliable information about their condition. From this experience, I lead an initiative to make reliable information available to those with genetic and rare disorders in Ireland in an accessible way.
One of my most valuable experiences in this time was working on a clinical research project that uses a new genetic testing technology called whole exome sequencing, to help make a genetic diagnosis in children with developmental delay. My role was in helping families understand what this new technology means, and how we can use the technology to give insights into why their child has developmental delay. It feels really good to come to a point where you see genetics progressing to be able to give some families an answer or diagnosis so that they're not battling for years trying to understand what’s going on with their child or why they have a medical condition.
It sounds like you’ve watched Genetic Counselling evolve a fair bit?
Yes, even in the last few years there have been huge leaps and bounds forward. When I first started, what you could offer clinically was limited to single gene testing. Now the genetic testing technologies can reveal much more information by testing many genes together with a better chance of getting a diagnosis. It is still not perfect, we still don't have all the answers, but genetic testing technology such as next-generation sequencing is rapidly moving medical genetics forward, which means the information given to patients will get better. For me, genetic counselling is all about working with this new technology to help families understand what the information means and the limitations of the information that can come from such testing.
Why do you think genetic counselling is an excellent profession to be part of?
For those who are curious about science and genetics and want to work and communicate well with people, this is a career to consider. It is a profession that uses both left and right sided brainwork – using logic, critical thinking and rationing with risk figures on the medical genetics side, along with distilling complex medical information in a patient centred, communicative, compassionate and empathetic way.
It’s also a good choice for people that want to help others.
It’s also a good choice for people that want to help others. It’s a little different to medicine in that it’s usually not just about one individual, but what you can do to assist a whole family. On a larger scale, you can also translate your knowledge into research or policy.
On the jobs side of things, genetic counselling is a growing profession. With advancements in technology and genetics being mainstreamed into medicine, there is a need for more genetic counsellors. Doctors in oncology, neurology and cardiology are ordering genetic tests and need the support of genetic counsellors to help interpret and counsel their patients. So if you want to join a profession that is rapidly expanding, genetic counselling is definitely worth considering.
Why did you choose to come to the Graduate School of Health? What was the drawcard?
A big driver for me is the interprofessional allied health education model the Discipline is implementing. It is also about joining a new, exciting and young environment that is putting the learner at the centre of what they do. This matches up well with what a Genetic Counsellor does. By putting students at the centre of learning, they as professionals will learn to put patients at the centre of what they do.
What’s your role in the Genetic Counselling team?
I am involved in the development of the course content for the new masters program in genetic counselling, that will be starting in Semester 1 2019. As part of this, I want to incorporate an understanding of the context of Genetic Counselling - that it’s a young profession and has the potential to expand into more roles in healthcare delivery. This will involve working to change the traditional mindset of what a genetic counsellor is and looking at the possibilities for the future. With technology advancements, genetic counsellors need to be ready to evolve and to be key leaders as genetics gets incorporated into mainstream medicine.
In the long term, I would like to see more awareness of the profession, to make genetic counselling a more familiar name, so there’s a greater understanding of who we are, and what we do.
Interested in hearing more about Genetic Counselling? Learn more about the Master of Genetic Counselling.