London specialist in genetic counselling joins GSH
Chris Jacobs has joined the Genetic Counselling team as a Senior Lecturer. Bringing considerable clinical and research experience, Jacobs’s passion for education and research is a welcome addition to the growing team.
What made you chose genetic counselling and how has your career progressed?
I started my career as a nurse, but moved into genetic counselling in 1996, just after the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes responsible for breast and ovarian cancer had been discovered. It was an area that was developing quickly and one I found immediately fascinating. My first research project looked at the psychosocial aspects of genetic testing in breast cancer, which was a brand-new topic at that time.
I continued to work in clinical roles and research, getting my Masters in 2003. At that time, I was part of a small team tasked with establishing the cancer genetics service at Guy’s Regional Genetics Centre in London and was appointed to the post of Consultant Genetic Counsellor in 2006. By the time I left in 2015, there were 10 genetic counsellors and four consultant geneticists seeing cancer genetics patients and serving a population of approximately 4.5 million people in south-east England. In addition to my leadership and clinical roles at the Centre, I coordinated a Masters level module in cancer genetics and published two books about cancer genetics for oncology health professionals.
I was awarded a National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Doctoral Research Fellowship in 2011 to start my PhD and worked on it part-time because my research was very much embedded in my clinical practice. I moved to Australia in 2015 where I continued my PhD and became an Adjunct Senior Lecturer at UNSW, and now here I am at UTS.
What is your PhD about and what are your future research interests?
My PhD investigated health professionals’ communication about genetic testing and hereditary cancer management with breast and ovarian cancer patients.
In the future, I’m interested in investigating how to improve access to genetic risk assessment and testing for underserved groups and communities. I will also continue my exploration of how health professionals and families communicate about genetics and genomics. I’m interested in the experience and impact of genetic and genomic testing on patients and their families and the content, process and outcome of genetic counselling.
What attracted you to working at UTS?
UTS is a dynamic university on an exciting trajectory. Working here with other disciplines in the Graduate School of Health (GSH) was a big attraction. I think that’s got so much potential. Multiprofessional teams generate more ideas and better approaches, and ultimately result in better patient care. My clinical and research experience has always involved working across disciplines and I see this role as a great opportunity to continue that cross-pollination of ideas.
With the huge advances in genetic and genomic testing, many more genetic counsellors will be needed to help people to make sense of the technology.
I also think the creation of a Discipline of Genetic Counselling within the GSH is visionary. It’s a wonderful validation of the profession, which is still relatively small and will allow UTS to take the lead in another area of health care. With the huge advances in genetic and genomic testing, many more genetic counsellors will be needed to help people to make sense of the technology.
What would you like to achieve in this role?
It's a privilege to be working for Associate Professor Alison McEwen, Head of Genetic Counselling, who has been setting up the Masters programme. We have both research and teaching objectives for the Discipline.
On the teaching side, our first job is to establish the Master's programme, to get the course accredited and to attract students. We are progressing well with this and are on track to launch in Autumn 2019.
In the longer term, we want to inspire the next generation of genetic counsellors to be highly cognisant of the impact of changing technologies on individuals and families. It’s a rapid area of change, so teaching students to be flexible in their approach will be a vital part of genetic counselling in the future.
I’m passionate about arming people with the knowledge to make informed decisions about their lives and helping them to make sense of genetic information for themselves and their families.
I am fortunate to have protected time for research and our aim is to build a research team, including PhD students and post-doctoral researchers from a variety of disciplines, to advance the evidence base and ultimately establish UTS as a centre of excellence for research in genetic and genomic counselling.
Why are you passionate about your job?
I’m passionate about arming people with the knowledge to make informed decisions about their lives and helping them to make sense of genetic information for themselves and their families. It’s an area that can make a real difference, and can save lives, but must be managed sensitively and carefully in a positive and constructive way.