Increasing patient access to genetic counseling piqued my interest as a student. This curiosity lead me to a rotation at a telemedicine genetic counseling company, AT-GC, in January 2020. Little did I know how advantageous my curiosity would prove to be. Two months after completing my AT-GC rotation, a global pandemic spiraled out of control, forcing workers of all experience levels into remote work. Rotating at AT-GC prepared me to be a marketable candidate amid a global pandemic by teaching me to be independent, adaptable, and screen-savvy. Now as a graduate in a pandemic-stricken world and as a practicing genetic counselor and member of a telehealth genetic counseling team, those skills have proved to be invaluable.
Starting my rotation at AT-GC, I was impressed with the level of trust and independence granted to students. Compared to my previous in-person rotations where I was directed to specific cases, at AT-GC I was sent an email of the schedule, and I could choose the patients I wanted to see based on a convenient time or intriguing indication. It was then my responsibility to be present virtually for those appointments. This level of independence helped me transition to the work field where it is now my responsibility to set my own schedule and be present when patients arrive. Additionally, without a supervisor physically present, I was forced to be proactive in seeking out answers to my questions, another critical skill for an independent practicing genetic counselor.
Seeing patients remotely opened my eyes to the variety of problems that could potentially occur with a remote visit. At first these glitches troubled me. However, as I saw firsthand how tactfully the genetic counselors handled these problems, I came to appreciate these problems as a way to demonstrate kindness through the flexibility of the service. Now, as a telehealth genetic counselor I change appointment times for patients, switch appointments to the phone, and help my patients troubleshoot their video connection. Learning flexibility at AT-GC, taught me to be a compassionate genetic counselor in all aspects of patient interaction.
Early on in my rotation, I saw the video screen as a barrier. The screen prevented me from shaking hands with the patient, blocked my peripheral view of the room, and hindered my empathy. After discussing this predicament with my AT-GC genetic counseling mentors, my perception changed as I learned to ask the right questions at the beginning of sessions that would help orient me to the situation of the room (are you accompanied to this visit today? Is there something interesting on the wall? Is the person who brought you into the room still present? Do you have a pen and paper handy?). I also learned to utilize screen sharing to educate patients via pictures and PowerPoints. This enhanced my ability to connect with the patient, without distracting him or her from my presence. Finally, this rotation provided a safe space for me to practice and develop natural empathy skills, even through a screen. By the end of my rotation, I relied on the screen as a valuable link between the patient and me.
Despite graduating in a pandemic, I was able to secure a position as a genetic counselor at a large telemedicine service that sees patients throughout the country. I know the skills acquired during my rotation at AT-GC leveraged my application for this position, and I know those skills will continue to help me advance in my genetic counseling career.