Are There Pipettes Involved? An Intro to Lab Genetic Counseling

It’s the week of my Bay Path interview! We’re approaching six weeks left until Match Day, which is amazing. Almost time to start looking at housing and potential workplaces in my three city options.

Until then, we’re all trying to entertain our minds with thoughts of our futures in GC, so this week I wanted to talk about lab GCs. A lot us in the genetic counseling field decided to pursue this work to get away from wet lab work. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy my current work at the lab bench, fractioning human bodily fluids for cancer research. But it’s not where I see myself long-term, and that’s why I am seeking this career in genetic counseling.

But then we find out… there’s lab GCs?! Yes! It can be hard to know what they do because it’s not as common to shadow them, and sometimes they work from home so they might not be interacting with the public as much. There’s a lot of questions in the applicant community about what a lab GCs daily work looks like and why a GC would go through all of the effort to become a GC, only to return to the lab environment and the corporate world that so many of us are trying to escape. It’s a great question, and I’ve been lucky enough to shadow a few lab GCs at Myriad Genetics, as well as speak with Kyle Davis, a lab GC for Lineagen, to find out more about their role and their choice to work in the lab.

It turns out, being a lab GC can flexible and rewarding way to use one’s skills in research, writing, counseling, and advocacy all at the same time. And no, there won’t typically be pipettes involved.

I don’t pretend to know every role of a lab GC or what inspired them to take that role. But I have a little insight from shadowing and this interview that I’m ready to share! Let’s learn why we should all consider being lab GCs.

A Lab GC’s Daily Work

So… what do lab GCs do? Where do they work? The answers to those questions are broad and varied! Look, I made a graphic to show the variety of options for a lab-oriented GC.

Lab GC Companies
Just to name a few

Being a “lab” GC doesn’t define what that GC does. It only means that they work for a lab instead of a hospital or university. When I talked to Kyle, actually, I noticed that much of his role is pretty similar to a clinical GC. He has scheduled telephone meetings with the families using Lineagen testing. He counsels them about results and what they mean, and he’s there for them emotionally. Additionally, he writes reports, and also “translates” them for families to understand. In this case, the lab role brings together the best of patient-facing work and more behind-the-scenes work.

When I shadowed at Myriad, the counselors there took a less patient-facing role. Their main role is advising other healthcare providers about Myriad testing. They can help a medical geneticist find the right Myriad product for their patient’s need, and they can also collaborate with that provider to find a lab that can provide the needed test if Myriad can’t. What is interesting about their role is that there are about 10 GCs working there, and each one becomes an expert on a few cancer-related genes. Part of their job is keeping up on every piece of new research about that gene and mutations that are found in it. By providing expertise on each mutation they test for, Myriad can better provide guidance to physicians and GCs who used Myriad testing and received complex results.

Reasons to Choose Lab

Flexibility

Flexibility seems to be the number 1 reason a GC might choose a lab career, especially at a time of their life when they need more flexibility than a traditional job could offer. Kyle shared that one reason he chose lab is because of the possibility of his wife moving for her job. Since his job involves mostly phone counseling and report writing, working from home is quite feasible. This aspect could appeal to working parents, people who need to move or travel frequently, people in areas with tough commutes, etc. Honestly, who doesn’t sometimes wish they could work from home?

There’s also often more flexibility in attire, hours, time-off etc. Because these roles are often not patient-facing, there’s less of a need to dress up and work around the appointment schedule. As Kyle shared, there are still meetings and deadlines he needs to work with, but the overall flexibility is much greater.

Pay Grade Can Be Higher

I’ve already experienced this phenomenon, working a summer at Myriad (a for-profit biotech company) versus taking my first post-college job at Huntsman Cancer Institute (a non-profit research hospital).

At Myriad, I made them money. Therefore, they paid me a little bit better. At Huntsman, my work is doing good for the world, but I don’t bring the Huntsman family any bacon. None of us here at Huntsman do anything that brings in money, except maybe the fundraising department. The hospital has to pay us out of Huntsman Cancer Foundation charitable funds, donations to the University of Utah Hospital System, etc etc. Thus, I don’t make quite as much as Myriad was paying me.

What I’m saying is, not always, but often, biotech companies can shell out a bit more money to their employees, since the company actually makes money. Hospitals are more likely to have a set starting salary or salary cap for a GC. Industry roles can allows for a higher paygrade, and more pay growth over time.

Taking a New Role

As an applicant, I’m so ready to go get into CLINIC. It’s going to be AWESOME! But 15 years down the road, I could find myself worn down from working through the emotions of a clinic role for so long. Maybe, maybe not. What’s great about this career is, if I ever want something different than clinic, I can get that. My MSGC degree leads to this one career of genetic counseling, but I don’t ever need to fear that I’ll get tired of doing the same kind of work every day. New non-clinical roles for GCs open up all the time, so if I ever get interested in taking a more researchy role, a role with more writing, a more flexible role, or whatever, there’s a lab GC role for that!

*****

I’m so glad I’ve had the chance to learn about lab genetic counseling and even shadow in it. It’s truly a great option for someone who wants to apply their GC knowledge in a new way. I’m excited to enter this career, not only to participate in the traditional clinical role, but to potentially work in many capacities! It will be exciting to see where genetic counseling will go next.

-Laura Cooper-Hastings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s