10,000 Ways Not to Make a Light Bulb

By: Amanda Hodgkins

I thought I’d write a little about what it’s like being in clinic during our first year of the program. Unlike some programs, at Emory we start observations in July and our first 8-week rotation (10-12 hours/week) in October of our first year. The thought of jumping right into clinic might sound incredibly intimidating, and when you first start you may not feel prepared or qualified at all. But that’s the point. Learning as you go! I know right now you’re probably only thinking and preparing for your interviews, but take some time to seriously think about what it’s going to be like in graduate school, in clinic. Start to prepare yourself, because after all pretty soon you will be in clinic learning how to be a genetic counselor.

The first time I took a family history in clinic, I asked questions awkwardly. We had practiced taking a family history in class, but to ask the questions of a patient was a completely different experience for me. I am a naturally shy and reserved person, so I knew my shyness was going to be a hurdle I was going to have to jump at some point. But I’ll be honest, during my first rotation I didn’t push myself. I took a back seat, and that will always be something I wish I could go back in time and re-do. Yes I was nervous that I would do something or say something wrong, but to quote one of my supervisors, “you can’t break them”.

The reason I titled this 10,000 ways not to make a light bulb is because in clinic you will learn a lot about how to and how not to take a family history, explain DNA and chromosomes, etc. Your supervisors will tell you all about things you are doing wrong, as well as how you can do better. You will fail at trying to do things better, and trying not to do things wrong. And it will be frustrating. But always remember that every time you say something wrong, you are being molded into the genetic counselor that you will become in two years. Experience will lead you to figure out the best way for you yourself to explain DNA and chromosomes, and when that happens it is a wonderful feeling.

In the mean time, remember you are not perfect and your supervisors don’t expect you to be. They don’t expect you as a first year to come to them all ready to start doing whole sessions on the first day. They will let you learn a little bit at a time, and push you to do a little more than you may feel comfortable with. But I want to encourage you to push yourself more than they do. There will be things you just aren’t ready to do at first, but go beyond your comfort zone and learn all that you can. I know that I wish I had. Now, at my second rotation, I’m not taking a back seat. I was lucky to get such amazing supervisors who take time to teach me in depth about everything having to do with prenatal counseling and giving me the chance to practice my counseling on them. Even though I’m not even half way through my rotation, I know that this will have some pretty significant impacts on my future as a genetic counselor. But as much time and instruction as they give me, it doesn’t mean anything if I don’t push myself to do more and more of the counseling session. If I don’t spend the time and energy trying to meet their expectations, I won’t grow as much as I could potentially grow through this rotation.

So I say all this to encourage you to not be afraid of stepping out of your comfort zone. Also remember that your supervisors are there to answer any questions you have and to help mold you into an amazing genetic counselor. If you’re a naturally shy person like me, that’s ok too! But don’t let your shyness or your introverted-ness get in the way of you growing as a genetic counselor. If you are one of the lucky ones who becomes a part of Emory’s class of 2017, take advantage of the incredible opportunity we have to be in clinic so early in our education and be the best you that you can be. After all, this is what you want to do with the rest of your life, right?

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