Remember to Keep Listening

By: Kelly Teed, Class of 2014

The man with the springer spaniel

Once you’re in the groove of working, the patients the mountains of paper work and phone calls to make can start to blur together. But luckily genetic counseling is a job where that one person will snap you out of the blur.

A man had called to reschedule an appointment that he had made for his wife, and then when I called a few days before the rescheduled appointment to remind him about it he said they perhaps might not be able to make it after all. Then he called me again and we went back and forth about if he should come to get some information if his wife doesn’t feel well. I was a little annoyed by all these phone calls, because I was busy and I was feeling like a newbie pushover.

He arrived at the appointment without his wife (she had a fever) and started out by asking how long I had been doing this- my favorite question besides, “Why do you look so young?” Not a very good start, I thought.

As we made our way through my obligatory questions, I got to know this persistent man a little better. He and his wife had recently retired and moved to Atlanta because of the hub airport and settled in to enjoy what they thought would be their “golden years”. That’s when she got a rare late-stage cancer, and now everything was turned upside down.

He talked about how his wife had once been extremely active and had especially enjoyed horses and their dog. He’d lost over 30 pounds since his wife got sick, which he said was partially because he was now the only one walking their energetic springer spaniel. His wife, he said, was now primarily a patient.

What really struck me was this loss of the light at the end of the tunnel for this man. Just like so many people, it seemed they had spent their lives working hard, and raising their kids (now scattered across the country). All the while looking forward to living life for themselves and really enjoying each other, when time and money finally allowed for it. Along with him, I felt frustrated that cancer had taken this from them.

And I was also feeling mad, because this man was a good one. He wasn’t just going with his wife to all of her cancer appointments; he was trying to go to the appointments for her. He was taking everything on because she couldn’t. When I told him I thought he was pretty great, he shrugged and said they’d been married for over 40 years and if the shoes were reversed she’d do the same for him.

I don’t know what the moral of all this is, other than that I was shaken up by this dedicated husband who’d gotten a raw deal. And crying a bit after he left was a reminder to keep listening.

A Ship to Sail

By: Hailey Campbell

My favorite book is “Little Women” by Louisa May Alcott (judge me if you want, but I love it). A quote from this book also stands to be one of my favorites. It says, “I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” This quote has held true for every season of my life, and none truer than navigating life in grad school.

As you may have read in the previous blog posts, adjusting to grad life and learning how to be flexible around all of its frustratingly wonderful and wonderfully frustrating demands can be difficult (especially difficult if you’re stubborn and stuck in your ways like I am). When I started school, I knew that the schoolwork would be hard, and the material would be complex. I was prepared for that. What I was not prepared for was the amount of personal growth that grad school also required of me. In more ways than one, graduate school and the people that have become part of this season of my life have encouraged self-reflection and growth right alongside my classwork and clinical experiences.

Yes, the schoolwork has been difficult, time consuming, and so worthwhile. My clinic experiences have ranged from mildly interesting to profoundly impactful. My classmates have played many different roles in my life including study buddy, co-adventurer, ear-lender, counselor, and friend. My professors and supervisors have set high expectations for me and pushed me to be the best I can be. Through all of this, I have realized that grad school, especially genetic counseling school, is not just about academic learning and professional development. For me, as well as for my classmates, it has been about learning more about ourselves, defining just what kind of genetic counselor we all want to be, and discovering what impact we want to leave on patients, colleagues, and the field of genetics once we venture on to begin our careers.

I will gladly admit that for the two months after I committed to Emory and before school actually started, I would get overwhelmingly nervous just thinking about what the next two years would bring. This feeling was not because I did not want to go to school, but because I wanted it so badly and had for so long. I would get anxious thinking about it because I worked to get to this moment for 6 years and my dream was finally tangible. At this time, I thought that the limits of my dream were confined within the title of “genetic counselor” and it’s cookie-cutter definition. What I have come to learn over the past 18 months is that my dream is so much more defined, and it has significantly broadened. I now recognize that I want to be a genetic counselor in a pediatric or prenatal setting. I want to use the skills I have acquired through my training to teach others about genetic counseling and foster an interest in genetics among other medical professionals. I also want to guide future genetic counselors to discover how they want their title as “genetic counselor” to be defined.

As I approach my last semester of grad school and dream new dreams for the future of my career, I take confidence in knowing that I am more prepared for my first job as a genetic counselor than I was for graduate school. I know that being a genetic counselor is a profession that encourages constant self-growth. It is one that allows you to progress your interests and dreams as rapidly as the field of genetics is progressing. I also recognize that this chapter in my life is one that will stay with me for the entirety of my career. Of course, the training that I received is what allows me to be a qualified genetic counselor. However, I believe the experiences and the revelations that I have encounted here will have a much greater impact on my career.

For anyone preparing for interviews, considering genetic counseling school, or even just wanting to learn more about it, I believe it is important to keep an open mind. It is necessary to realize that the title of “genetic counselor” holds much more than one definition. Each genetic counselor has the opportunity to mold that definition to encompass each one of his/her dreams and goals. Regardless of how your interest in genetic counseling began, what expectations you have for your future career, or even how scary the prospect of grad school (and post-grad life) may seem, make sure you enjoy the journey. You are in good company and after all, we are all just learning how to sail our ships.