Welcome from the Director and Co-Directors
Judith Tsipis, Director
We welcome your interest in Brandeis’ Genetic Counseling Program as we begin our 23nd year. I am delighted to continue in my role as Founding Director and to have the pleasure of working with Gretchen Schneider, our wonderful Co-Director of 8 years, and Gayun Chan-Smutko, a cancer genetic counselor at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brandeis alum, who is in her second year as our Assistant Program Director. In addition, our faculty include Medical Director
Joan Stoler, as well as
Cassie Buck and
Rachel Woodruff. We are also very fortunate to have Missy Goldberg as our Program Administrator – she has been a part of the program since 1995 and if you decide to apply to Brandeis’ Genetic Counseling Program, you will see what a valuable resource she is. Finally, I would be remiss not to mention the many talented genetic counselors who give generously of their time to supervise Brandeis students in their clinical internships, help guide their master's thesis research and introduce them to the expanding roles held by non-clinical genetic counselors.
This year ‘s reflections come from an unexpected source: the self-study document the Program is preparing for reaccreditation by the Accreditation Counsel for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). This gives us the opportunity to look back at how the program has evolved over the past 8 years and to gain a measure of our alum’s accomplishments since they graduated. It also provides us with the opportunity to reflect on the Program’s future and think about what we want to change and what we consider integral to the Brandeis curriculum.
We are very proud of the disability component that has been part of the curriculum since the Program’s inception, and the comments from our alums (see In Their Own Words and Reflections webpages) reinforce the pivotal role this plays in the education of our students. Many alums commented about these experiences being the most memorable from their time at Brandeis. Additionally, they remarked about attending lectures and special programming where the invited guest speakers who brought their personal stories and left indelible impressions.
We also welcome the changes that occur from year to year in both the science behind genetic counseling (e.g. the advances in human genetics and genomics and the development of new technologies like next gen sequencing and CRISPR/cas 9) and preparing our students for an expanding set of career opportunities in research and industry. However, our core priorities remain unchanged: providing students with a first class education in both the classroom and the clinic; empowering students with the clinical and research skills that will allow them to grow and adapt along with the demands of the profession; and increasing students' exposure, comfort level and sensitivity to children and adults with disabilities.
We encourage you to look through our website, learn about our curriculum, read about our faculty and gain insight into our alums' interests and accomplishments by leafing through the list of their thesis research.
Our students represent a diverse group and we strongly encourage applicants from all walks of life: those who might be making a career change; those who want to re-enter the work force in a new field; those who have always wanted to be a genetic counselor; or simply those who have just discovered the field and feel it's the right career for them. We hope to hear from you and welcome any questions you might have.
Gretchen Schneider, Co-Director, Clinical Placements
Going through the self-study process for our Program’s re-accreditation for the first time has been an eye-opening experience. As a graduate from a different training program, it has given me the chance to see Brandeis through the eyes of our alumni over a span of eight years. In this short period of time, so much has changed in the field in terms of knowledge, technology, opportunities, and recognition of the profession. From a Program perspective, keeping up with this evolution has been a challenge but one we have been committed to in order to prepare our graduates for this exciting and ever-changing field. It was immensely satisfying that our alumni, when surveyed as part of this self-study, felt very strongly that their training here prepared them well to begin their careers as genetic counselors.
One of the more satisfying aspects of mentoring students through both their didactic and clinical training is seeing where they land for their first job. While this year’s graduates predominantly went into clinical practice, it was interesting to see that more took jobs in cancer, pediatrics and general genetics with only one new graduate working in a strictly prenatal setting. In addition, two are in more unique clinical positions; one is focused on telemedicine and another in the specialty area of genetic eye disease. We also have graduates from recent years who have gone into non-clinical positions doing clinical research or working in a laboratory. All of this is a testament to the expansion of the field and the increasing opportunities for entry-level genetic counselors. It’s gratifying to see our students taking advantage of the many possibilities out there.
Changes in the profession were also front and center at the NSGC Annual Education Conference in October and the vibe was different from anything I have experienced during my years in this profession. While the educational component was exceptionally strong, many conversations focused on the future of the field. There is great excitement about the opportunities available for genetic counselors today, yet there is also a sense of urgency in the field as there are truly too few genetic counselors trained for the jobs that are currently unfilled. This was obvious when looking at what appeared to be a record number of open positions on the job board. An increasing number of non-clinical positions have been created and, in many major cities, there has been migration of genetic counselors from clinical practice to industry, working for the companies whose tests they utilized during the years that they saw patients. The recurring questions were, “how can we train more genetic counselors?” and “how can we ensure that students are being trained for the broad range of positions open to them?” While the answers to these questions are not simple, asking them signifies a pivotal point for the profession.
At this point, having reviewed the Program’s activities over the last eight years, we are looking towards the future. For our students, we will retain a well-balanced curriculum that has a strong counseling focus and exposure to individuals with disabilities that has been the hallmark of our Program. Our students will also continue to receive top-notch clinical training, while increasing both interactions with non-clinical genetic counselors and learning experiences in these expanding areas. We look forward to both preparing our students for what lies ahead for genetic counselors and seeing what they contribute to this exciting profession.
Gayun Chan-Smutko, MS, CGC, Assistant Director
Learn to elicit a person’s story.
Learn to listen.
What we learn from the lived experiences of individuals and families with a disability or genetic condition is just as crucial as what we can learn in a lecture or in the clinic, and this has been a guiding principle since the inception of the Program. The Program’s curriculum and clinical experiences are rounded out by the many opportunities students have to be exposed to topics relevant to individuals with disabilities and their families. Through participation, observation and self-reflection students learn to think a little differently. I can attest to this as a graduate of the Program (Class of 2002), as a clinical counselor, and now as a faculty member of the Program as well.
I coordinate a combination of individual fieldwork placements and group interactions with guest speakers in the classroom to expose students to a spectrum or variety of experiences. Students are assigned a Community Field Placement in their first semester where they interact with the same child or group of children with special needs each week, or work with a day program for adults with intellectual disabilities, or observe in a multi-disciplinary program at a local hospital. In the second semester, students are matched with a family with whom they will meet several times over the course of the semester. These Family Pals are incredibly welcoming and open and many are veterans of this long-standing program. Within the classroom (in our weekly Fieldwork class and January Winter session) students hear from and interact with parents and young self-advocates from the community which adds a different dimension to our programming as a whole. Not only does the awareness programming (I hesitate to label it simply as disability awareness as that is not entirely accurate) expose students to many aspects of another person’s lived experiences it also helps them examine their own assumptions and biases.
We are very fortunate that so many teachers, parents, advocates and families in the community share their time with us. In my own clinical practice I find that these interactions reinforce a guiding counseling principle that we can never make assumptions. Learning to listen, learning to provide patients a safe space to tell a story and share their beliefs is just as important as providing accurate information. By maintaining a clinical presence at Massachusetts General Hospital where my genetic counseling career began I find that I continue to exercise and hone my clinical skills as a cancer genetic counselor.
No day is ever the same for me as I continue to teach, listen, counsel and learn amongst the students, colleagues, parents, community partners and patients. This is truly a privilege in my mind. As we position our Program to meet the many expanding roles for genetic counselors while maintaining a rigorous curriculum, activities such as our awareness programming, Process group, and our emphasis on developing presentation skills provide students with a strong skill set that will make them effective contributors and communicators in any genetic counseling setting.
Please click here to learn more about our medical director and affiliated faculty.