so sometime in the recent past while taking a family history, my patient reported that her husband’s mother had a hysterectomy as a result of uterine prolapse. the husband then covered his ears and didn’t want to hear it, and reported that he didn’t know of this history, mostly jokingly.
i felt obligated to at least explain what his wife meant by “it was hanging low” to him. was that out of line? i’m not sure, but i had accidentally misinterpreted the writing on the family history form for another family member of “MVP – mitral valve prolapse” and “uterine fibroids” to mean all three of: MVP, uterine prolapse, and fibroids, and the clarification was what a conversation the three of us had earlier in her family history, which was why the idea of prolapse was brought up to begin with when we had moved on to his family history
medical histories and family histories are so revealing and often graphic to other family members in the room. I try and gauge what people say that makes others uncomfortable, but on the other hand, i tend to be a very matter-of-fact, this is what it is, it’s your family history take on it too. especially since we assume consent of the information if the patient brought that person into the room.
but it’s especially complicated because these are medical history information facts that my patient’s husband’s mother provided to my patient, and the husband perhaps slightly more oblivious to the details, didn’t want to hear. it’s just another gross female thing guys don’t want to hear about, right?
well, the damage is done i guess.
given that i get a few hits every week or so from individuals searching for “male genetic counselors” or something or other, i thought it’d be an appropriate time to speak a bit more about how i’ve gone about getting where i am in my understanding of men in the genetic counseling field. i’ve had a few posts in the past that have addressed some of the important issues, but how did i go about absolving the myth that male genetic counselors are inept at the counseling side of GC? with experience of course!
those experiences started with my first year in my program. UofM allows its students to elect a summer rotation of their choice. my first thought that I ended up sticking with was finding a location, a clinical rotation, where I’d be able to work with a male genetic counselor and get some experience seeing how he would work. given that ann arbor didn’t have any genetic counselor men locally, i started with speaking to my directors and seeing who they knew, or who had been an alum of the program (UofM hasn’t had a guy since the early 90s…).
another step I took was to look at who was credentialed, holding the CGC desgination. these people were more likely to be practicing, vs. working in a non-clinical job (so i thought). i browsed through all the pages of ABGC diplomates, and then google’d any male-gendered names i saw to see where they worked, if it was clinical, if it was in a location in the country i wanted to travel to, etc. yes, i browsed through all 2500+ names looking and discerning for male-gendered first names. quite a task 😛
i ended up deciding on two locations that had a cancer focus, since i also had a particular interest in pursuing a fun, interesting, and involved cancer GC rotation. sent a few emails, got back a very welcome response and a second, polite decline (that was primarily due to the medical institution not being very appropriate to students), and i was set!
as the counselor who was my student liason first impressed on me (in our very first email exchange), it’s important to know that you can learn a whole lot from the counselors who are women that work there as well… and that basically sums it all up. it’s nice to work with another genetic counselor who’s a man, but when it comes down to learning the skills of GC, whoever it is that’s a good counselor will teach you tons and tons. some of my best counseling and career advice have come from those individuals at that rotation, so I absolutely lucked out (and made some great friends & professional relationships in the process!)
anyway, that’s been my experience. going to NSGC AEC is also an awesome way to scope out who’s a guy (it’s way easy, believe me, although i’m sure you don’t need to be convinced). there might even be guys that will address the topic too! (prominent example being Jeff Kopesky’s graduate research study and presentation at this year’s AEC on undergrad guys/girls in upper-level biology courses and their interest/knowledge of the genetic counseling field!)
not to mention, a lot of the training programs have at least a token guy (if not more!) maybe that’s a good place to start too. obviously, the bigger the program, or the bigger the city, the more likely there is to be a genetic counselor dude around, but, alas. hopefully this is can help someone out there.
i always get excited when i hear exciting analogies about genetics. they make explaining genetics in counseling sessions (or in other settings) so much easier. yeah, sure, there’s the ones i’m familiar with:
genes are like a recipe
chromosomes are like a library with the books as genes
autosomal recessive is like two lightbulbs in a hallway
dominant is like two wheels on a bike
translocations are like switching caps on pens
(credits to my instructors and classmates)
but hearing new and exciting ones about commonly discussed topics make my stomach flutter, such as the following quote from Kelly Ormond in a recent ACP Internist blog post by Jessica Berthold about “A brave new world of consumer gene tests” (link below):
Unlike conditions such as Huntington’s Disease, which a person will definitely get if she has a simple genetic mutation and lives long enough, complex conditions like heart disease are usually affected by many genes. And some are more important than others, said Kelly Ormond, program director for Stanford University’s Master’s Program in Human Genetics and Genetic Counseling, and a consultant for consumer genetic testing company Navigenics.
“For common medical conditions, I imagine genes as rocks in a glass. Some are really big rocks, and some are really little. And if you get to a certain point, that glass is going to fill up and push you over the threshold for the condition. Maybe you have two big genes that bring you to the threshold; maybe it’s 10 smaller ones,” Ms. Ormond said. “And maybe it also takes environmental impacts on top of those genes to cause you to develop a condition.”
rocks in a glass huh. simple and elegant, something easily visually imaginable, or for those who just like the visual part, easily recreated in a genetic counseling session..