Genetic Counselor Awareness Day Q&A with Leslie Aptekar

It is Genetic Counselor Awareness Day on November 4th. To mark the occasion, we are featuring some of our genetic counselors at Sema4. In our first Q&A, Leslie Aptekar, a Certified Genetic Counselor with over 25 years of experience, discusses how rewarding it is to watch the growth and changes in the field over time, the barriers she’s had to overcome in her career, and what Genetic Counselor Awareness Day means to her.

What is your role at Sema4?

As a manager of the core Women’s Health genetic counseling team at Sema4, I am thrilled to oversee a team of eight genetic counselors, dedicated to providing the utmost support to our patients and providers. I focus on communications for providers and patients, ensuring ordered tests proceed successfully, and helping providers understand the testing process and results.

What motivates you to work at Sema4?

I love being part of a company that is on the cutting edge and making efforts to push the envelope, while keeping the patient focus front and center. I was a clinical counselor for 20 years before coming to Sema4, so I was on the other side of the field working with laboratories and ordering testing. Knowing that Sema4 is a company that keeps the patient a priority and understands that there is a person behind every test, all the while ensuring to offer up-to-date and high-end testing options, has been my main motivating factor of working here and what makes it worthwhile.

What does Genetic Counselor Awareness Day mean to you?

Genetic Counselor Awareness Day is dedicated to help raise awareness about the important role genetic counselors play in healthcare. When I started working in the field over two decades ago, people did not know what genetic counselors were. The number of genetic counselors and training programs has increased exponentially, to the point where we have the recognition we deserve, and that providers and the medical community see us as partners and participants in the process.

What barriers have you had to overcome in your career?

Being in the industry for over two decades, I ran into many challenges as the field was not as recognized as it is today. Geographically, I worked in different states and had to go wherever the job was, so I did not have the luxury of being able to find a home base. Having to justify the job itself, what I do, and why it’s important has been a barrier of its own as it has often not fitted into the usual model of patient care in the industry.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

Throughout most of my career, I worked as a prenatal genetic counselor. Having the opportunity to support patients in both exciting and difficult times of their lives has been one of the most rewarding aspects of that job. The number of patients I’ve cried with is countless due to our level of connectedness and the process we’ve gone through together – both celebratory, when there was good news to be shared, and sad, when we’ve had to discuss things like abnormal findings and the difficult decisions that are associated with it. Caring for and comforting patients is part of what I went into the field for, to be able to empower people with guidance, support, and help navigate through the genetic counseling process with compassion. This experience guides the work that I do every day at Sema4.

What advice would you give to other people who want to become a genetic counselor?

Genetic counseling is a great career to be in and it is a great fit if you want to keep learning. The field is constantly evolving, which means you have to stay on top of it finding resources and engaging with your colleagues. From a clinical standpoint, it is rewarding in terms of the conversations you get to have with providers and patients and the different opportunities available when getting involved with education, patient care, and provider input. Overall, there are many options and specialties to choose from and the field is ever-expanding.

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Would you like to work with Leslie and the rest of our genetic counseling team at Sema4? To find out more about open positions, please visit our Careers page here.