Genetic Counselor Awareness Day Q&A with Mabel Thomas

Happy Genetic Counseling Awareness Day! In our second Q&A to mark the occasion, we chat with Mabel Thomas, a Certified Genetic Counselor at Sema4, who delves into her genetic counseling journey, the most rewarding part of her job, as well as career tips and guidance for up-and-coming genetic counselor enthusiasts. Also click here if you want to read our other Genetic Counselor Awareness Day Q&A.

What is your role at Sema4?

I provide remote post-test genetic counseling and guidance to various types of patients and their families in the reproductive setting. I assist patients who are trying to achieve a pregnancy, ones who are currently pregnant, gamete recipients, as well as ovum and sperm donors. I counsel patients on several genetic tests, including Sema4’s Expanded Carrier Screening, which allows me to discuss the risks a patient may have to carry certain genetic conditions and reproductive genetic risks to their potential child. I also assist and guide patients by counseling them on Sema4’s Noninvasive Prenatal Screening and its benefits, through screening and detection of possible risks for potential chromosome abnormalities in their current pregnancy. I focus on informing, guiding, and supporting patients throughout their planning and pregnancy journey, which helps them make informed decisions based on their test results.

What motivates you to work at Sema4?

It really is about helping patients understand the use of the genetic information, which ultimately guides and determines their healthcare choices. Genetic testing has become more prevalent in many aspects of healthcare, including in the fields of prenatal planning, pediatrics, and cancer. This can often result in genetic tests being perceived as confusing or unexpected, and in some cases, life-altering. However, these tests aren’t meant to scare patients. Rather, they’re meant to provide them with the tools they need to make informed healthcare decisions. So, my goal is to empower patients and their families with information, guidance, and emotional support to help them understand their family history and evaluate genetic testing options.

What does Genetic Counselor Awareness Day mean to you?

Genetic Counselor Awareness Day is meant to celebrate and raise awareness of the important role that genetic counselors play in the healthcare community. At Sema4, our roles are very diverse. Aside from offering remote counseling in the reproductive setting, we also have counselors that provide remote counseling in the cancer and clinical settings. Some of our genetic counselors also work with our laboratory team assisting in communicating and clarifying genetic test orders and assessing results to clinicians and counselors. In addition, we have counselors that work as medical science liaisons who provide clinical education to current and potential healthcare providers acting as clinical resources to these groups, while also working closely with sales organizations. In my opinion, Genetic Counselor Awareness Day is about raising awareness of the diversity within the field.

What barriers have you had to overcome in your career?

I’ve worked in the genetic counseling field for about 10 years and I absolutely love it. Over time, there are certain barriers that can creep in without warning such as burnout, which is a common problem that is rarely discussed. I have been in situations in the past in which I’ve had to take a few steps back – and reflect on why I may not be enjoying the job that I love so much. I had to reevaluate my work situation and consider making changes to overcome these difficult times. Whether that means changing my routine, the tasks that I perform daily, considering changing my role within my field, or even taking a vacation, all these components make a big difference in changing one’s perspective to remain motivated in doing the work you are passionate about.

What do you find most rewarding about your job?

Helping patients is the most gratifying feeling to experience as a genetic counselor. The feedback I receive from patients further motivates me to continue giving back and provide them with guidance and support throughout their pre-pregnancy and pregnancy journey. The most rewarding part of my job is being able to interact with patients on many levels, including listening to their life stories and walking them through the pre and post follow-up care.

Can you tell us about a role model who has inspired you?

Over the course of my career, I’ve had some great mentors that have guided me through my training. It has been encouraging and admirable to witness their passion for their work, the dedication, and the drive that they have even when things work against them. The qualities of optimism, confidence, and hard work they convey through their work have inspired me to continue growing and molding my career.

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

This profession is highly rewarding for individuals that are interested in genetics and healthcare and that are passionate about helping people. My advice for them is to shadow a genetic counselor as the scope of our work is quite diverse. Individuals that are considering going into this profession should really explore not only the traditional clinical roles, but also the non-traditional aspects that the field has to offer. I think it’s great that as a company we are shedding light into what genetic counselors do.  Thank you for the opportunity to showcase a glimpse into my world as a genetic counselor in the hopes of inspiring anyone interested in entering this field.

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