Earlier this month, we celebrated Genetic Counselor Awareness Day, a recognition of the professionals who provide genetic testing support and education to patients, providers, and researchers. With training in both scientific and counseling disciplines, genetic counselors are uniquely placed to help individuals understand genetic testing, guide them through the testing process, and empower them to make informed choices based on the results.
Genetic counselors are part of the backbone of Sema4. We currently employ more than 40 counselors, around half of whom were hired within the last year. We rely on these highly trained professionals to translate genetic testing results into powerful, understandable insights that can shape a patient’s health trajectory.
Recognizing the value of this profession to our field, we also want to ensure that the most capable individuals can enter genetic counseling training programs, regardless of their socioeconomic background. We are therefore proud to announce that we have, for the second year running, provided a tuition scholarship to the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling Program at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai (ISMMS).
This year’s scholarship has been awarded to Madison Maertens, a first-year student whose undergraduate training in Biology at the University of Washington convinced her that she wanted to pursue a career in genetic counseling. Earlier this year, she was delighted to find out that she had been accepted to ISMMS’s prestigious training program. She was then even happier to find out that she was the deserving recipient of the Sema4 scholarship. “I knew that I wanted to attend Mount Sinai’s program because of its reputation and the mix of academic and clinical training,” said Madison recently between classes. “However, I was concerned about the cost of studying in New York City. So, when I heard that I’d received the scholarship, it was a huge weight off my mind.”
Now in its 28th year, the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling at ISMMS is internationally recognized as a model training program for this challenging and exciting area. The program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and boasts a 100% placement rate for students seeking positions within the genetic counseling field. “Our students benefit from unparalleled opportunities for study, research, and clinical practice afforded by the unique learning environment. The program operates within one of the country’s preeminent health systems, and its faculty is at the forefront of the diagnosis, treatment, and counseling of genetic disorders, and related scientific research,” explains Randi Zinberg, MS, CGC, a consultant at Sema4 and Director of the Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling and Assistant Professor, Genetics and Genomic Sciences at ISMMS.
“The program provides an ideal setting for training while also offering services to a wide range of culturally diverse patients and their families, in the heart of New York City,” adds Randi. However, studying in New York can be expensive. The Sema4 scholarship lessens the financial burden of studying in the city and enables the most capable students to enter the training program, with decreased pressure of economic barriers. Last year’s scholarship was awarded to Austin Tracey, the first in his family to attend graduate school.
Sema4 is proud to serve as a training rotation site for students in the program. “Sema4 prides itself on the quality of its genetic counseling services, which are a central component of our offerings and highly valued by both patients and providers. We’ve been consistently impressed by the caliber of the Mount Sinai graduate students that we have hosted,” said Mitch Dillon, MS, CGC, Sema4’s Co-Director of Genetic Counseling Services. “It has been an honor to train and support the next generation of counselors, and this scholarship provides another way for us to continue that support.”
Mitch’s industry-leading team of genetic counselors facilitate open communication at all levels of the genetic testing experience, from providers to patients and their families. Sema4 counselors proactively call patients with positive genetic testing results to explain the results and provide compassionate guidance on care options, enabling patients to embrace personalized medicine. They also serve as an increasingly valuable resource for providers, educating them on genetic diseases, helping them select the most appropriate genetic tests, and interpreting results. Given the rapidly growing complexity and applicability of genetic testing, and the shift towards personalized medicine, that level of laboratory access is more important to providers today than ever before.
With the recently announced growth of Sema4’s Expanded Carrier Screen from 283 to 502 genes and our shift to exome sequencing, Mitch’s team will soon be providing counseling for an even greater number of genetic diseases – an opportunity they relish. “The newly expanded panel will detect up to 30 times as many carrier couples than traditional carrier screening – which only screens for cystic fibrosis and spinal muscular atrophy – allowing us to identify more potential high-risk pregnancies,” explains Mitch, “This information is essential for parents-to-be. Explaining what the results mean and what care options are available is a big responsibility – and one that we are thrilled to take on. Our work is hard but rewarding, and I wouldn’t change it for the world! I’d advise anyone considering a career in genetic counseling to go for it.”