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Career Spotlight: Beverly Yashar, MS, PhD

Clinical Associate Professor, Human Genetics and Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences

 

Clinical Associate Professor (Human Geneticist):

 

Basic Job Description:

I direct the genetic counseling graduate program at the University of Michigan. In this role I have the opportunity to teach graduate students (both in genetic counseling and other disciplines including medicine, public health and social work). This teaching occurs in the classroom and in the clinic. I also work on research projects with my graduate students and develop and direct graduate educational programs. In addition I get the chance to work in a variety of genetics clinics and perform my own research.

 

 

Type of Education/Training Required:

In order to work as a genetic counselor you have to complete a Masters degree from an accredited graduate program. This training includes class work in molecular biology, genetics, medicine, and counseling. The academic path leading to graduate training requires that students complete a 4-year college program.

As undergraduates, most students major in either the life sciences or psychology; however successful students can come from a wide variety of academic backgrounds including bio-anthropology, chemistry and biopsychology. In addition most students have spent time working or volunteering in advocacy programs; often these programs are community-based and are geared towards helping people who are in crisis situations.

While some students enter genetic counseling directly after completing their undergraduate education, others come to genetic counseling after several years in the workforce.
 

 

Special Talents or Skills that Contribute to Career:

People who are drawn to genetic counseling have a love of science (particularly genetics) and really want to work in a medical field. A large part of the appeal of genetic counseling over other medical specialties is the fact that it demands you understand genetics from research, medical and social perspectives and are able to use this knowledge to help your patients deal with the ramifications of a genetic diagnosis and illness or the risk for genetic disease in their family.

Genetic counselors generally really love to work with people, have a strong interest in science and want to work at the cutting edge of genetic and medical knowledge. They are excited by the opportunity to learn new things on a regular basis.

 

 

Salary:

Typical starting salaries for Genetic Counselors range from $46,000-$59,000.
 

 

What is your background?

I came to genetic counseling as a second career. My first career was as a research geneticist. I received my undergraduate degree from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island where I majored in biology and comparative literature. As an undergraduate I had the opportunity to work in the lab of a Drosophila geneticist, Dr. Margaret Kidwell. Her work sparked my first interest in genetics and really excited me about the potential applications of genetic research. Following graduation I worked as a research assistant in Boston, Massachusetts for a year and then went to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where I spent 5 years working on my doctorate in genetics. After completing my doctorate and working as a post-doctoral fellow at Duke University and the University of Michigan, I decided to make a career shift and move from research genetics to clinical genetics. In order to pursue this career change, I returned to graduate school in genetic counseling at the University of Michigan.

 

 

Why did you choose this career?

After spending close to 10 years working as a laboratory scientist, I was looking for a career that would allow me to see a more direct application of genetics to people’s health. Genetic counseling was a prefect fit for me because I did not have to leave my love of genetics behind. I am able to apply this knowledge on a daily basis in the clinic and know that in order to do this effectively I must keep on top of the advances that are being made in our understanding of the genetic basis of human disease.

As I began to explore this career, I was particularly struck by the fact that the genetic counselors I met were extremely dedicated to their patients and were very passionate about the importance of genetics. They helped me to understand how genetic counselors fill a unique niche in the medical genetics team. We are the people who help our patients figure out how to live with a genetic diagnosis rather than being defined by it.

The fact that we serve as both educators and counselors is for me one of the most appealing aspects of this career. What it means to have a genetic diagnosis can change for a person at different points in their lives and does not have the same meaning for different people with the same condition. This means that you must work to really understand your patients and tailoring your genetic counseling to meet their specific needs. It is this individualized approach to medical care that really appeals to me.

 

 

What steps did you take to obtain your current position?

I obtained my current position as a Director of a graduate training program after working as a genetic counselor for an inherited eye disease clinic. In this position l worked as both a clinical genetic counselor in the clinic and a research genetic counselor with a laboratory that was mapping human disease genes. In addition I worked with a laboratory that was providing genetic testing. These experiences allowed me to experience many of the varied career opportunities for genetic counselors.
 

 

What suggestions do you have for others who would like to break into this field/profession?

Explore the web sites for the National Society of Genetic Counselors and the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Also take a look at the web sites for the various genetic counseling graduate training programs around the country (they are listed at both of these web sites). However the best way to learn more about the profession is to talk to a genetic counselor either in person or on the phone or via e-mail. You can find one in your area by going to the following web site (http://www.nsgc.org/resourcelink.cfm). You will find that genetic counselors are excited to talk about their careers with prospective students.

 

May 2007

 

 

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