Want to Transition into a Career in Clinical Genetics?

Nascent Transcript Writer: Jeff Calhoun

Due to the reduced cost of next-generation sequencing and the demonstrated utility of genetic diagnoses, more and more individuals are having their genes, exomes, and even genomes sequenced in a clinical setting. This testing ranges widely from gene panels to identify cancer subtypes, to array Comparative Genomic Hybridization to identify copy number variants in intellectual disability or pediatric-onset epilepsy. 

This increased demand for genetic testing has led to an increased need for individuals certified to perform and interpret clinical-grade genetic tests. ASHG trainees are well-suited to approach this field as their background in genetics is a great foundation for beginning a career in laboratory genetics.

One great option for ASHG trainees to get started along this track is the Laboratory Genetics and Genomics (LGG) Fellowship. LGG fellows train for two to three years in American Board of Medical Genetics and Genomics -certified clinical laboratories to fulfill training requirements. At the end of this period, they sit for a comprehensive examination testing their knowledge on cytogenetics, molecular genetics, and genomics. Upon completion of this exam, trainees are certified to serve as laboratory directors at academic or industrial genetic testing laboratories. 

Laboratory directors serve a variety of roles, from quality control of laboratory data, to fulfilling criteria to maintain Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) certification, to teaching and mentoring trainees and staff, interpretation of test data, and signing off on genetic reports for return to clinicians.

The application cycle for LGG happens once a year. Exact application dates vary by program, and applications are typically due between May 1 and Oct 1. It is highly recommended to make a long list of programs of interest, and then contact these programs to ensure they will be accepting applicants for that year’s cycle. Programs and contact information can be found here. Application packages vary somewhat from program to program, but typically consist of a cover letter or statement of interest, a CV, and letters of recommendation (usually three).

There are a number of things you can do to figure out if LGG is the right fit for you, and to improve your chances of getting an interview offer. Direct experience with clinical genetics is a plus, whether during your predoctoral or postdoctoral training. One option worth consideration is to work as a Genomic Variant Analyst at an academic or industrial clinical genetics laboratory prior to applying for an LGG position. In this position, you will work for laboratory directors directly, and interpret genetic variants identified during testing. 

Indirect experience with clinical genetics is also helpful, such as attending a monthly genetics case conference where individual cases are presented. If you find these case conferences interesting, that is a great sign that clinical genetics and LGG might be a great fit for you.

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