As the end of the year draws near, I have been thinking a lot about what GSF means to me, and why I think you should consider making a gift to GSF this year.
It has been an amazing opportunity to work with GSF as a genetic counselor. To be able to walk with people during incredibly important and often very difficult times in life. To try to help people make meaning of the uncertain or unimaginable when it comes to their health or that of a loved one. To offer support and understanding and hope. Whether it is through our work in supporting an expectant couple through the grief of the diagnosis of a life limiting condition in their unborn baby; or helping a cancer patient and their adult child recognize the tremendous power of genetic information for prevention of future cancers in a family with a strong inherited susceptibility. This work is profoundly important and I believe it is critical that our profession keep focus on our patients first, and not be compromised by commercial interests.
We are at an incredible time in the field of genetics and medicine. There are new discoveries every day that can make a difference in human health. But all of these discoveries don’t mean a thing unless you have trusted advocates and interpreters that can help translate complex science into meaningful information that can be applied to one’s personal situation or to their family.
Genetic Support Foundation aims to increase access to impartial genetic counseling services, to reach as many people as possible.
While discoveries in genetics are exploding, we are seeing a shift in the availability of genetic counseling services. The genetic testing labs that develop and sell genetic tests are increasingly employing genetic counselors to be a part of their teams in a variety of capacities – from working as liaisons with healthcare providers, to writing test reports and educational content, to being part of the sales force, and even working directly with patients. While genetic counselors can play valuable roles in their work with genetic testing companies, there is concern regarding conflict of interest when genetic counselors are paid by commercial labs and are making decisions and recommendations related to patient care. Additionally, this shift is putting a new strain on the genetic counseling workforce. This is troubling, especially since this burden comes at a time when independent genetic counselors are needed more than ever.
We presented data at the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) conference last fall on the changing landscape of genetic counselors licensed in Washington state between the time licensure was initiated in the fall of 2011 as compared to the fall of 2015. We noted a sharp increase in the proportion of genetic counselors who were employed by commercial laboratories (42% in 2015 as compared to 22% in 2011) and a decrease in the proportion of licensed counselors employed in a clinical setting during that time frame (60% in 2011 and 42% in 2015).
And while there are more genetic counselors coming out of training programs than there ever have been before, are there enough genetic counselors to meet the current needs? Will we be able to keep up as demand increases? The NSGC recently conducted a workforce study and concluded that there is a shortage of genetic counselors engaged in direct patient care. Considering the number of genetic counselors who are expected to graduate from a growing number of accredited training programs and enter the workforce in coming years, combined with the current demands, if the demand assumption is based on one genetic counselor per a population of 75,000 people,the study predicted that it will be 2030 before we have enough genetic counselors trained to meet that demand.
This is why the work that we are doing at GSF matters. At a time when there are not enough genetic counselors to help navigate patients through the journey of understanding genetics as it relates to their health, we are developing programs and tools to extend the reach of genetic counselors. Our goal is to increase access to independent genetic counseling services and quality information about genetics and genetic testing to anybody who needs it. This is no small task. How do we continue to reach more people when resources seem to be exceedingly scarce? How do we ask genetic counselors to take on more and more with less? We believe the answer is innovation, community and a lot of heart. You can learn more about the work we are doing at GSF here .
Thanks for considering supporting this work.