Denisonians in Health Professions: Genetic Counseling

A path to health professions: genetic counseling - karen-raraigh-265x300.png image #0Karen Raraigh ’06 (Siklosi)

Role: Genetic Counselor

Graduate School attended: University of Maryland School of Medicine, graduated in 2008 with Masters in Genetic Counseling                       

Fun Fact: I am a die-hard Green Bay Packers fan despite having no connections to the state of Wisconsin.

Describe the process you went through to select your career path: what impacted your decision?
I became interested in genetics – and specifically cystic fibrosis (CF) – while in high school.  My intent was to get a PhD and work in a lab, but spending the summer doing CF research in a lab environment changed my mind about what kind of work I wanted to do within the field of genetics. 

That summer, I learned about genetic counseling from people working around me and decided that I liked having patient interaction and a more “hands on” feel to how my work would impact a person.  By the end of the summer, I nixed my plans to apply to PhD programs and instead applied to genetic counseling programs.  It was the experience of actually doing what I thought I wanted in a career, as well as having access to people who could show me other options that helped me pick a better choice.

Identifying what you don’t want in a job is equally important to understanding what you do want, and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to figure this out before investing too much time into the wrong graduate program. My summer project adviser was equally supportive and was instrumental in helping me find my current genetic counseling position, despite me having left his lab saying, “I don’t want to do what you do.”

What are your favorite aspects of your profession?
The daily challenge of new and interesting patients, the speed at which the field of genetics is changing, and the incredibly smart and talented people with whom I get to interact on a regular basis.       

What is the most challenging aspect of your work?
Giving bad news, like a new or difficult diagnosis, is never easy, nor is having to tell someone, “We don’t know,” when it comes to predicting an individual’s future health.  Not becoming too invested can be a struggle sometimes, depending on the specific case or family.

Describe what a typical day looks like for you.
My time is mostly divided amongst data curation and analysis (collecting and correcting data elements, running statistical programs, and summarizing results), writing (manuscripts, elements of grant applications/progress reports, or educational material), and communicating with or about patients (research recruitment, consulting on challenging cases, or answering genetics-related questions).  Each day may have a different mix of these elements.      

What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your field?
Find a genetic counselor to speak with (at the very least) and to shadow (multiple times)!  There are a wide variety of opportunities within the field of genetic counseling and most of us are happy to share information about what we do.  Most graduate programs want to see a good understanding of the field, and experiencing it in a “hands on” way with a practicing counselor is the best way to gain exposure.