Three years into my career as a genetic counselor I decided to take the plunge and work for industry in a product management role. Back then, 10 yrs ago, the landscape of genetic counselors (GCs) working in industry, let alone in a marketing role was "atypical" to say the least.
There were many factors (some practical, others professional) that led me to transition from a traditional clinical role to one where I would not be directly seeing patients.
Circumstance and Finance- I was looking to move back to NYC after a 1 yr stint in Canada and needed to find a job that would financially help me support having a husband in business school (and NYC rent!).
I wanted more- I loved (and still do) working with patients and families. Hearing their stories, being their advocate, seeing the "ah ha" look when they understood what I was talking about, and just knowing that I was directly helping someone. But... within this clinical role, I found myself gravitating towards wanting to improve the operations and process of care. I wanted to reach a greater audience and use my skills to make sure genetics and genetic testing were being utilized in the "right" way.
Belief from my hiring manager that I could do it- I clearly remember the day I saw the posting and reached out via email to the hiring manager asking if we could chat. I recall very honestly asking him, "I have zero marketing experience, why are you interested in hiring me, a genetic counselor?" I'll never forget his words, "I can easily teach the marketing bit, but what I can't do is give a marketing person all the first hand experience you've had with working in a clinic and with patients". Ok...that kinda made sense and I bought it.
These were some of the reasons that led me to take the leap (of course, with trepidation) and embark on the non-clinical trajectory. The first few weeks I felt like a total fish out of water; struggling to find my niche in foreign land. I had to gain skills in areas that I had never explored before while being surrounded by others where this information came at ease. Culture wise, the differences were also stark. Having only previously worked in hospital settings where funding is tight, it was shocking to have the occasional lunch meeting expensed and to take the corporate jet to attend meetings. Not to mention, have my full genetics conference fees covered!
What I didn't appreciate at the outset were the many things that would be uncovered about my passions, skills, and career while working in this new environment.
Hidden Skills- I had a creative side that was itching to be unleashed. The job required me to get out of my comfort zone and use my skills in ways that I never thought I'd have to. I realized how much I loved transforming technical info into digestible peices and thinking about novel, creative ways to get the message out.
Inner Advocate- In clinical work, I believed I was an advocate for my patients, and I truly was. However, I didn't realize how passionate I was about making sure that patients' needs are put first until I was put to the test of being surrounded by people who were marketing tests and products that never directly worked with patients.
How Valuable my Clinical Experience Was- Having the insight of the inner workings of a clinic and the patient experience is what essentially landed me my job. It was also this experience that I heavily drew upon as I worked on developing products and services.
Overall, things seemed pretty much on the up and up... and then I got stuck. Not because I wasn't challenged or because there was a shortage of good work to be done. But stuck because I realized something was lacking within. While I got to be part of an effort to increase accessibility of genetic testing and genetic literacy to a larger audience, I personally really missed having the 1:1 impact and relationship with families. I went back to working for a university hospital, but this time in a role that fueled my interest in helping grow and develop a program while also building close connections with patients and families.
So what exactly are the things I wish I had known? If I could go back and whisper some advice to my young GC self, it would be:
Your training has geared you up really well, not only in genetics, but also in communication- take this leap with confidence.
That early clinical experience will often be the foundation that sets you forward. You will rely back on that foundation as it is what has shaped so much of the counselor that you are today.
Embrace each experience that comes your way- even the ones that you hesitate over. There is always an opportunity to learn and great connections to be made. You just have to be open to receiving the lesson.
Taking the leap to work for industry will absolutely set you in a different trajectory, but that this trajectory is not linear and can make curves and pauses as needed.
I have been fortunate enough to have worked in many capacities as a genetic counselor in many different settings. In each and every one of those roles I have walked away with not only lasting experiences but even more importantly lasting relationships and friendships with coworkers who continue to motivate, challenge and shape my career.