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Payal Manek is a Genetic Counsellor with immense professional experience and is currently working with Strand Life Sciences. She has independently counselled more than 2000 patients with hereditary diseases and has been instrumental in saving several lives and helping families.
Ms. Manek has worked as a Cancer Genetics Counselor at Tata Memorial Hospital- ACTREC where she led the establishment and implementation of guidelines for genetic screening, syndrome identification, genetic testing and management for high risk cases.
WHAT MADE YOU CHOOSE GENETIC COUNSELLING AS A CAREER AND WHAT DO YOU LIKE MOST ABOUT IT?
Since childhood I was passionate to get in to the medical field and be a psychiatrist or psychologist. Based on my scores, I got admission into a Bachelors program in Biotechnology and Bioinformatics at Dr.DY. Patil Institute of Biotechnology where I got introduced to genetics as a subject. It was surely one of the most interesting subjects. In one of our Applied Genetics workshop, I heard about a Master’s course specializing in Genetic Counselling at Griffith University. This seemed to fulfil my dream of talking to other people, understanding them and helping and guiding them. Plus being a part of the medical fraternity was an added attraction. Undoubtedly I like hearing the stories of the patients, their struggle and deep rooted family emotions. I have deep empathy and compassion and that is the main aspect of my profession that keeps me motivated and excited.
WHAT ARE THE MAJOR DUTIES OF A GENETIC COUNSELOR?
* Understand and interpret a patient’s medical and family history
* Identify a syndrome, disease or condition in the family
* Educate about inheritance, testing, management, prevention, resources and research
* Offer detailed counseling to promote informed choices and adaptation to the risk or condition
* Avail appropriate genetic tests
* Liaison between the patient, physician and the lab
WHAT IS THE MOST CHALLENGING ASPECT OF YOUR JOB?
Hearing the pain and struggles of the patients and their families on a daily basis and empathizing with them takes a toll on one’s own energy and moods. Many of us often burn out or get too deeply involved in the issues and concerns of the patient’s and their family. Hence it is a routine process for counsellors to de-stress by sharing and communicating with our peers. We also try to maintain a healthy distance from patient’s emotions. Also with some patients, it is a challenge to put information through to them because of language, perception or psychological barriers. Some patients can be very hard, aggressive or rude. Managing the vast variety of people is quite a challenge.
WHAT DO YOU WISH YOU HAD DONE OR KNOWN DURING COLLEGE THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN BENEFICIAL TO YOUR CAREER TODAY?
I am glad I attended as many workshops, training and conferences as possible. It is truly because of those interactions that I am where I am today. There are no regrets but learning is a never ending process. I continue to learn from all the doctors, colleagues and other hospital staff that I meet on a daily basis. Getting the right exposure and environment is very important. And I have been very lucky on that front.
CAN YOU DESCRIBE A TYPICAL DAY AT WORK?
I work at the Cancer Genetics Clinic in various hospitals across New Delhi. My schedule for various clinics is fixed and mostly there are appointments scheduled in advanced. During a typical counselling session, I begin with rapport building, introduction and understanding the background of the patient and their family. Then I take down details about the family and draw a detailed pedigree, identify a syndrome and estimate the risk. Then I suggest the appropriate genetic test, Pros and Cons and possible outcomes of testing are discussed. Patients take an independent informed decision if they would like to get themselves tested or not. If they wish blood/saliva samples with appropriate consent is taken for genetic testing. A summary letter of the discussion is emailed by end of the day. Post that, I meet the clinician to discuss either their cases or spread awareness and information of such tests. I am involved in many other tasks like developing new test panels and single point customer service to the referring clinicians. We also have regular projects like preparing for upcoming workshops or seminars and mentoring of junior colleagues among others.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR STUDENTS CONSIDERING A CAREER IN THIS FIELD?
It’s a good career option, especially for women because empathy comes naturally to them. One should take up this profession not just because it is a career option but do so only if you have an inherent skill, patience and the empathy to deal with patients and their families.