“Its all in the Genes” is what we say when we cannot explain a person’s talent or brilliance. That was when Genetics was a mystery. But thats not the case today because technology has made significant strides in decoding Genetics.
Our next pathbreaker, Vaishnavi Suresh, adds a human touch to Genetics by helping patients understand the implications of inherited genes, how it could affect them and recommended plan of action.
Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal chats with Vaishnavi about her work with technology on the one hand and people on the other. A great career for those who love to work with technology from a human angle.
Vaishnavi, tell us about your background?
I’m a Level I certified Genetic Counselor working with Anderson Diagnostics( Anderson Clinical Genetics). I’m from Hyderabad. My father is from Trichy and my mother is from Chennai. I have always loved science since my childhood. I aspired to become a doctor when I was doing my schooling. When I took my Bachelors degree, initially for the first few weeks, I was not that satisfied. Later, love towards Genetics and especially Genetic Counseling developed. Ever since, I have always aimed and aspired and right now, I’m a Genetic counselor.
What did you study?
I am a Masters Graduate in Human Genetics and Molecular Biology from Bharathiar University, Coimbatore and then did my PG Diploma in Medical Genetics and Genetic Counseling from Kamineni hospitals, Hyderabad. My schooling, intermediate and bachelors was from Hyderabad.
How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unusual career?
When I was doing my Bachelors Degree, we had Genetic Counseling as a topic in Biotechnology. So that’s when I realized that there was something called “Genetic Counseling” and I looked for universities that offered this course. I then did my Masters in Genetics and my guide wanted me to do a PhD, but I’m not a research person. I decided to study Genetic Counseling.
Also, during my Masters degree, we had a Breast cancer awareness day, Autism awareness day, Down syndrome awareness day. This made me realize that this is my thing, this all I want to do – help patients.
How did you plan the steps to get into Genetic Counseling ? Tell us about your career path
In 2017, I did my internship at Apollo where they had asked me what is your next plan? I simply said, Genetic Counseling. Then, the cytogeneticist there had given me contact details, I then, contacted and applied, then gave my exam after my Masters degree and got selected for the course.
It was a one year PG diploma course 2018-2019.
How did you get your first break?
I cleared my BGCI exam and was certified as Level 1 Genetic Counselor. I am currently working as a Genetic Counselor with Anderson Diagnostics. I primarily cater to the Hyderabad city area, along with that I look after the cases from the Telangana and Andra state. And, a few cases that are referred from North India
What were the challenges? how did u address them?
Honestly, the biggest challenge was to convince my father. He wanted me to do a PhD, and as I mentioned earlier I’m not a research person, but my conviction towards Genetic Counseling and my passion to help people is what convinced him that this was the right career choice for me.
Where do you work now and what is the role of a Genetic counselor?
I’m working with Anderson Diagnostics & Labs.
Genetic Counselors are Patient Advocates,. We look into patient’s medical and family history, provide risk assessment and educate them about genetics. We also provide psychosocial and emotional support. As Genetic Counselors, we diagnose the condition and provide management options for a condition. So, when a patient leaves my cabin I make sure that he/she has understood the importance of a test, why is it done, what are the implications and what can be done.
We cover various aspects- Prenatal, New born, Oncology, Pre-marital Counseling, Reproductive Genetic Counseling, etc. I love the job that I’m doing.
How does your work benefit the society?
There are many people who are unaware of Genetic Counseling. Genetic Counseling helps people in the diagnosis and management of specific Genetic Conditions. This is an upcoming field, and down the lane in a few years this would be a well established course, which is to help patients and families that have a few genetic conditions running in families.
Can you tell us about a memorable work that you have done which is very special?
As mentioned earlier, we had these awareness programs during my Masters, so we got to meet parents of children who were diagnosed with Down syndrome and Autism. I got to meet a few Genetic Counselors from Coimbatore and I had told them that I wanted to be one of them. When I got to interact with the parents and kids, that’s when I realized that Genetic Counseling is my calling.
Also, during my Genetic counseling course, we had organized an event for “Rare Diseases” where we got interact and meet families which strengthened my belief that this where I was meant to be.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
My only advice to those who want to take up science as a career in the future is, medicine is not the only option. There are many careers other than medicine. Clinicians refer patients to Genetic Counselors. We get to learn a lot from our fellow clinicians. So, do not lose heart if you do not clear your exam for NEET. Keep your options wide, you have plenty of options in science.
Your Future Plans?
The goal of Genetic Counseling is to create awareness about genetic diseases amongst general public. It is not only important to counsel an individual with a certain genetic disease but also, important to sensitize people regarding such diseases and allow the integration of these people to lead their life as normal.
To do this, I would be involved in collaborating with my fellow genetic counselors by being a part in conducting awareness programs, camps, etc.