Blog Posts

Summer Rotation in Cape Town

By Carrie Anderson

Groote Schuur Hospital

Hi all! I am checking in from my summer rotation at Groote Schuur hospital in Cape Town, South Africa. It’s hard to believe I’ve been here for almost six weeks already. Doing an international summer rotation was on my mind from day one of the program and it often feels surreal to actually be here.

I originally pursued this opportunity because I wanted to experience genetic counseling in a country with a culture different from my own. South Africa is the perfect place for that, especially here in Cape Town. The population is truly a melting pot, with people of many different origins and 11 official languages. This creates some interesting challenges for counselors, as these languages often lack straightforward words to describe genetic concepts and very few genetic counselors speak African languages.

Because genetic counselors in South Africa don’t typically specialize, this is a general rotation in which I’m seeing a mix of prenatal, pediatric, adult, and cancer cases. Rather than setting up individualized appointment times, patients are referred to clinics in blocks of time and seen on a first-come, first-serve basis. While the genetic testing options are more limited here, the actual counseling sessions are extremely similar to what we’d see at in the US. Unfortunately, GCs in South Africa struggle with limited employment opportunities. After graduating, it’s often up to the counselor to create their own job and market their services in the private healthcare sector.

One benefit to this rotation that I did not anticipate is its connection to a genetic counseling program. My home base here during the day is in the student office, with eight other students and interns. I sit in on their clinical meetings, journal club, and case conference. I’ve learned that the content of the education here is very similar to the USA, though the setup is a little different. The most blatant example of this is that the program here is three years rather than two, because students are required to do an “internship” year after completing the master’s degree.

On a personal note, I’m so glad to be connected with other students here. I was a little nervous I’d be lonely in Cape Town without knowing anyone in the city beforehand, but the students here have been so welcoming. I stay with one student, Kelly, in her house and we drive together to clinic every day (meaning, Kelly drives me because I’m too scared to try driving on the other side of the road). The other students here have also graciously volunteered to drive me across town to different clinics and even hosted a “braai” (South African barbecue) in my honor.

Signs in the hallways of UCT

My classmates will remember that earlier this year I was worried about a water crisis here in Cape Town. This area of the country is in the midst of an extreme drought, and at one point was predicted to run out of water in June (i.e. the date of my arrival). Thankfully, this “Day Zero” has been delayed and it has rained a lot since I’ve been here. Still, life is a little different as everyone is restricted to 50-liters of water a day. This means 2-minute showers and one toilet flush per day, while being ultra conscious about doing dishes and laundry. This quickly became my new normal but the experience has really opened my eyes to the sheer amount of water we consume daily.

Repping USC while hiking with Kelly




Learning Outside the Classroom

by Maggie Masterson

One facet of our curriculum that I really enjoy is the extracurricular experiences. A big difference between our first and second semester is that we’re getting more involved outside the classroom. It’s been great to interact with people in the local community here in Columbia, SC.

We began attending tumor boards this semester, to get a multidisciplinary perspective on the cancers that we’re learning about in class. It was fascinating to watch the whole healthcare team collaborate on patient care. This experience provided me a new perspective on the cancer treatment process.

Another great learning opportunity was attending and participating in support groups. The first support group I attended was for women with metastatic cancer. Getting to hear the raw thoughts and feelings of these women was an uplifting and educational experience, far beyond what we could cover in the classroom. The most insightful part of the meeting was seeing the positive outlook these women have maintained about their prognosis.

One highlight of my semester was visiting the Epworth Children’s Center, to get hands-on experience interacting with the children there. The setting at Epworth involves an inclusive space for interactions between children who are typically-developing and children with disabilities. We had so much fun playing with all the wonderful (and very cute) kids! It was amazing to see the children learn together and see the benefits of an inclusive classroom.

A unique experience that we get in our program is the chance to visit local families in their homes, and hear about how genetic syndromes have affected their lives. This really opened my eyes to the ways that a genetic diagnosis affects the whole family, not just the patient—as well as how genetic conditions manifest in everyday life. Getting to share these personal and emotional moments with individuals in our communities has been a touching and visceral experience for me.

As we continue to grow in our education, we expand into more diverse and enriching experiences. Here’s to another two semesters of growing and learning outside the classroom!

As Spring Break Approaches…Second Year Perspective

Ashton Wolfe

Thinking back on how I felt this time last year…I never thought I would be at this point in my training. I remember how daunting thesis preparation felt and the anxious feelings revolving around summer rotations. The statement “time flies” is an understatement.

Since last Spring break life has been in high gear; constantly evolving and growing. I remember preparing for my first counseling session this time last year, feeling like I was going to be sick due to nerves. Now, I feel equipped and ready for whatever patient comes through my door. I have been challenged daily to broaden my knowledge of genetics and counseling techniques to evolve into a counselor who is ready to go out into the world of genetic counseling. My classmates and I have all risen to the challenge.

In other news…I, and some of my other classmates, now have jobs! The rest are actively interviewing and preparing for job acceptance. Being offered a job is such a great feeling! It is exciting to know what specialty you will be practicing in, who your colleagues will be, etc.

Thesis is in full swing as well. We have all completed our data collection and are actively analyzing, drawing conclusions and preparing to write up our discussions. I personally am excited for this part of thesis; it is interesting to see what conclusions can be drawn from all of the hard work that has been done in the past year.

Finally, graduation! This is something that is on everyone’s minds (I am sure of it). While this is not something we are actively discussing yet (likely due to the push to finish thesis) I know everyone is excited. We will be pushed out of the “USC Genetic Counseling nest” and will be able to start life. We are well prepared and eager to begin a new chapter of being a genetic counselor.​



As Spring Break Approaches…First Year Perspective

Maggie Masterson

Second semester is in full swing! We’re interviewing prospective students, taking our midterms, and, of course, dreaming of spring break.

My first year of graduate school has been a whirlwind. It’s crazy to reflect on how far we’ve come since August. We all have our summer rotations scheduled; its been fascinating to see where my classmates end up—we’re representing several different specialties all across the country, and two of my classmates will be abroad!

We’re working to improve our clinical skills and build confidence this semester.  Our classes and clinical experiences are meant to prepare us for our full-time counseling experiences this summer. We’re also expanding our knowledge into new and interesting specialties like neurology, craniofacial, and metabolic clinic. It’s been great to shadow in such a diversity of specialties.

Thesis work has begun! Although many of us are still in the brainstorming phase, it’s both exciting and nerve-wracking to endeavor on such an important project. My favorite aspect of thesis preparation has been watching my classmates discover what they’re passionate about studying.

My classmates and I are also gaining new experiences, like attending tumor boards and grand rounds at the hospital. We’ve also been visiting support groups and conducting in-home visits with local families, in order to learn more about the people we’ll be serving as genetic counselors. This semester is helping us become more well-rounded, but we still have a long way to go before graduation!

Having Pride in a Career Path that People Haven’t Heard of

By Maggie Masterson

When I tell friends and relatives that I’m enrolled in graduate school for genetic counseling, I swell with pride. Like many other genetic counseling students, my matriculation marked the culmination of years of studying, shadowing, and research– all in the hope of becoming a genetic counselor. The responses I get are typically complimentary and enthusiastic:

“Wow, you must be so smart!”

Or, “that’s great!”

And then, inevitably, “so what is a genetic counselor?”

I subsequently launch into an explanation of what a genetic counselor is, what we’re trained to do, and why the profession is so wonderful.

Coming back to graduate school after the holidays, my classmates recount similar scenarios. It’s jarring when people don’t understand my future career. Is it a misunderstanding of genetics? Does the counseling aspect confuse them?

Genetic counseling has only existed as a career for about 50 years, according to my textbooks. Thus, genetic counselors are pioneers. I am instructed every day by women who have helped build this career from the ground up. Our profession is current; it is burgeoning rapidly and expanding constantly into new and evolving roles. The field is still being shaped and molded. Maybe this is why people are often unsure of what a genetic counselor is and does.

It’s thrilling to be involved in a field that is growing and improving daily. I think that the desire to continually learn and evolve helps fuel my passion for genetic counseling. But it also means that our roles in the workforce, and even the definition of what a genetic counselor does, are going to grow and change.

Visibility for genetic counselors is certainly improving. NSGC’s recent #IAmAGeneticCounselor social media initiative is a wonderful way of gaining recognition for genetic counselors. The profession is expanding rapidly. As more genetic counselors proliferate into hospitals, universities, and private industry, our recognition will inevitably grow as well. I envision a time when genetic counselors will be ubiquitous and our necessity widely acknowledged.

But until that time arrives, I don’t mind espousing on the wonders of genetic counseling to family, friends, acquaintances…and anyone who will listen.

Our Experience at The Red Shoe Run

By Maggie Masterson

Involvement in the local community helps us train for our future careers as genetic counselors. Our volunteer experiences help us gain valuable interactions with populations of people we may encounter in the clinic someday!

We aim to donate our time to at least one major volunteer opportunity per month. In January, our first-year class volunteered at the Red Shoe Run, sponsored by the Ronald McDonald House, to benefit children’s health. The run involved a 5K and a 10K race, with the proceeds going towards local charities.

We arrived bright and early to help set up for the race; even in the chilly morning, we were excited to cheer on the runners and support the cause. Our group of genetic counseling students helped with registration, set up the water station, and aided runners along the course. There was a great turnout and everyone at the event was happy to be participating.

The best part of the experience was providing encouragement for runners, and cheering for participants as they crossed the finish line. It was also rewarding to learn about the children’s health organizations that the run benefitted.

Donating my time has been a wonderful part of my genetic counseling student experience. It allows me to support causes that are important and relevant to the field, and it has really bonded me with my classmates.

Our program here at the University of South Carolina strongly encourages us to delve into the community and to gather experiences beyond the classroom. I would urge anyone interested in genetic counseling to give their time and see what local volunteer opportunities exist…you may be surprised at how much you’ll learn by serving the local community!