Genetic Counseling

School of Health and Human Sciences

Wearing Many Hats in the Academic Setting
by Kristen Cornell, Class of 2010

Kresten Cornell, Class of 2010During the summer in between my two years in the UNCG genetic counseling program, I anxiously awaited getting my clinical rotation schedule. I knew this would determine the next year of my life for sure, and possibly influence the path on which I would start my future career. When I got my schedule and saw that 2 ½ of my 5 rotations would be in the pediatric setting, I was a bit confused. Why did I have more pediatric rotations than my classmates? I had visions of dealing with screaming children, angry parents, incredibly sad cases, and feeling incompetent when something I had never heard of was likely going to be on the schedule every day I was in clinic. I clearly remember meeting with our assistant director Sonja to discuss this. She told me a lot of thought goes into creating these rotation schedules for each individual student. Clearly at that time Sonja knew something I didn’t – I would love peds clinic and it would be a great fit for me.

By the time my final semester rolled around and I had already completed 1 1/2 of those rotations, I knew Sonja had been right. I would be looking for peds jobs exclusively, and would be willing to move pretty much anywhere I could get a job that felt like the right fit for me. By April I had received an offer from Emory University to work in their General Genetics clinic. Multiple UNCG grads were working at Emory at the time. Both Nancy and Sonja told me this would be a great first job for me, and that the opportunities provided by a big academic institution such as Emory could open many other doors in the future. So in June, 2010 I officially started as a counselor in the General Genetics clinic at Emory.

The first year proved to be challenging (as I’m sure the first year on any job would be), but I really was loving what I was doing. In the spring of 2011, I was approached by Emory’s Metabolic Clinic to take part in their annual Metabolic Camp during the last week of June. I was already familiar with the camp before starting my job at Emory because my capstone project while at UNCG focused on the topic of transition for young adults with PKU, and many of the participants in my study had mentioned attending the camp in the past. But I had no idea just what was in store for me as I served as a “camp counselor” for a group of six 16 year old girls with PKU for a week.

Young women from all over the country with PKU and MSUD came to Atlanta for camp, and many come back year after year. There are 4 main goals of the camp: To teach the importance of nutrition and help the campers develop diet self-management skills. To review the treatment recommendations of PKU and MSUD prior to and during pregnancy. To create a place to share experiences and make new friends with other young women who have PKU or MSUD. To research the impact of the above interventions on the transition to adulthood, pregnancy, quality of life, and overall health outcomes. In many ways it’s just like any other summer camp. There are dance parties and arts and crafts. Teenage girls giggling over their latest celebrity crushes and sharing meals together. But in many ways things are different. Keeping track of exactly how many grams of Phe are in each of those meals. Discussing tips and tricks for bringing your metabolic formula to school and to birthday parties without drawing unwanted attention to yourself. Sharing what you tell friends when they ask about PKU and thoughts on participating in clinical research. I had opportunities to use my genetic counseling skills to help these young women understand their condition in terms of metabolism and inheritance, as well as why it’s vital for them to remain on a special diet for life and the psychosocial implications that come along with having a metabolic condition. Becoming close to these young women allowed them to open up in ways that you generally don’t get when sitting in an exam room in clinic. To say that week at camp changed my life would be an understatement.

A few months after my first Metabolic Camp, the opportunity arose for me to become the genetic counselor for Emory’s Metabolic Clinic. Since then I have also taken on the role of being the Genetic Counselor Consultant for the state of Georgia’s Newborn Screening program. My work with the metabolic clinic also gave me the opportunity to take part in a national project with the American Academy of Pediatrics exploring the role of genetics in primary care. In addition, Emory University has started its own genetic counseling training program which means I’m now serving as a primary supervisor for genetic counseling students as they complete their general genetics rotations. With all these additional hats I’m wearing, unfortunately I am no longer able to take a full week out of the office to serve as a Camp counselor again. However, I am still returning to Camp each year to give the Genetics and Transition presentation to the campers (and now I get to bring genetic counseling students with me too!) For more information on Emory’s Metabolic Camp, please visit their website (http://genetics.emory.edu/metcamp/). I’m so grateful for the support and guidance that Nancy and Sonja provided back while I was a student (which continues even now 3 years out of the program) and look forward to finding more “hats” to wear as I continue down my career path at Emory. Please feel free to contact me with any questions or just to say “hi!”

Kristen Cornell, MS, CGC

Email: Kristen.Cornell@emoryhealthcare.org

Phone: 404-778-8418