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Letter from the New CAGC President

“What we know matters, but who we are matters more.” – Brene Brown

Dear CAGC Member,

As genetic counsellors, we are very good at sharing what we know. We know that nondisjunction occurs in anaphase. We know how important it is to be cautious when interpreting a variant of unknown significance. We know to use open-ended questions to facilitate meaningful discussion. We know the harm that can occur when a genetic test is used inappropriately or an individual isn’t fully informed about the potential consequences of a result. And this is all incredibly important. Collectively, this information is what makes up the knowledge base that is required to become a certified genetic counsellor.

Where we continue to fall short is demonstrating who we are. With the era of genomic medicine unfolding before our eyes, the field of genetic counselling is at an important inflection point. How we choose to move forward and position ourselves now has the potential to influence this profession for generations to come. 

Do you remember why you chose to become a genetic counsellor?

In preparation for the role as President of the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors, I have been reflecting on why this organization exists. The CAGC mission statement helps to inform what we aim to do: uphold professional standards, encourage professional growth and raise public awareness. But it is perhaps more important to remember why we do it. While we differ in terms of our roles and day-to-day activities, we all fundamentally believe in the responsible and informed used of genetic and genomic information and technology. The CAGC exists to bring genetic counsellors together around this common understanding. Together our voice is stronger, our reach is greater and our impact is more significant.

With this in mind, here are my priorities for 2016:

1. Foster diversity of genetic counselling roles: Given the incredible expansion and use of genomics happening right now, we need to find those new places where we can add value and establish ourselves there. What’s underway? The newly convened “GC Roles Task Force” is in the process of collecting data on current and emerging genetic counsellor roles in Canada, and will provide the board with feedback about how we can best support the development of these alternative roles.

2. Increase public awareness: We are communicators with a communication problem. Our value is dependant on our reach, which is minimal if we people still don’t know who we are. The Professional Governance Report highlighted increasing public awareness through a national PR campaign as a critical first step in pursuing professional regulation/registry. What’s underway? We are planning to hire a communication specialist to develop an organizational communication strategy/plan.

3. Increase CAGC membership: We are only as strong as our member base. Every genetic counsellor in Canada should experience value from their CAGC membership, and should want to be a member of this organization. Increased membership will ensure we are representing the diversity of opinions and roles that exist. What’s underway? We’re partnering with industry to provide bursaries (up to $1200) for members to attend the 2016 AEC in Montreal, offering professional development opportunities through sponsored webinars and connecting colleagues using new “communities of practice.” Note: We have eliminated the “attestation form” previously required to become a member, removing a key barrier to joining the CAGC.

This is one of the most exciting and complicated times to be a genetic counsellor, and I’m honored to be part of an organization that is dedicated to making sure our voice is heard and our values understood. Over the past few months, I’ve enjoyed the conversations I’ve had with many of you in preparation for this role, and I look forward to continued discussions in the year ahead. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me with any ideas, suggestions or feedback.

Happy New Year!

Allie Janson Hazell, MSc, CCGC, CGC
President, Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors

#iamageneticcounsellor because I believe people have a right to informed decision-making about genetics and their health