At the NSGC’s recent conference in Dallas, I had the opportunity to meet with several participants in the Genetic Alliance’s Advocates program, through which patients, professionals, students and others from outside the genetic counseling profession are invited to apply for sponsorship to attend the NSGC’s annual conference and observe what genetic counselors are learning.
I quickly realized that the counselors, often in the role of educating patients, had become the students. The Advocates had many suggestions for us. They liked the sessions where patients’ perspectives were shared, such as the Rollnick lecture where Ian Brown spoke about how his son’s disabilities had taught him the value of the simplicity of human connection or the poignant story about different expectations of access to Canavan testing due to gene patenting. However, they commented that patient viewpoints should be integrated into our education as a conversation rather than as a separate voice brought in to lecture.
We spoke also about the need to translate. Medical professionals often use the phrase “dumbing down” when referring to how they present information to patients. I’m sure many of the readers of this blog will recoil at the phrase, yet do we think proactively about translating rather than simply explaining? Or integrating genetic information into the other factors of a patient’s life? Patients experience with genetic disease is different from ours. We have no more right to impose our language upon them as they do to dismiss our perspective as a professional.
The Advocates shared that they would like to be able to more easily find genetic counselors within the specialty areas for research purposes, for individual counseling and other reasons. They want to partner with us to advance progress in understanding the genetic etiology of disease. (We even spoke briefly about the new Find-a Genetic-Counselor tool on www.nsgc.org, which allows a search not just by geographic area but by specialty. However, even advanced search tools are only as good as the data they search, so I’m going to take this opportunity to remind you to update your profile – all four tabs. Login and click the “update my profile” link in the top right-hand corner.)
I extend my thanks to the Genetic Alliance for its coordination of the Advocates program and challenge us all to think about how we can partner with patients to better educate ourselves to serve them better.