Maria Johnson of
the Institute of Genetic Medicine
on metabolic disorders:
Are you the only genetic counselor on staff at the IGM who sees patients with metabolic disorders?
JOHNSON: I’ve become the full-time metabolic counselor. That doesn’t mean that other genetic counselors aren’t already attached to certain patients and following those patients. When there’s a new diagnosis, I’m the one who meets with the family from the beginning, and in general, I’m the one who coordinates their care along with other members of the metabolic team.
What other kinds of professionals do you typically work with?
JOHNSON: It’s a team effort with metabolic disorders. Several attending physicians are involved and the genetic nutritionists and dieticians play a huge role with dietary management. A physician’s assistant will be joining our team in January 2010. We refer on to other specialists as needed for ongoing psychological care or developmental and behavioral assessments and interventions.
How did you get interested in becoming a genetic counselor?
JOHNSON: I studied psychology in college, and I was planning on going into counseling psychology or clinical psychology – I was set on that pretty much from middle school on. I hadn’t even heard of genetic counseling until my senior year of college. My mother was working on her dissertation, which involved genetic education for nurses, when she came across genetic counseling literature. She thought of me because it was both counseling and science – a balance between the two, both of which I was interested in. She asked me if I had heard of genetic counseling and said that she immediately thought of me when she learned about the profession.
I applied to both counseling psychology programs and genetic counseling programs because the idea of genetic counseling was so new and I still wasn’t sure. When I was accepted to the Sarah Lawrence Genetic Counseling program, I decided to alter my long anticipated plans after a great deal of going back and forth. I had been set on one path, but then the more I read about genetic counseling and learned about it from talking to genetic counselors, the more I thought it was really a good fit. So I started the program, and that was that. I’m not one of those people who can say I always knew I wanted to be a genetic counselor. For me, it was a good, last minute, decision.