genomic counselling

Three career tips for genetic counsellors: a conversation with Dr Laura Boyes

Dr Laura Boyes, consultant genetic counsellor and GTAC genomic counselling professional lead, shares advice for new and aspiring practitioners

Are you new to a career in genomic counselling or curious about this growing specialism? Dr Laura Boyes recently sat down for an interview to share advice based on her years of experience in the field. We hope it helps you on your journey in genomics.

Q: Could you please tell us about your professional background?

Dr Boyes: I am a genetic counsellor by background and have worked clinically for 20 years. I am currently the genomic counselling professional lead for the Genomics Training Academy (GTAC). I earned an MSc in genetic counselling and registered with the Genetic Counsellor Registration Board. I started working in cancer and since then have worked in many clinical areas. I also earned a PhD in colon cancer genetics and an undergraduate degree in biochemistry and genetics.

I am now the lead consultant genetic counsellor for the West Midlands region. I work in development, strategy, organisation, and leadership/management of my team. Half of my time is spent clinically focused on pre-implantation genetic diagnosis, adult neurology and the retinoblastoma national specialist service, although I have worked across most clinical indications over the years. I previously chaired the Association of Genetic Nurses and Counsellors and worked in curricula development, including establishing the Scientist Training Programme for genomic counselling.

Q: What advice do you have for newer professionals in your field?

  1. Keep an open mind. Clinically and from a counselling point of view, try to remain as open as possible to the situations and circumstances of the patients and families in front of you. No two situations are ever the same, and what sits at the heart of genetic counselling is empathy and being able to engage with the people at the centre of it, regardless of your own position.
  2. Take time to find your own style. Sometimes you look around at very experienced counsellors and think you should practise in the same way, but we all have personal styles. You can integrate things that you like from other people’s styles, but you want to be genuine in your own practice. People around you have developed their skills over many years, so for new practitioners, I’d encourage you to remember that you won’t graduate as someone with 10 years of experience. That will come. It’s okay to focus on fundamentals first and allow the more advanced skills to develop over time – don’t rush. It comes from seeing your own cases and reflecting on those within your counselling supervision, which allows you to develop as a practitioner. Often the job you do with your fundamentals is enough, and you will develop as you progress. Genetic counsellors can sometimes be vulnerable to imposter syndrome. Believe in yourself and your training; have confidence that you are still enough while you are building your skills.
  3. Take care of yourself. To have a long and fulfilling career, it is important to get a balance between your profession and taking care of your own mental health in a busy and ever-changing NHS. Keep perspective in your work-life balance. Remember to prioritise the things that make you resilient to be able to give to patients. You can’t do everything, as much as you might want to. There aren’t enough hours in the day to pursue everything, so choose what you’re really driven by, both personally and professionally. Try not to dwell on what you aren’t able to include or compare with others. Thankfully, we are a dedicated and skilled group and can achieve so much together while having our own niches.

Q: What has been a highlight with the Genomics Training Academy (GTAC) so far, and what do you look forward to in the future?

Dr Boyes: I’ve really enjoyed the opportunity to work alongside a group of people who are so passionate about professional education and approaching it innovatively. I look forward to seeing how we can utilise technology to improve our work, training and ability to practice counselling skills. GTAC will offer safe spaces for trainees to practice patient-facing skills, such as letter writing and in-person discussions, especially in more challenging situations like breaking bad news or helping people in highly complex circumstances. Technology will let us practice this safely, realistically and with more authenticity. This will generate useful feedback that informs ethical practice and skills. I also look forward to how we might collaborate with other centres and observe different processes and training set-ups – through our centralised environment of GTAC – to widen the breadth of learning.

Please note: This article is for informational or educational purposes, and does not substitute professional medical advice.