Geneticist crafts a poem to explain her job

Genetic counsellors Jeanette Hayward, Emma Edwards, Kelly Nunes, Rebecca Harris and Claire Wong.

Genes, DNA and chromosomes not only link you to your family, they can also explain why you might be prone to particular medical conditions.

The unique and talented specialists who can explain inheritance and the implications of genetic test results are called genetic counsellors and clinical geneticists.

Across the Westmead campus there are three clinical genetic services:

  • The Westmead Familial Cancer Service in the Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre manages individuals with a personal or family history of cancer.
  • The Westmead Genetic Medicine Service treats adults with a personal or family history of inherited cardiac, metabolic, connective tissue and neurological conditions.
  • The Children’s Hospital Genetics Service helps children, pregnant couples and those considering preimplantation genetic diagnosis.

To better explain the role of the genetic counsellor, Westmead Familial Cancer Service senior genetic counsellor Emma Edwards scrawled a poem – a tribute to her colleagues and to also recognise Genetic Counsellor Awareness Day on Thursday, 14 November:

Genetic Counsellors – Cracking the code

Genetic counsellors are often the forgotten trade but we can explain just how you are made with pictures of chromosomes, genes and DNA we can decipher your karyotype, single gene test or micro array.

Family traits are laid out on large pedigrees from cancer and autism to metabolic disease. We’re detectives in training so dig up each clue and extract all the secrets so we know who is who.

Now how is this trait passed on you may ask? Is it dominant, recessive, x-linked what a task? Which test is the best and just who to test, GCs do the work so the families can rest.

If you order a test then what will you do if you get a result that the lab calls a VOUS? How to explain to the patient their mutation may just be an innocent genetic variation?

Should you offer the client a prenatal test, a mammogram, breast ultrasound or is MRI best? Which test can be Medicared and where does blood go? And the long consent form is not just for show.

A gene can have such a confusing name… Sonic hedgehog? Last I heard that was a Nintendo game. And I’ve seen N F I written in a clinical note (No…idea?) But a GC will tell you it isn’t that quote. That’s Neurofibromatosis Type 1, but it made us all laugh, so genes can be fun.

GCs can explain the complexities to you and the client, their family and med students too. We spend time just listening, reflecting their fears, while offering reassurance, and patience to tears.

We are well train in empathy, compassion and care, and take pride in our work which as a team we all share, so if you need to explained why you look like your mum or that FAP causes polyps inside your bum then call a GC, that’s why we are here GCs have the answer to inheritance it’s clear.

For further information call:

The Westmead Familial Cancer Service: 8890 6947

Westmead Genetic Medicine: 8890 9780

Westmead Children’s Hospital Genetics: 9845 3273