As part of our Day in the Life: Grinnell Alums series, we're catching up with Grinnell alum Megan Latchaw Czarniecki, '04. Read on to learn more about Megan's experience at Grinnell, and where it led her professionally.
Fast Facts about Megan: Major at Grinnell: Anthropology & French Class year: 2004 Favorite class at Grinnell: Too many to count! Job Title/Organization: Senior Vice President, Genetic Analyst Services at InformedDNA Hobbies: Cooking, gardening, chasing after her little kids
Which non-STEM class at Grinnell had the biggest impact on you (professionally or personally)?
Several physical anthropology classes introduced me to population genetics, which ultimately led me to my career as a genetic counselor. I also loved medical anthropology, history, literature, math... Being intellectually well-rounded from a liberal arts education served me very well professionally.
What led you to pursue this field and how did you prepare for it?
Although I had always been interested in healthcare, I knew from an early age that I did not want to be a physician. After Grinnell, I thought I might want to get a PhD in genetics and got a job as a lab tech in a research lab at Northwestern. I pretty quickly realized that grant writing and lab research weren't for me, so I started to meet with and shadow anyone I could who worked in clinical genetics - direct patient care was where I wanted to be, and I discovered the field of genetic counseling through those informal conversations.
Because I wasn't a Biology major at Grinnell, I had quite a few pre-requisites to complete before I could apply to grad school. I worked in that lab at Northwestern for two years and did my pre-req classes at nights and on the weekend. I ended up staying at Northwestern for grad school and completed two master's degrees: one in Genetic Counseling and one in Bioethics & Medical Humanities.
Describe your role on a healthcare team or within the healthcare system.
Genetic counselors work in a variety of settings within the healthcare system. Clinical genetic counselors most often work in oncology, maternal-fetal medicine, cardiology, and pediatrics. In all of these settings, they are working directly with patients to explain hereditary components of disease, evaluate family history, coordinate genetic testing, facilitate decision-making, and help families understand the ramifications of a genetic diagnosis. Many genetic counselors also work in clinical labs, interpreting genetic test results and writing reports.
Genetics expertise is becoming increasingly valuable in many non-clinical settings as the field grows, so there are many more opportunities for genetic counselors now than there were when I was just coming out of grad school. I worked as a prenatal genetic counselor in a maternal-fetal medicine clinic for many years, and now I work for a private company that focuses on expanding access to genetic services in a variety of ways. We provide clinical genetic counseling via telemedicine, support clinical trials related to genetic conditions, and work with health insurance companies to make sure that their medical policies are accurately reflecting current best-practice standards.
Share a piece of career advice you wish you knew as an undergraduate student.
If you're considering a career in science at all, take at least a few of the basic pre-requisites while you are at Grinnell.
Spend time shadowing someone in any and all professions you are interested in. It was especially helpful to be able to compare the day-to-day experience of multiple similar careers.
Resources to learn more: