Having been born in the UK, spending 12 years of my life in Canada and now living in the US, I have to laugh when someone asks me where I’m from because, really, that’s a great question. These days, I feel more like a citizen of the world than a specific country and this feeling has bled into my professional life, creating a long-standing curiosity about the state of genetic counseling across the world.
Part of that curiosity led to me doing an intensive prenatal summer rotation during my graduate education in Canada, at the Lois Hole Hospital for Women. While I found genetic counseling to be very similar in the content and the process between the US and Canada, there were subtle differences, mostly owing to the differences in the healthcare systems. A good example is the availability of tests. In the US, anyone can have an amniocentesis if they want one. It does not matter if your pregnancy is low-risk or high-risk; it’s available to you if you want it and consent to it. In Canada however, only women with a clinical indication (like an identified fetal anomaly or advanced maternal age) have the option of an amniocentesis.
That curiosity about the worldwide differences in genetic counseling never left me. When I found myself in the UK earlier this year, I sat down with a genetic counselor in London to discuss our respective jobs, where they overlap, and where they may differ. Interestingly enough, again, most things seemed to be the same. There were certainly some differences in our training, owing to different professional regulating bodies between the two countries, but the clinic in which she worked was ambitious in their clinical reach and scope of testing and reminded me of situations I had encountered in the US.
Genetic counseling is happening in many countries of the world, and training programs exist from the US to Australia, with programs popping up in places such as the Philippines, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. It’s hard to estimate the number of practicing genetic counselors across the world as there is no worldwide organization for the profession, but without a doubt the number is rapidly expanding.
Though no worldwide organization currently exists to govern our profession, there are groups that are creating channels for communication amongst different countries such as the Transnational Alliance for Genetic Counseling (TAGC). The TAGC has the goal of “foster[ing] communication and collaboration among the international genetic counseling community and enhanc[ing] genetic counseling programs transnationally.” It is likely that the profession grows, so too will the communication between us, creating better and more standardized patient care worldwide.
I’m thankful for all the international experiences I’ve had and hope that I get to learn more first-hand about genetic counseling internationally in the future.
For now, this world citizen is in the US, dreaming of her next adventure in between patients.