She Got Her Dream Job……
My name is Courtney Downtain and I am a recent graduate of The University of South Carolina Genetic Counseling Program. I understand that you are interested in learning more about genetic counseling and USC’s program. Personally, I am so excited to be in the field of genetic counseling! I have known since high school that I wanted to be a genetic counselor. I heard the profession mentioned in passing, and as someone who has always loved science, yet really wanted to work in a helping profession with people, it is perfect for me!
I attended the University of Virginia for undergrad and pursued degrees in both biology and psychology. In undergrad, I worked in a research lab, and while learning about PCR and western blots was awesome, I very quickly found out how much I needed to work with people. After I graduated, I went to work for a genetics company that does clinical genetic testing for patients with rare disorders. I always knew I would go back to school for genetic counseling, and 2009 was my year! I spent lots of time researching schools and looking at different program’s websites, but ultimately I decided where to apply based on geographical location. I picked 9 schools all over the country and decided I would apply and see what happened. I ended up getting interviews at 8 locations. While the programs are all very similar on paper, their personalities really emerge when you get to interview and meet the students and faculty. Honestly, you can’t go wrong with schools, you will get a great education anywhere you choose (of course USC is the BEST, but I'm a little biased :) It’s more about picking the location with the mentors and classmates you would like to have. I instantly fell in love with USC’s program. The faculty is incredible…extremely smart and very accomplished, yet they are very interested in you as a person, making sure you are in your element and doing well! The environment is very much collaborative, and the faculty treats you as a peer rather than a subordinate.
Another thing I loved about my experience at USC was the opportunities to become involved in the community! The program is part of the School of Medicine and is affiliated with a medical center. As such, students get to participate in grand rounds and when any special speakers are on campus, there is an open invitation to attend. During the Fall of my 1st year our program (about 15 or so of us) got to sit down for a round table discussion with Dr. Levine, the man who first discovered the p53 gene and really discovered that cancer has a genetic and inherited basis! It was an amazing opportunity! As a student, I also had some amazing opportunities to get to know the families in our community. I attended a preschool class for kids with special needs, volunteered for a respite program once a month where we babysit for kids with special needs and their siblings so their parents could go out and have a break. One of the most inspiring and forming experiences for me occurred when I had the opportunity to sit down with a family, in their home, and hear their story. In my day-to-day job I interact with a family for a brief hour of their day maybe once or twice a year, but these home visits gave me a glimpse into the bigger picture of what life outside of the medical center is like for these families.
In August, I joined the team of pediatric genetic counselors at Duke University Medical Center. This was the opportunity that I had been working towards since high school, and it is my dream job! I feel like my training at USC certainly prepared me for this position. Now that I am in the working world, I especially appreciate the value of my varied clinical rotations. When I was deciding on schools, I was nervous about attending a program where I would have to travel to my rotation sites. Even though there were many long days in the car and traveling was not always convenient, I truly believe that working with a variety of counselors and experiencing the way several different centers run gave me a better understanding of the practice of genetic counseling and made me a more experienced “new graduate.”
The field of genetic counseling is expanding and changing so fast, and genetic counselors have the profound opportunity to educate, to listen, to advocate, and to make a difference in the lives of our patients and their families. I have yet to find an academic area that I find more fascinating and challenging than genetics. As a new genetic counselor, I am still learning something new every single day. I continue to come home every week with some new avenue that I didn’t know genetic counselors were involved in or something else I want to learn more about! It’s just awesome! Please feel free to email the program with questions, or if it would be easier to speak, we can set up a time to talk on the phone!
Genetic Counseling Program
Phone: 803-545-5775 Fax: 803-434-4596