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Empathy, smarts, and a bit of luck put Briana Brown on a path to diversify the field of genetic counseling

Even as a child, Briana Brown put her passion for science into action, performing experiments in her bedroom and learning about animals and how the world worked.

So this summer, when offered an exclusive internship in the University of Pennsylvania’s genetic counseling program, Brown jumped at the chance to gain some real-world science experience.

Brown, one of just three students accepted for the program — out of 200 undergraduate applicants across the country — says a biology seminar at TCNJ is what piqued her interest in genetic counseling.

“Genetic counselors have to discuss topics that can be difficult to talk about,” says Brown, a junior biology major. As she learned in class, those topics include discussing with a patient how diseases such as cancer or cardiovascular disease could affect the health of other family members, or helping a couple understand why they are at risk of having a child with a genetic condition.  

To be an effective genetic counselor, you “have to be equipped with emotional intelligence,” says Brown. “It’s a great opportunity to connect on a human level. I love helping people and talking with people, and I like genetics, so it seemed like a good fit.”

For six weeks, Brown shadowed genetic counselors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, taking notes on cases and interviewing the counselors she worked with to learn more about the profession.

The internship program, offered to undergraduate students from populations/groups that are underrepresented in genetic counseling, was created to help diversify the field. Brown believes this is an important mission.

“If people of color don’t feel represented within the medical community, they might not have trust in those medical professionals,” she says. “It’s important that patients see themselves in the people who are treating them, whether it’s speaking the same language or sharing specific cultural values.”

As for Brown, the internship succeeded in its mission: Brown plans to get her master’s in genetic counseling once she graduates from TCNJ.

“I love how the field is up and coming,” she says. “There are a lot of technologies being developed and many ways genetic counseling will be useful in the future. That’s very exciting to me.”

 Kelley Freund


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