By Brianne Kirkpatrick, MS, LCGC*
Genetic counselors are in demand now more than ever, and yet many people don’t understand the vital role they play in healthcare. So, in honor of Genetic Counselor Awareness Day (November 10th), we’re sharing about this valuable genetics profession and profiling our very own genetic counselors at 23andMe who make the work we do possible.
What do genetic counselors do?
Genetic counselors have specialized training and education in both medical genetics and counseling. Their role is to help guide and support people and their families so they better understand their options for genetic testing and how results may affect them and other family members.
As their professional title suggests, genetic counselors lean upon their background training in counseling skills to help people looking for support to interpret and understand their test results. In most cases, genetic counselors work in clinics or hospitals where they might specialize in areas such as prenatal care, pediatrics, oncology or cardiology.
Does 23andMe have genetic counselors?
We are proud to have four genetic counselors in various roles at 23andMe. While 23andMe genetic counselors do not provide individual genetic counseling services to our millions of customers, they are able to help customers at a broader level.
The work our genetic counselors do is diverse and supports the various values that guide our company. What this looks like day-to-day ranges from ensuring that reports customers receive are clear, accurate, and understandable to answering questions from other clinicians about 23andMe’s Personal Genome Service.
Our counselors have been instrumental in developing videos and written content, as well as providing training for our growing network of Lemonaid Health clinicians in supporting customers seeking out a Genetic Report Consultation. As part of the genetic report consultation, Lemonaid Health clinicians offer consultations to help their patients understand the role genes could play in their health, within the context of their health history and overall risks. Together these services help customers and their families, as well as their clinicians make use of their genetic health information.
Here’s a little more about each of our genetic counselors and in their own words, what it’s like to be a genetic counselor at 23andMe.
Stacey Detweiler, MS, LCGC – Medical Affairs Manager, Medical Device and Clinical Genetics
Stacey joined 23andMe in 2016 as a Medical Affairs Associate, having worked beforehand as a genetic counselor and clinical research coordinator at Rutgers-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Palo Alto Medical Foundation. She’s an active member of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, previously serving as co-chair for their Precision Medicine Special Interest Group. As part of her role as a Medical Affairs Manager, Stacey focuses on product, clinical and educational development. This means she helps ensure our product and marketing includes consumer-friendly information that’s medically accurate.
“I love the people! In my role, I have the opportunity to interact with people from all over the company. Every day I’m working with people who are passionate about genetics and, just like me, they want to share that passion with others. Being part of a team focused on making genetics accessible and paving a path towards precision medicine is an honor and a joy.”
Anne Greb, MS, CGC – Director, Clinical Genetics, Education and Outreach
Anne joined 23andMe in 2018 and leads our Clinical Genetics and Education Team. She specializes in educating clinicians on how to answer questions from patients about their 23andMe test results. Anne is a board-certified genetic counselor with over 30 years experience in genetic counseling program leadership, medical education, and patient care. Before coming to 23andMe, she directed the genetic counseling program at Sarah Lawrence College, where she increased the program’s training capacity in order to graduate more genetic counselors. She served as president of the American Board of Genetic Counseling, the agency that ensures certified genetic counselors meet high standards for clinical care.
“For the past three decades I eagerly anticipated this new era of precision and genomic medicine. What I didn’t anticipate was the widespread enthusiasm in genetics as people want to know more about their health, ancestry, and other human traits. At 23andMe I develop educational resources and programs so clinicians can take advantage of this enthusiasm and answer patients’ questions about the role genetics plays in health and wellness.“
Marlena Orthlieb, MGCS, LCGC – Medical Affairs Associate
Marlena joined 23andMe as a Medical Affairs Associate in 2022, having spent the three prior years in a perinatal genetics clinic. In her role as perinatal genetic counselor at Labcorp Women’s Health, she provided direct patient care and provider support at a maternal fetal medicine clinic. Marlena brings to 23andMe a passion for making genetics more understandable and accessible to everyone with a heart for advocacy around diversity, equity, and inclusion in healthcare.
Her roles are varied at 23andMe’s, ranging from communication and research efforts, to product and service development.
“For me, the best part of working at 23andMe is the opportunity to be creative! I love that I get to use my genetic counseling expertise in ways I never have before, while working towards creating a new future of precision and preventative care. Wellness is not a “one size fits all” approach, but a lot of times we have silos in health care, especially when it comes to genetics. I am thrilled that we are building unprecedented opportunities for people to access and benefit from their genome so that they can apply these insights towards living their healthiest life!”
Amy Sturm, MS, CGC – Director of Population Health Genomics
Amy also joined the 23andMe team in 2022, bringing over 20 years experience as a genetic counselor to her new role as Director of Population Health Genomics at 23andMe. Having worked at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Ohio State University Medical Center, and Geisinger Health, her roles have ranged from taking care of patients and families as a clinical genetic counselor to heading large research initiatives to developing new programs including population genomic screening and cardiovascular genetics programs. Amy works within the Product Organization at 23andMe and interacts with many teams including product science and research and development with the goals of building new products and bringing to life 23andMe’s vision and commitment to integrating genetic information into care for all.
“I’m thrilled to help build a path for individuals on their health journey. They can come to 23andMe, get their DNA insights, and learn personalized, preventive, proactive recommendations for their health and actions they and their families can take. We can provide the next steps on that journey and can also now deliver telehealth services via Lemonaid Health, now part of the 23andMe family.”
Why would I need to go to a genetic counselor?
There are several reasons you might benefit from genetic counseling. If you’re seeking to better understand a test result, for example, or have a known genetic condition in your family. You might also meet with a genetic counselor if you are planning to start a family and are concerned about an inherited condition, or are working with a fertility specialist and considering genetic testing as part of the process.
Here are a few more reasons: If you have a family history of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, a heart disorder, or another genetic condition, a genetic counselor may help you better understand what that specific history might mean for your own risks or for others in your family. Some people seek out genetic counseling after having a genetic test and learning that they have a genetic variant that puts them at a higher risk for a condition.
In all of these cases, genetic counselors can help you explore what the next steps might be for you and your family.
Where can I find a genetic counselor to work with?
There are several resources out there for you if you might be considering or interested in working with a genetic counselor. Our recent post on sharing your 23andMe report with your healthcare provider helps 23andMe customers get started on the path. Customers may also work with a healthcare provider from Lemonaid Health, which is now part of the 23andMe family. This is a group of clinicians who work with our genetic counselors and have been trained to answer questions about a growing number of 23andMe reports.
Another option is to search the website of the National Society of Genetic Counselors. The site is loaded with helpful information and offers a useful start in exploring whether using a genetic counselor is right for you among the many resources in the NSGC’s Find A Genetic Counselor tool. You can use the tool to search a database of thousands of genetic counselors who work in the U.S. and Canada by name, location, or even by area of specialty.
Beyond that great resource, you can also either seek help from your doctor or other healthcare providers. They may be able to provide you with a recommendation for a genetic counselor. Finally, there is also great information at the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
Genetic counselors, learn about current opportunities to join the team at 23andMe.
*Brianne Kirkpatrick is a consultant for 23andMe.