General Information

Blue Ridge Retreat for Genetic Counselors 2020 - registration now open!

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So many of us are stretched thin each day.

Whether we are content with our careers or are wishing for something to change, there are Things That Have To Be Done that distract us from making changes that would benefit us and everyone around us. Jobs to show up for, dinners to cook, and relationships to maintain – whether close or distant. Finding the time to shut off our computers and put our phones down - and to think about the future we want to create - can be impossibly difficult with all we juggle.

When I left a secure job at a reliable institution to start a solo specialty practice, I was not sure what the future would hold. It was an idea I had contemplated for two years before I made the leap. The planning and learning it took to be able to set off down an unusual path was spread out over months and years. It had to be done during the tiny bits of freedom I could grab between working a job and caring for a home and a growing family.

I continued showing up for my daily work, trying to bring my best to the team I worked with but continuing to feel like something was off. I had worked so hard to become a Certified Genetic Counselor, yet here I was battling discontent and negativity. I knew I could do good work, fulfilling work even, yet my best qualities and skills had been lost somewhere. The Sunday night dread was terrible. 

I remember thinking, I NEED MORE SPACE TO FIGURE ALL OF THIS OUT. More information would not help me take the next step. I needed to get my head in the right place, find the resolve to make the leap, and do it.

What I needed was dedicated time to work through the internal dialogue and get clear on my needs and goals; I needed to turn off autopilot mode. I now know after having other GCs reach out to me that the struggle I was going through silently was the same struggle others are going through right now.

So I reached out to Orchid Story founder Rachel Nusbaum and asked her to create with me an opportunity that I wish had been available back then. 

The Blue Ridge Retreat for Genetic Counselors will be a chance for you to come together with a small group of other genetic counselors, to work individually, together. To escape from your everyday. To reconnect with your purpose.

Perhaps you feel like there is something you are meant to be doing with your days but have not found your way there yet. Maybe you have a destination in mind, but haven’t had a chance to sketch out the steps you need to take to get there. Perhaps you have considered going back to school for another degree, or are hanging on to a job you don’t love, to push through a few years until you can retire and escape it all.

Rachel is a genetic counselor who also has set off on an unusual path, pursuing a passion to help others find meaning in their life stories by reflecting and writing about them. She and I have created a retreat experience that will allow you to capture time for yourself in a beautiful green space to explore the questions you find yourself asking yourself. 

We have designed the retreat specifically for genetic counselors, with a balance of activities that will challenge you to identify your unique skills and interests while still having space and time to rest and breathe. Although Rachel and I are co-leaders, we’ve been through growth journeys of our own and will be involved throughout the retreat, challenging you and providing encouragement as you move through the activities and experiences we have created for you.

Look ahead to May 2020 and mark your calendars for a weekend that can set you on the path to a future you create.

Here’s the link to request more detailed information: Request More Information

and here’s the link to hold your spot: Reserve My Spot

We wanted this retreat to be small enough for group discussion time, so we have only ten spots available. Is one of those spots for you? Don’t wait! Start creating your future with a time out from everyday life in the Blue Ridge Mountains. 

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We are looking forward to having you join us!

-Brianne Kirkpatrick and Rachel Nusbaum

Research Opportunity for DNA Testers

If you have not yet tested, but are getting ready to, the UBC Genetic Connections Study would like you to participate in their study. They will follow your experience before and after your results come back. Website:

Elle and Ashley - the Base Pair that podcasts together

Elle and Ashley - the Base Pair that podcasts together

The next Base Pair comes from all the way from around the world (and down-under!). Elle and Ashley are a pair of Australian genetic counselors (counsellors) who teamed up to create a podcast. I’ve enjoyed listening to their episodes, and I can’t stop thinking about the ethical issues discussed in one early episode about the uncovering of spousal abuse and a non-paternity situation after the DNA testing of a minor child in genetics clinic. The work that genetic counselors do is so challenging sometimes. I wanted to learn more about the origins of the GC Chat podcast and invited Elle and Ashley to be the next Base Pair. Hope you enjoy reading about it! -Brianne

Umbilical Cord Blood Donation and Ancestry Testing

Umbilical cord blood donation allows a type of stem cell transplant. This is my third post specifically about stem cell transplants and ancestry testing and it’s the first that focuses specifically on umbilical cord blood. You can read the first two about a case of bone marrow transplantation affecting an ancestry test result and how to try to go about DNA testing if you have already received a stem cell donation:

One year ago today, I was on the NBC Today show...

One year ago today, I was on the NBC Today show...

One year ago today, I had the surreal experience of sitting on the stage of the Megyn Kelly NBC Today show to answer questions about my work with people who make DNA surprise discoveries after DNA testing. To call it memorable would be an understatement!

Watch the clip here

"Dear Brianne...I was adopted from the US to Europe. Can you help me?"

"Dear Brianne...I was adopted from the US to Europe. Can you help me?"

A few of the sections from my book with co-author Shannon Combs-Bennett addresses special issues related to international/intercountry adoptions.

Most of the book is US-centric (where Shannon and I live and have most of our experience). Some of the issues we address in the book are not country-specific, though, like issues we address related to the emotional aspects and moving forward with communication.

As DNA testing options expand, the use of DNA testing for the purpose of family searches will grow as well.

I recently received an email from someone living in Europe who was adopted out of the US state of New York. Here is how I addressed his question.

"Dear Brianne...I reached out to my unexpected half-sister but now I'm worried. Did I jump the gun?"

"Dear Brianne...I reached out to my unexpected half-sister but now I'm worried. Did I jump the gun?"

I recently received a message from someone who made an unexpected discovery of a new family member after doing DNA testing. The parents involved are all since deceased, and the person who wrote me had written to her match welcoming her to the family and then began to have regrets. Had she considered the other person’s reaction?

As more NPE discoveries are made, these types of questions grow more frequent. Ready my brief response to “Excited but Now Concerned” below.

How to tell if an online DNA test is legitimate 

How to tell if an online DNA test is legitimate 

There are many varieties of DNA testing, some that are extensive scans of your DNA and some that provide focused or partial information. You can test for information about ethnicity, you can search for genetic relatives by matching their DNA, or you can search for information with medical significance. Some of the options you can only have through a medical provider, and others you can order for yourself directly over the Internet.

It’s hard to know who to trust, especially if you find them on the Internet and order the test for yourself. As a person who has taken many of these tests and a licensed and certified genetic counselor who works with people who test, I’ll explore the benefits and limitations of these testing options next.  

"Dear Brianne, I'm adopted...Where do I even start?"

"Dear Brianne, I'm adopted...Where do I even start?"

I have people reach out through my website who are adopted or donor conceived and are at the very start of a search, asking where do I even start? It can be overwhelming trying to learn all of the ins and outs of searching whether using access to records or DNA testing.

Here’s how I responded to a recent query:  

IRS gives go-ahead to claim tax break for 23andMe's health-related DNA testing

IRS gives go-ahead to claim tax break for 23andMe's health-related DNA testing

The Wall Street Journal and other news sources have recently covered a new development in health care coverage and at-home DNA test sold by 22andMe. Because of its FDA-approved reports, US customers of 23andMe can request reimbursement for part of their testing. Other at-home DNA testing companies have not received FDA approval yet, so the IRS ruling only affects 23andMe testers at this time.

Grouping 23andMe test into a category with clinical genetic tests sends a mixed messages. So I am going to fill in some gaps for you…

Sarah and Talya: The newest Base Pair shares a love of reading (and discussing) books

Sarah and Talya: The newest Base Pair shares a love of reading (and discussing) books

In the Base Pair series, we get a chance to learn about genetics professionals (genetic counselors and geneticists) who have partnered up to pursue a project together. I ask them to share a bit of the back-story, how they came to be partnered with their buddy. Origin stories like these can be so powerful because they open our eyes to new and different opportunities. When we see how the paths of others have crossed, it helps us look at the people in our lives in a different way as well.