Providing support, answers, and resources to consumers of DIY genetic testing was my main mission in founding Watershed DNA. A secondary goal was to help more people understand genetic counselors - who we are, what we do, and how our expertise can be valuable even in situations of genetic testing ordered from home.
I recently began a series of blog posts to help introduce genetic counselors to those who might not be too familiar. I'm calling the series "Base Pairs" (inspired by fellow genetic counselor and writer Deepti Babu who was highlighted in my first series post!).
This post features genetic counselors KT Curry and Amy Curry Sturm. The questions start off with a common one genetic counselors receive!
How did you find out about the profession of genetic counseling?
Amy: I first learned of genetic counseling during a development psychology course in undergrad. We had to research a topic, there was one paragraph on genetic counseling, and I was intrigued! After writing my paper, my professor, whom I adored, confided in me that he and his wife lost a baby with trisomy 18. He told me how they had genetic counseling, and how important it was to their recovery process. This left a huge impact on me - I was hooked! I later shadowed Heather Hampel, a rock star genetic counselor at Ohio State. That's when I really knew this career was for me, and the rest is history.
KT: While earning my degree in Psychology I signed up for an elective genetics course, on the notion that it wouldn’t be boring :) I found it endlessly interesting but had no idea at that time that I would or could turn this interest into a profession. Luckily I worked my way through college, as a professional dancer with the Rockettes, with plenty of time to decide what type of career I wanted to end up in after my first retirement.
Did you learn about genetic counseling from someone in your family? Did one of you influence the other?
Amy: I absolutely did NOT learn about genetic counseling from anyone in my family. I'm from a very small rural Ohio town. My mom was a stay at home mom turned teacher, and my dad was a small business owner and recreational farmer. No one in my family had ever heard of genetic counseling, or met a genetic counselor.
I love sharing that I am so passionate about genetic counseling and love my career so much that I was able to "convince" a New York Radio City Music Hall Rockette dancer to become a genetic counselor! My fabulous sister-in-law, KT Curry. KT is married to my little brother, Gus. They met while doing theatre together in New Hampshire. While dancing as a Rockette in Manhattan, she was also working on her undergrad degree, and became interested in genetic counseling! I was thrilled! I still recall sitting with her in their upper west side apartment reviewing graduate schools and applications. I connected KT with colleagues of mine to shadow. She just graduated from the University of Minnesota's program and I am so proud to not only get to call this amazing lady my sister-in-law, but also my genetic counseling colleague! Being able to spend time together in Phoenix at the ACMG meeting was the best. We've always been close and had a special connection, but now we're official base pairs!
KT: I met my husband, whose sister was a genetic counselor, and over the first few years I learned more and more about the genetic counseling profession. Amy encouraged me to seek out opportunities to get involved with different communities related to genetics. I started volunteering at Gigi’s Playhouse in Harlem, New York learning how to teach adaptive ballet and creative movement to kids with Down syndrome and their siblings. This experience inspired me to apply for a graduate program in genetic counseling! I was very lucky to have Amy as a resource during this period to guide me through shadowing other GCs and helping me connect with people completely outside of my current field.
How does having a common profession influence topics of conversation and discussions during family gatherings?
Amy: No joke - we were drawing pedigrees [family trees] on the chalkboard in my basement bar over the holidays this past December! I also had a chance to share Thai food and genetics conversation with KT and her parents while in Phoenix for the American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics meeting this past spring. We talked about everything from scaling genetic counseling to funny childhood stories, so it's a great mix!
KT: I love having a family member in the same field! Amy and I have been able to meet up at professional conferences together within the past year which was a blast. During holidays we definitely drew out a pedigree on a board in her house to discuss a complex case. We received some eye rolls from the family :) For me, It’s also been nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and act as a mentor. As a new practicing genetic counselor, it’s fun for me to see where I could be in 10 to 15 years!
When I asked Amy and KT what people comment about having two genetic counselors in one family, Amy's answer summed it up nicely: Most people I've told think it's pretty darn cool.
Additional info about Amy and KT:
Amy Curry Sturm, MS, LGC, is a Professor and the Director of Cardiovascular Genomic Counseling at the Geisinger Genomic Medicine Institute. She is the 2018 President-Elect of the National Society of Genetic Counselors. Her interests include novel approaches to scale genetic counseling, the development of genetic counseling interventions to facilitate family communication, and methods to promote patient and provider activation in the setting of genomic medicine delivery, especially in the area of preventable types of genetic heart disease. She lives in Columbus, Ohio with her husband Jeff and two kids, Jack and Stella. If she wasn't a genetic counselor, she'd love to be an interior designer.
Kathryn (KT) Curry, MS is a genetic counselor in the pediatric genetics clinic at St. Luke’s Children’s Hospital. She is excited to be entering the field of genetic counseling and to see where it leads her. She has a special interest in ethics and children and adults with neurodevelopmental disabilities. She lives in Boise, ID with her husband and is a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota.