Dec 15, 2021

Interested in working in the hematology field, but don’t think that medical school is right for you? Consider an allied health field, like genetic counseling or physical therapy. Recently, NHF sat down with Mitch Starkman, a physical therapist, and Stefanie Dugan, a genetic counselor, to discuss their career paths and professional experiences. Read these Q&As and watch their respective videos to learn more! 
 
Physical Therapy Q&A with Mitch Starkman 

 

You yourself have hemophilia. Did that inspire your career choice to become a physical therapist? 

Hemophilia played a big role in that. Growing up, I had a lot more injuries than, than most, being a mild hemophiliac. I never really had regular treatment unless I had a significant injury. Because of that, I would get bumps and bruises and hobble from ankle injuries or that sort of thing.  I had a lot of exposure to physical therapy. 
 

The early exposure I had throughout the years was helpful to see what it was like as a patient, and inspired me to see what it would be like as a clinician. And now that I'm on this side of it, it’s a pretty great career choice and is great for me. 
 
Why should someone consider physical therapy as a career path? 

If you like to help people, help people move better, and work through problems, a career as a physical therapist might be good role for you too. 
 

I think that it's important to try it and see what you like. You wouldn’t want to spend all this money, time, and effort getting a degree or diploma in something that’s not what you thought it was. My recommendation is to volunteer or spend some time working with somebody in an area you think you might be interested in. 
 
Why do patients seek out a physical therapist? 

If someone has an injury that's not improving, they'll often turn to physical therapy for help.  A career in physical therapy is very rewarding since people get back to their normal selves.   
 

For someone interested in specifically working with the blood/bleeding disorders community as a physical therapist, you’ll likely see and treat a lot of muscle and joint bleeds. 
 
What advice do you have for future physical therapists? 

Try to understand my patients when you see them. Empathize with them and understand where they're coming from to be able to help them get to those next steps. 
 

Ultimately as a physical therapist, you're never going to have every injury that you see. It's helpful when you've experienced some type of dysfunction, pain, or limitation that you've overcome or been able to work through that allows you to relate to what other folks are in that same state. It helps you coach them or bring them through. So for me, hemophilia alone, I mean, I have, I've had injuries related to and unrelated to hemophilia over my life, but I think that in general has kind of allowed me to shape my practice and how I view my patients, and their recoveries a little bit differently. It allows me to relate to them and help them grow. 
 
Watch Mitch’s Q&A video here:


 


 
Genetic Counseling Q&A with Stefanie Dugan 
 
Can you share a little bit about where you work as a genetic counselor? 
I'm Stefanie Dugan, I am a certified genetic counselor and I work for Versiti. I work in the hemophilia treatment center for bleeding disorders here in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and also in the diagnostic lab. Versiti has a hematology genetics offering, where we provide genetic testing for rare,non-malignant hematology conditions for patients and their providers across the country.

 

Why did you want to become a genetic counselor?  
This field offered an opportunity for me by combining two of my big interests: science and technology, as well as a passion for helping people. It was the perfect overlap of something that was academically really interesting and stimulating, and let me make a difference in the life of other humans. 


Why do patients seek genetic counseling? 
People within the bleeding and blood disorders community may wish to talk to a genetic counselor to better understand the inherited disease or possibility of inherited disease in their family, and whether or not genetic testing is something that could offer them more information. Genetic counselors also provide ethical social assessment and support and can help direct people to other resources or other members of the medical care team who can kind of work together to provide optimal care for someone who has a family history or personal history of a blood or bleeding disorder.
 

What sort of degrees does someone need to become a genetic counselor? 
Becoming a genetic counselor requires an undergraduate degree with coursework related to genetics and sciences since genetic counselors have specialized training in medical, genetics, and counseling from designated or accredited programs. 
 

The terminal degree is a master's degree from a program that is accredited by the accreditation council for genetic counseling. These programs are very specific and will provide all the education and a background in medical genetics, and in counseling that you would need to launch a career in the genetic counseling field. 

  
How do I learn more about becoming a genetic counselor? 
For someone who's interested in pursuing genetic counseling as a career, there's actually tons of information that you can search by going to the aboutgeneticcounselors.org website or NSGC.org. You can also consider shadowing genetic counselors to see what a day in the life is like. 


How can I find a genetic counselor to shadow?    
It's easy to find a genetic counselor. If there's not a genetic counselor, that's affiliated with your local hemophilia treatment center or your hematology provider, going to NSGC.org will take you to a link for finding a genetic counselor. Or you can go to ABGC.net to similarly find a directory of genetic counselors across the country. You can search for genetic counselors based on your physical location, whether you want to see a genetic counselor in person, or via telemedicine. You could search for a genetic counselor based on a subspecialty or a specific condition that you're interested in learning more about. 


Watch Stefanie’s Q&A video: