MGC Where Are They Now? Carly Smith ‘21
Perinatal Genetic Counselor Carly Smith, MGC, LCGC helps families along the West Coast
by Lexie Little
In 2021, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine (VUSM) celebrated the graduation of its first class of genetic counselors. The Master of Genetic Counseling program launched in 2019. Each member of the inaugural class, including Carly Smith, found new jobs upon graduation.
Smith, who earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia in 2019, traveled to Nashville for the MGC program where she was a trainee in the Vanderbilt Consortium LEND program. She joined Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford this summer and shared her journey with VUSM:
Q: What is your current role? When did you start?
A: In July 2021, I started as a perinatal genetic counselor with the Fetal and Pregnancy Health Program at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. In my role as a genetic counselor, I meet with individuals to discuss abnormal ultrasound findings or positive genetic testing results, both raising concerns of a genetic condition in the pregnancy. Additionally, I spend part of my time as a patient care coordinator for our Fetal Center. We continually update a dynamic list of patients with their most recent ultrasound, fetal MRI, and fetal echocardiogram reports, consultations with neonatology and other specialists, as well as their genetic testing results. This list allows our Center to ensure we are providing essential, individualistic care for all patients.
Q: What interested you about becoming a genetic counselor?
A: After becoming fascinated by pedigrees and risk assessments for genetic conditions in my AP Biology class, I decided to attend a week-long genetics camp at Clemson University the summer before my senior year of high school. Our lead professor concluded the camp with a presentation on human genetic disease and other careers in genetics. This was the first time I heard the term “genetic counselor” and learned of their important role in a patient’s diagnostic odyssey. Initially, I thought my career trajectory was in forensic science. But after a semester-long mentorship, I discovered my passion for human connection and hearing others’ stories.
Q: Why did you choose Vanderbilt?
A: Easy – the welcoming and inclusive environment of our faculty. I was nervous entering application and interview season without a pending degree in biology or laboratory work during undergrad. I distinctly remember interviewing with several faculty members, who ultimately became advisers and role models during my time at Vanderbilt. Each valued my unique experiences, mentioning how they could connect with items on my resume. From the beginning of my interview process, throughout my training, and still as a professional, the faculty at Vanderbilt encourage individual endeavors and champion each student in their individual pursuits.
Q: How did the MGC program help to prepare you for your current role?
A: In my second year, I had the opportunity to be the LEND (Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disabilities) trainee for our program. The goal of the Vanderbilt Consortium LEND is to improve the health of infants, children and adolescents with disabilities by preparing trainees from diverse professional disciplines to assume leadership roles in their respective fields. The skills and approaches I learned through the LEND program have been essential as I help individuals, couples, and families navigate poignant news and moments in their lives.
I found a shift in my approach to patient care from a point of concern only about my genetics information to being more mindful of the information and care individuals are receiving from other providers. Also, importantly, I consider the external factors or stressors one may be experiencing that can have a profound impact on their healthcare management. I learned there will never be a “one-size-fits-all” approach to patient care, even in cases of the same indication. I’ve used this knowledge to strive for providing individualistic care, as each patient or family is going to have unique areas of needs.
Q: How else were you involved at Vanderbilt?
A: During graduate school, I had two jobs with departments at the university. I began as a graduate supervisor at the Central Library on campus in October 2019 and worked at the desk most weekends until graduation in May 2021. From January 2020 to March 2020, I also worked as a graduate assistant for the Office of Special Events. Both positions allowed me to meet individuals outside of the health care community on campus and learn more about the traditions and history of Vanderbilt University. It really enriched my graduate experience, allowing me feel proud to say I’m a graduate of Vanderbilt and attend university-wide alumni events.
Q: What was your favorite thing about your time at Vanderbilt?
A: I truly value and am grateful for the relationships I built with others at Vanderbilt: classmates, faculty, providers in various clinics, and supervisors at the Central Library. Moving to California soon after graduation – to a place where I didn’t know anyone – and starting my first job as a genetic counselor was a little intimidating. Program leadership and previous clinical supervisors, all of whom have become cherished colleagues, have continually reached out to check-in on my adventures on the West Coast. Despite living two time zones and many miles away from Nashville, I’ve felt extremely loved and encouraged on this new journey.
Q: What advice would you have for someone considering VU MGC?
A: Take advantage of the multitude of opportunities available to you. If there is a clinical area you are curious about, try to coordinate your elective rotation with that team. Continue to communicate your interests with your advisers, supervisors, and providers you work with in clinic, because they will be essential in connecting you with individuals within VUMC and at other institutions for future jobs. Networking can seem really intimidating at first, but everyone at Vanderbilt is excited to help you succeed!
The MGC program at VUSM welcomed its third and largest class to date this summer. Be sure to keep up with MGC on social media using #VUMGC, and please email the MGC program with any questions.