What to Expect When Meeting with a Genetic Counsellor

Leanne Mercer is a genetic counsellor with 17 years of experience.

Each year, the Clinical Genetics Program at Thunder Bay Regional Health Sciences Centre (TBRHSC) sees approximately 800 referrals. The program offers consultations to individuals and families who are affected by, or who are at-risk for, inherited and/or genetic conditions.

If your health care provider has sent in a referral and you have an appointment scheduled to meet with a genetic counsellor, you might be wondering what you can expect from this experience.

Leanne Mercer is a genetic counsellor with 17 years of experience. She has been working with the Clinical Genetics Program since it opened at TBRHSC in 2016. Below, she guides us through what to expect when meeting with a genetic counsellor.

What does a genetic counsellor do?

A genetic counsellor’s role is to provide individuals and families with information on the implications and inheritance of genetic conditions. We explore personal and family health history to better understand genetic risks and decide if genetic testing is an option for patients and families. The information can assist individuals to make decisions about managing their health, pregnancies or their child’s health.

How do I prepare for an appointment with a genetic counsellor?

Family history is usually collected before an appointment; however, we ask that patients bring any new information with them so that the family history can be updated. Patients can also make a list of any questions they may have ahead of time and bring that list to their appointment.

What happens during an appointment with a genetic counsellor?

We will talk about how the condition in question is inherited, if genetic testing might be beneficial or available, as well as implications for other family members. If genetic testing is offered, we talk about whether or not testing is right for them. Together, we discuss the pros and cons of testing and why they may or may not want to know the results of genetic testing. There is no pressure for patients to follow through with testing if it is offered; that decision is entirely up to them.

What happens after an appointment with a genetic counsellor?

If testing is not being done as part of the consultation, patients can expect a summary letter sent to them and/or their healthcare providers after the appointment. If a patient proceeds with genetic testing, it can be months before results are available. Results are delivered by phone, video or in person depending on the type of testing and the result.

Individuals with concerns about their family history of a genetic condition, or who may have a genetic condition themselves, are encouraged to talk to their health care provider about being referred. The Clinical Genetics Program does not accept self-referrals. For more information about our Hospital’s Clinical Genetics Program, or how to be referred, visit https://tbrhsc.net/genetics.