Elizabeth Balkite '79
- Received Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Connecticut College in 1965
- Became interested in the field after taking a genetics course as an undergrad
Why did you choose SLC for graduate school? Why Human Genetics?
I had a genetics course as an undergrad and loved it—I found it fascinating. I chose SLC over Rutgers (I was living in New Jersey at the time) because of its reputation for being the best program in genetic counseling.
How did your coursework prepare you for your fieldwork and eventual career?
My coursework prepared me to be a good genetic counselor, but I did not become one until I worked as one full time. Psychosocial counseling was key in the early 80s when I first started because the technology we have today did not exist. Sarah Lawrence prepared me to deal with the issues of that day. Joan Marks, the director at the time, encouraged us all to be risk takers, to take paths not taken; she was a key influence on me and the direction my career took.
Where were you fieldwork assignments?
I did the program part time and worked part time as well. When it came time to do my placements I had moved from New Jersey to Connecticut so I requested placements in close geographical proximity. There were none, so I became the first student to do a placement at Yale New Haven Hospital and the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington, CT. I also did placements at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the Hemophilia Clinic at Mt. Sinai in Manhattan.
What type of skills/knowledge did you acquire through your fieldwork, which have aided you in your professional life?
Besides learning genetics and counseling in my fieldwork, I gained an understanding of the politics of the workplace, of the genetics community, and how to conduct myself as a professional. Because I was the first counselor in two of my four placements, I gained confidence in my ability to pioneer new opportunities for genetic counselors. This is what I have continued to do throughout my career.
Where have you worked, and what have you worked on, since graduating?
I worked in a medical center for two years as their first Prenatal Diagnostic Coordinator. I then looked for opportunities closer to my home in Connecticut and created the first genetic counselor position in a community hospital—Norwalk Hospital. After a few years I developed a private practice in genetic counseling. Then a genetic testing company approached me about working for them so I left the clinical arena and took a marketing position with Vivigen (now Genzyme Genetics). As a marketer, I actually did a lot of education and learned how to develop materials for diverse target audiences, to keep messages concise, and developed relationships with new collaborators such as instructional designers, graphics companies, meeting organizers, etc. I eventually became the Manager of Clinical Services for several years and then moved on to Genetics Education Strategy Advisor for a pharmaceutical company, GlaxoSmithKline, where I applied all my learnings from years past.
During my career as a genetic counselor I have always maintained a relationship with Sarah Lawrence and the Human Genetics program. While I had my private practice I also worked part time for the program as the Fieldwork Facilitator—placing the students, preparing sites for accreditation, and authoring the first Fieldwork Placement manual. I have also returned to teach Professional Issues.
Have you pursued/do you intend to pursue another degree or explore certification options?
I obtained a certificate in a DNA course in 1994 and have taken several education courses. However, I do not intend to pursue another degree at this time.
What advice can you offer people who are considering pursuing Human Genetics as a career?
If you want to be a member of an interesting profession, in an engaging field that has no boundaries, then Human Genetics is right for you. One can be a clinical genetic counselor, apply their genetics and counseling skills in business, public health, and or health policy—it is a wonderful profession and leads to a great career.