Erin M. Carter '05
- Earned her undergraduate degree from Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, MN.
- Majored in Biochemistry, Biology, and Chemistry.
In what field did you work prior to coming to SLC to study Human Genetics?
Benchwork in a developmental and cellular biology lab. My research used both immortalized cell lines and animal models (mouse, chick, Xenopus) to study a variety of signaling molecules and cytokines involved in shaping and patterning the developing embryo.
Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence for graduate school? Why Human Genetics?
Prior to entering graduate school, I spent a summer working with a genetic counselor at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. That counselor was a Sarah Lawrence alum, and she suggested the program might suit me. When I was doing my research prior to applying, I found Sarah Lawrence to be appealing for many reasons (e.g., located near New York City, first and largest program established), but number one on my list was the diversity of clinical rotations offered. Getting that much experience is important, not only because of the sheer genetics experience, but also because as a professional you enter the field having gone to many different job sites and acclimated to new systems at a variety of hospitals and/or clinics and different ways of working.
How did your coursework prepare you for your fieldwork and eventual career?
Not only was the coursework a comprehensive and didactic examination of genetics, but also it is targeted specifically for genetic counselors. Sarah Lawrence’s psychosocial emphasis was extremely important. In every patient’s life there is a need to be heard and share your story. A major part of my job is to listen and really hear what my patients are saying. Even if we both know there may not be anything that our doctors can do to “fix” a problem.
Where were your fieldwork assignments? What type of skills/knowledge did you acquire through your fieldwork, which have aided you in your professional life?
Stamford Hospital (prenatal-Connecticut), Westchester Medical Center’s Inherited Metabolic Disease program (pediatrics-Valhalla, NY), Maimonides Medical Center (pediatrics and prenatal-Brooklyn), New York University (cancer, prenatal, and pediatrics-Manhattan), Columbia University (cancer-Manhattan), and Albert Einstein College of Medicine (cytogentics and prenatal-Bronx).
The diversity of cases I saw through each of these rotations was obviously a boon to my student experience, and I had no difficulty completing my logbook in preparation for the certification exams. Another factor that is important, however, was the professional maturity that all these rotations—and in a wide variety of areas—prepares you for. At each hospital or clinic where you rotate, a different working system is in place. Each place you have to figure out transportation, how to get things done in a new hospital, all of those things that are essential skills for surviving in any workplace. All of these things help prepare you for your first job out of graduate school.
What was the focus of your M.S. thesis?
Concurrent to my graduate training at Sarah Lawrence, I completed a fellowship in the The Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental and Related Disabilities (LEND) Training Program at the Westchester Institute of Human Development. My thesis project combined my graduate training at SLC with my work as a LEND fellow. Our multidisciplinary team designed a study titled “Children Evaluated For Medium Chain Acyl CoA Dehydrogenase Deficiency (MCADD): Parental Experiences.” Our aim was to elucidate what impact a false positive MCADD newborn screen has on parental understanding of the disorder. This work was performed while working with the Biochemical genetics team at the Westchester Medical Center metabolic genetics center, directed by David Kronn, M.D. My graduate thesis provided a comprehensive review of the literature and history of newborn screening public policy while highlighting the progress of our MCADD clinical research project. The project was presented in poster format at both the 6th International Congress on Fatty Acid Oxidation and at the Annual Education Conference of the National Society of Genetic Counselors.
Where have you worked, and what have you worked on, since graduating?
My focus since graduation has been in the area of skeletal dysplasias and connective tissue disorders. Skeletal dysplasias are genetic disorders of the skeleton. Although these disorders are individually rare they affect large numbers of individuals and their families. The skeletal dysplasias comprise a group of clinically distinct and genetically heterogeneous conditions—to date there are over 350 distinct skeletal dysplasias. Since their clinical manifestations are highly variable, skeletal dysplasias can be difficult to diagnose, treat and manage. Individuals with skeletal dysplasias require access to medical and surgical expertise.
Since graduating, I have been the Clinical Coordinator, Genetic Counselor, and Clinical Research Coordinator at the Kathryn O. and Alan C. Greenberg Center for Skeletal Dysplasias at the Hospital for Special Surgery in Manhattan.
Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) has been named the top hospital in the nation in orthopedics by U.S. News & World Report in its 2007 "America's Best Hospitals" survey. The Kathryn O. and Alan C. Greenberg Center for Skeletal Dysplasias (CSD) at HSS is a recognized Center of Excellence, and is an interdisciplinary center devoted to providing comprehensive medical care for children and adults with skeletal dysplasias, more commonly known as dwarfism.
What advice can you offer to people who are considering pursuing Human Genetics as a career?
Be ready to work hard, and wear a lot of hats. Passion for your work is important, as is a drive to help people.
What do you consider the strongest attribute of the Human Genetics program?
The breadth of experiences offered by rotation placements in the area.
Who at SLC would you consider your role model, or who would you consider most inspirational, and why?
Elsa Reich was one of my professors at Sarah Lawrence as well as my final rotation mentor. Her commitment to our field, education, an emphasis on listening skills, importance of good writing and clear communication, and advocacy on behalf of her patients is the model of genetic counseling embodied. Although our styles are of course not identical, I am mindful of lessons learned from her at least once weekly.
How have you stayed connected with SLC, and why?
It is a joy to lecture on skeletal dysplasias to the genetic counseling students in the Medical Genetics course.
What is your most special memory of the time you spent at Sarah Lawrence?
Spending time studying in the basement of the library or at a local coffeeshop late at night with my classmates. The stimulating discussions that would veer on and off topic of the matter at hand built friendships and professional relationships that I rely on still. I also thoroughly enjoyed my time as president of the Graduate Student Senate, and remember fondly my time serving the graduate community and the school.