Heather Hampel '95, MS, CGC
- Received her Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Genetics from The Ohio State University
- Enrolled in the Human Genetics program at Sarah Lawrence College immediately after finishing her undergraduate degree
- Master's thesis topic: Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis (Jamie Griffo, MD, PhD, thesis mentor)
Why did you choose to pursue Human Genetics, and why did you choose Sarah Lawrence for graduate school?
I knew I wanted to be a genetic counselor since I was 12 years old. My mother was pregnant and was advanced maternal age and underwent an amniocentesis. We had a discussion about Down syndrome and her reasons for having the amnio, which was quite thought provoking. Then, in high school, I just loved genetics and asked for a job-shadowing experience my sophomore year. I was sent to a local University where a pediatrician named Richard Juberg, MD, PhD allowed me to observe a genetic counseling session with a pregnant woman, her husband, and her brother, who was affected with Hemophilia. I was riveted by the discussion and the unique opportunity to hear the gentleman with Hemophilia describe what his life had been like with a genetic disorder and his strong feeling that his sister should not continue her pregnancy if it was a male fetus who was affected with Hemophilia. From that point on, I single mindedly pursued my goal of becoming a genetic counselor by majoring in Molecular Genetics at Ohio State and applying to genetic counseling training programs during my last year of undergraduate work.
Everyone I talked to in 1992 told me that I should go to Sarah Lawrence. There were not as many programs then and it was (and still is) the largest and the oldest. I was very frightened of New York City coming from a small town in Ohio, but it was the best decision I could have made. I was so impressed by Joan Marks (and intimidated); she seemed so worldly to a 22 year old from Ohio (and she still does). I was also impressed by Sarah Lawrence and the Human Genetics training program. The main strength of the program, in my opinion, is the clinical training sites, which are first rate. Also, given the melting pot of ethnic backgrounds that exist in New York City, you're exposed to many rare genetic conditions that you might never see otherwise. Finally, the instructors for the courses (which are all created only for the genetic counseling students) are well-known and highly regarded geneticists, researchers, and genetic counselors.
How did your coursework prepare you for your fieldwork and eventual career?
My coursework gave me a strong basis for the life-long learning that goes along with a career in genetics. I learned the biologic mechanisms that cause certain phenotypic outcomes. More importantly, I learned to critically evaluate research studies to identify their strengths and weaknesses. This has been so helpful as I've gone on to write my own research papers and to review manuscripts for many Genetics journals.
Where were your fieldwork assignments? What type of skills/knowledge did you acquire through your fieldwork, and how have they aided you in your professional life?
- First Year
New York Hospital—cytogenetics lab
St. Luke's Roosevelt—pediatrics
Columbus Children's Hospital—pediatrics
- Second Year
Albert Einstein Medical Center—prenatal
Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center—cancer
I acquired all my counseling skills through my fieldwork: The ability to take a medical and family history, to draw a pedigree, to work with diverse patient populations, to discuss complicated genetic information in an understandable way, and to tailor the genetic counseling session to the needs of the patient—all of these skills were learned in my fieldwork at SLC.
Where have you worked, and what have you worked on, since graduating?
My last internship as a Sarah Lawrence student was at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and I immediately loved cancer genetics. As a child, I often said that I wanted to "cure cancer" when I grew up. It was the perfect combination of all my interests. They were hiring and I was lucky enough to be offered the position. Did I ever imagine that I'd actually work in Manhattan? No, but again, this was the best decision I could have made. I was lucky enough to learn cancer genetics from Ken Offit, MD, MPH and Karen Brown, MS, CGC when it was in its infancy and have continued to work in and love this area of genetic counseling for the past 12 years. I can't imagine doing anything else.
While I loved my job at MSKCC, I wanted to move back to Ohio to be closer to my family. The opportunity came when The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center recruited Albert de la Chapelle, MD, PhD from Finland to build a new Human Cancer Genetics Program. Dr. Offit faxed him a letter of introduction along with my CV, I had a phone interview, and was hired. I have been at OSU for the past 10 years. I have had the wonderful opportunity to work in research during my entire career, with my largest project being the Columbus-area HNPCC study, which involved testing 1,566 colorectal cancer patients and 562 endometrial cancer patients for Lynch syndrome (HNPCC). This has resulted in two first-author publications for me in the New England Journal of Medicine and Cancer Research. I find that the research part of my job is very stimulating and keeps things challenging and interesting. I am a Clinical Associate Professor in the Department of Internal Medicine and I have been the Interim Associate Director of the Division of Human Genetics since June of 2005.
Have you pursued, or do you intend to pursue, another degree or further certification options?
I have been certified by the American Board of Genetic Counseling since 1996 and I recertified in 2006. I am also on the Board of Directors of the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Most recently, I have been on a committee pursuing licensure for genetic counselors in the state of Ohio.
I did consider pursuing a PhD in Epidemiology at one point, but I have found that it has not been necessary for me to do the kind of work and research that I want to do.
What advice can you offer to people who are considering pursuing Human Genetics as a career?
I highly recommend genetic counseling as a career. It is a very fulfilling career. There are so many diverse opportunities within the profession, and constant new discoveries keep things interesting. Shadow a local genetic counselor so you can learn more and visit the National Society of Genetic Counselors Web site career section for more information (www.nsgc.org).
Do you have any stories you would like to share about your SLC experience?
The Human Genetics Class of 1995 (my class) at Sarah Lawrence was the 25th graduating class. I still have my faded t-shirt that we received at graduation marking the occasion. We all think that there was something quite special about our class (maybe all SLC classes feel this way...). We are all extremely involved in the profession on both the local and national level. We all learned so much from each other and we still stay in touch and enjoy getting together at the National Society of Genetic Counselors Annual Education Conference. I've made many life-long friendships among my genetic counseling classmates, supervisors, co-workers, and colleagues.