Tara Shea '03
Lead counselor with Genzyme Genetics, San Diego, CA
When a career test suggested “genetic counselor,” Tara Shea’s love of science and people—and experience with her own genetic condition—came together.
Foundations/Motivations: Had genetic condition, wanted career in genetic counseling
Experiences: Gained counseling experience in clinical rotations
Results: Works as genetic counselor
As a patient with a genetic condition known as brittle bone disease, Tara was intrigued by the idea of genetic counseling as a career. But when she started looking into human genetics master’s programs, the odds were stacked against Sarah Lawrence. She planned to remain on the West Coast, where she had been living since college. And the day she visited Sarah Lawrence, New York was in the throes of a snowstorm. Despite the weather, she says, “it was very warm and kind of felt like home.” Plus, she liked the fact that Sarah Lawrence has one of the country’s largest programs, with classes tailored to human genetics students.
B.S., Psychology, Biology minor, University of San Diego (1999)
Reproductive health counselor, trainer, Planned Parenthood (2001–2003)
Within two weeks of arriving at Sarah Lawrence, Tara embarked on the first of seven lab and clinical rotations. She worked at a range of sites, from a lab on Staten Island to a medical center in New Jersey, dealing with cancer, prenatal, and pediatric patients. At first, she mostly observed, but soon she was counseling. By her fourth rotation, she was handling five or six cases a day on her own. “Sarah Lawrence gives you so many clinical rotations where you meet people and network and make a name for yourself,” she says. “It really pays to go to Sarah Lawrence for that reason.”
Tara’s required 950 hours of clinical work included seven rotations:
- Genzyme Genetics, Yonkers, New York (lab rotation)
- Institute for Basic Research (IBR), Staten Island (prenatal rotation)
- Blythedale Children’s Hospital, Valhalla, New York (pediatric rotation)
- University of California, San Diego (cancer rotation)
- Albert Einstein College of Medicine/Montefeur Hospital, the Bronx (prenatal and reproductive genetics rotation)
- Hackensack University Medical Center, Hackensack, New Jersey (cancer, pediatrics, and prenatal rotation)
- Hackensack Medical Center (continuation of previous rotation)
In her thesis, Tara studied obstetrical issues, pregnancy management, outcomes, and psychosocial characteristics of pregnant women with osteogenesis imperfecta type III and type IV. (Osteogenesis imperfecta is the kind of brittle bone condition that Tara has.)
After leaving NYC, Tara accepted a position at the San Diego Perinatal Center, which was funded by Children's Hospital of San Diego, working with Dr. Marilyn Jones, Medical Geneticist. Tara says, "just last April, the docs at the San Diego Perinatalogy Center decided to have the genetics funding come from Genzyme Genetics. I was offered a full-time position with Genzyme which would allow me to stay at San Diego Perinatal Center, which I accepted. It's been 4 months since the transition and it's going well. I'm lead counselor and really enjoying doing prenatal counseling."
- M.S., Human Genetics, Sarah Lawrence College (2003)
- San Diego Perinatal Center/Genzyme Genetics (2005-present)
- Genetic counselor and clinical coordinator, Center for Skeletal Dysplasias at the Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, New York (2003–2005)
- Teacher, Human Genetics Graduate Program, Sarah Lawrence College (2003–2005)
Because she uses a wheelchair, Tara is very aware of every barrier to accessibility. When she arrived at Sarah Lawrence, she found a lot of barriers. So for her community project (required of all Human Genetics students), she and two classmates started a student-run organization called Challenged Students Support Services. Within two years, Sarah Lawrence had made a lot of physical changes to the campus and assigned a faculty member to work with physically and learning disabled students.