Sandra Donkervoort '07
- Earned her undergraduate degree from University College Utrecht, the Netherlands.
- Majored in medical science and minored in psychology.
Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence for graduate school? Why Human Genetics?
Just like most genetic counselors, I love genetics but I also wanted direct patient contact and to be able to make a significant contribution to patients' lives. There are no human genetics graduate degrees in the Netherlands; however, since I was sure that I wanted to be a genetic counselor, I decided to take the big step and cross the ocean. The genetic counseling program at Sarah Lawrence College has a great reputation and the SLC graduates have made significant contributions to the field. I was very excited about being in a big program and to have so many colleagues from various backgrounds who brought different experiences to the table. SLC has some great rotation opportunities throughout New York City, which gives you great exposure to different clinics, patient populations, and genetic counseling opportunities; this really prepares you for the outside genetic counseling world!
How did your coursework prepare you for your fieldwork and eventual career?
You definitely learn how to work under pressure and in a time crunch!
Where were your fieldwork assignments? What type of skills/knowledge did you acquire through your fieldwork, which have aided you in your professional life?
During my rotations I was able to see what an important role genetic counselors can play in helping their patients through a very emotional and difficult time. I definitely learned how to think on my feet. In addition, I learned that even though there are various types of genetic counseling, the necessary skills are the same and these skills will allow you to help patients even in the most unanticipated situations.
I remember rotating with one of the research genetic counselor and wondering how she could ever get work done with all the piles of charts, papers, and manuscripts on her desk. I am sure that my students now ask the same thing when they walk in my office and I even use the floor as a desk extension.
What was the focus of your M.S. thesis?
I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana and be involved in the kinship DNA identification process of victims of Hurricane Katrina. Since many personal belongings (e.g., hair and toothbrushes) were destroyed, some victims could only be identified through DNA profiles constructed by DNA of their relatives. Genetic counselors were needed to obtain accurate family history information from the family members. The forms that were used initially had many inconsistencies, and, thus, family history information was recorded incorrectly. For my Master’s thesis I helped to revise this form.
Where have you worked, and what have you worked on, since graduating?
I am the genetic counselor at the neuromuscular disorders program at Northwestern. I see patients with neuromuscular disease in our MDA clinic and twice a week we have ALS clinic. My role in the MDA clinic is more of a “traditional” genetic counselor and I see patients with oa DMD, BMD, SMA, CMT, etc. The majority of patients in the ALS have sporadic disease, however I also see patients with familial ALS for whom genetic testing may be an option. I spend my other days in the lab where our main research focus is to identify factors (genetic and environmental) involved in the development of both sporadic and familial ALS. In addition, I am involved with the Northwestern genetic counseling program as a clinical supervisor, and I recently started cofacilitating case practicum for the first year students. In my “spare” time I have occasionally seen patients for the Alzheimer’s disease and epilepsy clinic.
Have you/do you intend to pursue another degree or explore certification options?
I am very interested in public health genetics, and I participated in the Public Health Genetics/Genomics certificate program offered at Sarah Lawrence. At this point I am too busy with work to consider another degree; plus, the boards are coming up!
What advice can you offer to people who are considering pursuing Human Genetics as a career?
It is definitely a great field to work in with a lot of opportunities. I would encourage future students to be open to everything that this field has to offer. I have been involved in great projects that I never thought I would have the opporuntity to part of.
Do you have any anecdotes or stories you would like to share that highlight your SLC experience?
I usually don’t cry, especially not in public, but I was sobbing after the graduation ceremony.
Our work with Hurricane Katrina victims was definitely a life changing experience, and it really enriched my training as a genetic counselor.
What do you consider the strongest attribute of the Human Genetics program?
There is a lot of diversity… in classes, students, rotations, and instructors.
Who at SLC would you consider your role model, or who would you consider most inspirational, and why?
Siobhan Dolan has been a great role model and inspiration. She has a true devotion to the public health genetics field, and is a great mentor for her students. She really motivated me to think outside the box and pursue my own interests. Her classes were awesome and she did everyone at Sarah Lawrence a huge favor by volunteering to chaperone our team of students to Baton Rouge, Louisiana; she did not even have to think twice!
How have you stayed connected with SLC, and why?
I am still in contact with some of my old supervisors, although we are colleagues now! I have moved to Chicago, so there is a little distance, but we are still working on some of the projects that came out of our trip to Baton Rouge.