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Helping Families Understand Genetic Health


When she entered Hamilton Emily Palen ’14 already knew she wanted to be a genetic counselor, so she majored in neuroscience and studied for a semester at the New England Center for Children, a longtime Hamilton partner. Her first step after College was a master’s degree in genetic counseling at the Boston University School of Medicine.

Now Palen is a genetic counselor and research coordinator at Geisinger’s Autism & Developmental Medicine Institute, which treats and evaluates children with autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays or intellectual disabilities. The institute is located in in Lewisburg, Pa. A large part of Palen’s job is talking with families about whether they want to pursue genetic testing, and if they do, first making sure that they are fully informed about it.

 “On the back end, when we get the results, I spend a lot of my time interpreting those results, looking at the genetic changes that have been identified to figure out whether or not this is our answer for this family and what to do next,” she says. “And then I’m a genetic counselor, so there’s the counseling aspect of it, too, making sure that the family is supported and fully understands these results.”

Palen translates genetic concepts into language families can easily understand, and she attributes much of her ability to do that to Hamilton’s emphasis on communicating and writing.

Her job is also to help people who have had genetic testing share their reports to contribute to a broad international database. And she’s just started working with Geisinger’s MyCode Community Health Initiative, which collects and analyzes blood samples that are used to study the genetic causes of diseases.

In all aspects of her work, Palen has found that her written and oral communication skills have been of great value. “I’ve always felt that my ability to communicate has carried me really far. Some of the projects that I’m working on, I don’t think I would have been put on if I wasn’t as effective a communicator, and I absolutely attribute that to Hamilton,” she says.

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