Geneticist speaks on reality of workplace

In SPU’s attempt to keep its students on the cutting edge in business, technology and science, speakers of caliber are being brought to campus to educate students about the actuality of working in "the real world."

Last week the CEO of Tully’s addressed business school students. This week Robert Resta, director of genetic counseling services at Swedish Medical Center and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Genetic Counseling, gave a lecture to SPU biology students about "The Human Side of Human Genetics."

Resta did not always know he wanted to be a geneticist. He stumbled upon the idea while reading an article about genetic counseling in "Working Woman" magazine.

In a moment of self-realization, Resta said that he needed to do something useful with the information he had; he wanted to make some difference in the world.

That’s when he decided to do genetic counseling.

Resta, who gives 10-20 lectures a year, said lecturing every now and then is a nice break from emotional tension at work.

Daniel Graetzer, assistant professor of biology, said there is a great advantage to bringing in speakers like Resta.

"I think it’s excellent to bring in speakers because a lot of students haven’t been exposed to the real world," said Graetzer. "Resta deals with the human side of genetics every day of the week."

Senior Courtney Lyons agrees that speakers who work in the field benefit students’ education.

"They humanize what we are learning about. It’s easy to look at all the things we are being taught and say, ‘This is useless. How am I ever going to use it in the real world?’" Lyons said.

Genetic counseling, as defined by the American Society of Human Genetics, is a communication process that deals with the human problems associated with the occurrence or risk of occurrence of a genetic disorder in a family.

Resta said that there are currently 2,000 practicing genetic counselors in the United States, and women make up about 95 percent of them.

According to Resta, the frequency of medically significant birth defects is one in 35. A genetic counselor’s role is to help individuals or families with genetic disorders understand the diagnosis, the causes of the disorder and the available management.

Most of Resta’s patients are prenatal diagnosis patients. Prenatal diagnosis is especially important for patients who are over the age of 35. After 35, a woman’s chances of having a baby with Down Syndrome increases greatly.

Resta’s lecture dealt with some important ethical issues that arise when working in genetics counseling.

"Genetic counseling raises a whole gamut of ethical issues. It’s good that they are brought up for discussion, especially in a Christian setting," Lyons said.

Resta is currently chief investigator for the Swedish March of Dimes Project, a project for which he received a three-year grant from the March of Dimes. The goal of the project is to research and educate the women about the benefits of taking folic acid.

If taken in the very earliest weeks and days of pregnancy, folic acid will significantly lower the chance that a child will have serious birth defects. Folic acid can reduce the occurrence of these defects by at least 50 percent, sometimes up to 75 percent.

Also keeping Resta busy are his tasks as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Genetic Counseling, a journal focusing on the psychological, emotional and social aspects of genetics.

Resta said what he likes most about his job he also dislikes.

"I like having the tense emotional moments, but those are draining as well. Having to give people bad news isn’t fun no matter how many years you’ve done it–it doesn’t get any easier," Resta said.

He said that he often has to inform people that their child may have a birth defect or some predisposition to a genetic disorder.

However, Resta said he enjoys most the contact he has with people, which is the reason he became a geneticist in the first place.

"Although I know I don’t help everybody everyday, there are enough people who benefit from my services that I feel like I’m doing something useful," Resta said.

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Title: Geneticist speaks on reality of workplace | Author: Simone Van Breda | Section: News | Published Date: 2001-10-31 | Internal ID: 2258