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#138 Genetic Counseling Boards Advice

by Kira Dineen
January 1st 2021

To kick off 2021, we have a big announcement! All episodes of the show will now be recorded in video as well as audio. You can watch this episode on ... More

how is it that we find ourselves surrounded by such complexity. Hello, Hello, You're listening to DNA Today, a genetics podcast and radio show, I'm your host cards nine. I'm also a certified genetic counselor practicing in the prenatal space on the show. We explore genetics impact on our health through conversations with leaders and genetics. These are experts like genetic counselors on this episode, Researchers, doctors and patient advocates for this episode. I'm joined by fellow genetic counselors who also recently took the boards exam. We're going to be sharing our experiences studying and offering tips that we learned along the way. So joining me here is Ali Abbott, who is a pediatric genetic counselor at Phoenix Children's Hospital in Arizona. We both graduated from Sarah Lawrence College is program together last year in 2020. Also joining me is Danica Vermin who is a cancer genetic counselor at Danbury Hospital in Connecticut.

She has graduated from L. I use genetic counseling program in 2018 and she was also one of my supervisors as a grad student. So welcome to the show guys, thank you. Happy to be here. Thanks for having us. We have lots of information to share about genetic counseling boards. But before we get into that, I did want to mention that there's another episode about the genetic counseling boards. Episode 1 26 which we're going to link to in the show notes for this episode available DNA podcast dot com. And that was with Adam Buchanan and he is the president or was the president in 2020 of the american board of genetic counseling and he shared his insight coming from that position and with the new edition of taking the exam online. So if you haven't checked that out, You can go back and listen to that episode for the full boards insight experience. And I also wanted to mention exciting announcement to kick off the new year. All episodes in 2021 of DNA today is going to be available as a recording for video on YouTube so you can check it out on our YouTube channel.

Um, everything is going to be the same in terms of the audio podcast, we're just adding this new component to the show. So definitely feel free to go check that out on our Youtube channel. So today again we're talking about genetic counseling board. So I thought we would start at the beginning of how we all started studying with this alley. Do you want to start us out with how you started to organize your content and figured out a place to begin studying for what may be like the biggest exam of our lives. Yeah, definitely. So I started by using the boards course as kind of an outline for my study plan and we will get more into the boards course later on. But um basically I used all of those lectures to group my study plan and I made a whole color coded excel sheet because that's my thing and planned, which weeks I was going to study what information. Um I'm the kind of person who needs a lot of that external motivation.

So checking off checkboxes as I go through is very important to me. So that was my plan is to color code information and make a plan way ahead of time so that I could go through it and you know, I can adjust as I go. But making a plan was important for me because I know that I'm not very good at motivating myself or making sure I do something on the fly. And how about for you Danny? How is the process of as you were starting to pull together study materials? Yeah. So have actually taken the boards and more than once the temperature, we're both kind of unravel those layers throughout this conversation. Um, but my first attempt, I honestly, I didn't know where to start and I was fresh out of school, I tried to take it right away in august just to try to get it behind me. Um, so I really didn't know where to start, what timeline I needed. And I had purchased the board's course as a place to start. Um and I had that list of the 100 syndromes, the common syndromes to be looking at.

And I feel like I had solely relied on those and as incredible and as household those resources, were I had really just looked at everything one time and I didn't really go back and then keep re reviewing. I didn't use any supplemental materials from my time in grad school and I think that was really where my mistakes were is that I should be utilizing those resources going back to all that pertinent information and not just like you know once over was enough, it definitely was not. Um so then I really think it was my my stuff can attempt where I really, you know, he was able to dive in a little bit deeper and I actually made all those syndromes into individual flashcards, so copying everything over looking at it multiple times and using the textbooks that green book to get a little bit more information of the sites, psychosocial aspects of genetic counseling. So I really actually was able to learn from that and take a turn and be more comprehensive and my and my next step, there's so much information to cover that.

It feels daunting at the beginning is like figuring out of grad schools two years. But I feel like there's even more information than just like during grad school that were responsible for for the exam and everything. So I think I'm similar to both of you in terms of like the spreadsheets and the binders and you know, all the organizational sections and everything and I think for me like rote memorization is key that I've kind of learned that you know just write it as many times you can and then it's kind of in my memory more um and along with that is alley that you were saying um kind of breaking it up into sections of like you know, you have your core areas that we represent three areas here of like prenatal cancer and pediatrics. But then looking further than that that the board exam doesn't just cover that maybe back in the day it did, but now it's so many other areas like you know neuro cardiac and even like the math section, I think for me was you know, more daunting and challenging there. Um So I think starting out with all those sections as you guys were saying, it is a good place, good place to start. And you guys mentioned the board's course as well. Um Danny before we were, before we're recording we were talking about like the group rates with all of that.

Um How does that work in terms of you know, having a discount if you are signing up with other members. So I believe for 2 to 5 individuals signing up for a group rate, you actually get a $50 discount. I believe the board's course for an individual's around $1000. So with that discounted the 950 per person and then if it's six people in the group or more, there's actually $100 discount cell would be $900 per person and with that it's, you know, as we were kind of saying it's a great place to start that. There's a lot of information in the board's course um and that it's not necessarily sufficient or comprehensive for everything on the exam, as Danny are kind of pointing out before. Um But it's it's certainly helpful and you know, it can be hard to know where to start um and everything like that. Is there anything else alley that you experience with the board's course to weigh in on? Yeah, so I definitely use that as a starting place, but after going through the boards course, I kind of gave myself enough time after that to then go back through all those sections, but it is a good place to help you break up your studying material into sections and say, okay, I'm gonna study this, this, this and then this because it does kind of just as it is, breaks up the material into these like core different sections, which are helpful and it includes things like cardio, which I did end up seeing a lot of on my court or on my exam.

But of course itself does need to be supplemented with things you learn from class and things you get from classmates and other people. Um your year with other study materials. Yeah, certainly like a good place to start as you said, and that, you know, needing to take from other materials. What other materials did you guys rely on when you were studying um Danny, did you want to share any experiences you had with other study materials? Yeah. So as I had mentioned, my next cards were key. I would actually trick my fiance into doing christmas with me and it ended up being really fun because he didn't know how to pronounce half of the words that were on them. Um So that was a big thing and that was just made it a little bit more fun and interactive. Um I went back and if I had any recorded lectures from my time in graduate school I actually rewatched them and was able to take notes. And now after doing the board review course I actually knew a little bit more what to be focusing on my biggest biggest resource and I can't stress this in office if you can get your hands on as many practice questions as possible.

Do the practice questions do that practice test that they actually offer, I don't know the E. G. C. Or whoever offer that practice exam. I think the more practice questions I did more comfortable I became, the more I knew what to focus on when going back and reading all of my notes from my classes and I really think doing all those practice questions and putting in that time you know, really allowed me to be successful with the board. Yeah I think the practical exam was so key and I think um one thing that I heard from other peers that um, some people took it too late that it was very close to their exam where they weren't able to really look at their areas of strength. Say, okay, I've really studied that area and I feel confident that I'm going to get enough questions right in that area and then looking at areas where they weren't as confident and getting more questions wrongs that they didn't have enough time to really focus on that area. Um, so I know for me, I took my practice exam, um, I think like a month before my real exam, so I had an additional month um, to go through that material that I wasn't as good at the math.

I like totally forgot to study a lot of the psych material and I was like, wow, I need to go through that because I got a lot of questions wrong there and um kind of pointing out different areas, I think that's really helpful and you know, in terms of the timeline of studying, of not waiting to last minute to give yourself that chance. Um, Ali starting with you, what did your timeline look like for studying? Like how many weeks or months did you set aside and how did your study schedule look? Yeah, so my study schedule was definitely impacted by the coronavirus, I was planning on originally taking the boards, this upcoming February 2021, but because I had so much time on my hands starting in March, I began studying in april and decided to take the boards in august so I had a lot of time with nothing to do but study which I think really benefited me in a lot of ways. Also gave me a lot of anxiety leading up to the test because I had been studying for it for so long, but I really did start studying in april and that ended up taking the test in august.

Yeah, it was the same timeline with that. I think most of our class started setting like april 1st, it was like get through the March 1st two weeks of the last two weeks of March, figuring out our lives and not going back to campus and everything and then saying alright if we're stuck at home, I guess we're studying for the next four months, I probably wouldn't recommend that, but if you're in a time like now and you have the weekends that you can stay home and study and also prevent the spread, that I think that's a great idea. Yeah, Yeah, definitely, that can be a focus, but then also putting those study breaks in and everything um for you Danny, how did that look in terms of study plans for when you were gearing up for the boards? Yeah, so um my timeline at least for my first attempt was a little crunched, I went straight from graduation to starting my job full time and I had another counselor there with me for two weeks and then I was kind of on my own is the only full time to a counselor at my hospital really. Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Really trying to navigate what that was going to look like and then plus okay now boards is hanging over my head and as I said, I really just wanted to do it as quick as possible and get it in the past, which I now know is definitely not the right move because that's not the right mindset to be in. You got to be rested and ready to go. Um But I would say you know, with that excluded, I would say I gave myself four months between not passing in august and then my next attempt in february. Yeah, definitely. It seems like that's kind of the the average of what I've talked to people and it's certainly going to differ if you're, you know spending if that's your main focus of the week or if you're working as well. Um I was fortunate that I was starting my job afterwards so you know, um that was the only focus so that certainly made it easier to study, but that in some ways you kind of lose your mind a little bit because that's the only thing you're doing and you're like I always need to be studying. Um So going back to other resources.

Um I don't know if we mentioned yet the guide to genetic counseling. I think all of us relied on that in terms of, of reading that alley's got to put it in front of you. So it's not blurred. Nice. Yes. They're liking the video version. Yes. Or the famous green book there, which I, I forget the name of all the time because we just call it the green book Internet counseling. You gotta take someone. What is the actual name of the green book? I had to Do that counseling. 2nd edition edited by Wendy are Roman Jane, L Shoot Beverly, M Yashar, hopefully I'm saying your names right. And so how did you use that alley in terms of studying? I read this like a bedtime story to be honest. And I'd read a couple chapters every other night or so. Going to bed and I'd highlight, but I didn't, I definitely think that it's very useful and I go back to those parts where I thought that, you know, I'd flag pages that I thought might be useful. Um, but definitely going to be honest, I skimmed a lot of it because it's a full book.

It was really helpful in terms of learning the psycho, social things that you need to know for the exam. Yeah. I think that's what filled in my gap the most. I think I spent the last two weeks or so. I was like, all right, what else should I study? I'm getting sick of reading my notes over and over. Like all right, let me read a book because that's going to be a little bit of a different way of studying. Um Danny. Anything you found to be interesting um Using the book or any other resources. I have to say my experience is pretty similar, right? I read it cover to cover. I really didn't want to miss anything. Um And it was really helpful My from reading that book, my psychosocial scores really went up dramatically. So that was really great. Um Yeah, I mean I think we've covered a lot of the really important resources except the one thing we haven't talked about is if there are people who have already taken the board exam or you know, other schools that you can reach out to to get resources. As many practice questions would be amazing. As many people who can help hold you accountable, do a study session with a partner, a couple of partners, even just going over review questions or reviewing different concepts that you're not sure about.

Working with other people to study really helped me. And you know, it kept me motivated. I think that was really key for me to is my study group. I I can guarantee I wouldn't have passed the board without my study group and I am not the type of person who likes to study in a group. I'm a very in school. I was always very individually studying. But with this test it I think it really does take a village and you need to reach out to other supposed to be a part of facebook groups. You need to look at the discord group if you know how to do that. I didn't honestly, but I had friends that did and gather information from other people because that is so important from this test for this test. Yeah, I totally echo that. I think it was really helpful to be in a study group of just um and I'm similar to you ali like I don't normally studying a group. I'm usually just by myself, my notes and everything. But um for this, it is such a different exams. So it's like any way that you can engage with, the content can be really helpful.

And I know from my study group we wouldn't, we would kind of just think of things in questions and things that we were unsure of throughout the week and jot them down and then we met, we would just go through that and ask each other questions. So it wasn't us necessarily like, okay, let's go through Seattle genetics and carry a types or something. It was like, hey, I don't understand this part to someone else. Get it. Um So I found that to be like a helpful way to do it. Um and as you guys, yeah, go ahead on things that we really struggled with. I remember really struggling with hardy Weinberg, which seems so basic, but I was like, hey can I make a power point and describe hardy Weinberg to you guys and you know how everyone always says teach by doing so that's what I tried to do or learn by teaching whatever it is. I tried to do that everything that I was struggling with, I tried to teach them and in that way when I was learning it better because I was forcing myself to teach it. Yeah. And even sometimes we would do um taking quizzes together where someone would share the screen and then we talk about it and we kind of debate like answers.

And I think that is really good because then you're using a different part of your brain of trying to explain someone or fight someone on an answer and it gets somewhat interesting. Um And as you guys were saying two of connecting with people and other programs, I knew that Danny wasn't from Sarah Lawrence, I was like, oh this is someone that I can reach out to and and say what material, you know, could you bestow upon me so that I can help my studying and um you know, connecting with people in other programs can be really key when it comes to that because you know, you're going to have the same information as your peers from the same program. So um that can be something to really help out and um I don't know if we mentioned the NSG c practice guidelines. Uh Yes. Go ahead Ollie. Well I just I think that was the thing that really helped me the most was you can google NSG practice guidelines and they'll come up and those are going to give you kind of step by step instructions for certain conditions. If your patient is diagnosed with with X. Y. Z, what are you going to do next? And that was a huge chunk of the questions that was on my exam.

Yeah, definitely. I think like going through and just knowing it and they're all sure I was expecting to sit down, read something really long. I think most of them were a few pages. So it wasn't, you know, it wasn't too bad in terms of like attention span, especially if you're reading a whole book on genetic counseling, then then those are a breeze. Um And any specific tips Danny in terms of looking at the content, looking at the syndromes, anything that you found to be helpful of like patterns or different ways of studying. Um As I said earlier, I would definitely just say if there are other people who can go through it with you, especially, you know, you know, a layperson who wouldn't necessarily understand what certain characteristics are. I found that, you know, by then being like, oh ha ha this is X. Y. Z. It actually helped me make those connections a little bit stronger. So you know, I like the two of you was always an independent study or just wanted to be locked in a quiet room and left alone. Uh the more people who I worked with and studied with on this really helped make me very successful.

Yeah, I think that's a really good point and just being able to bounce off other people for this content and looking for the syndromes of looking like what's unique for some of them because some of them have, especially the metabolic conditions where it's like you have a certain scent or something like that, where it's like, oh, you hear sweaty feet? You think I used to know the answer to that? But you know, you think of like the certain disorder that goes with the eyes of a lyric Asadi mia, something like that. We should have recorded this right after the boards. But yeah, so I think looking for those unique things and something else I learned was um looking at, if you have similar conditions, what is the difference between the two? Um So if there's type one, type two of a certain condition, like, okay, you might just lump those in your head, not for the boards, You really want to zero in on what the differences are going to be between those. Um And then another help me with that was, was the flash cards because on my flash cards at least I only wrote down those kind of key things so that I would know them immediately once I saw the condition as well as the inheritance pattern.

Yeah, and with inheritance patterns coming from the prenatal side, my brain goes to like, okay, what's on carrier screening because most of what's on carrier screen is going to be awesome or recessive except for a couple ones like fragile X. Or the muscular dystrophy. So for the most part, if you're thinking, oh I remember in a rotation that was on carrier screening then it's probably ought to sell more recessive and that's like 200 or something conditions. Um So I think there are certain things that ways of thinking can help because you can't memorize everything. Um And so I think, you know, figuring out the little tricks along the way. Um And then another thing that comes up a lot is people asking about calculators. Um And so just as a quick mention that there is no calculator on the exam, the math is pretty straightforward and that's coming from someone who really can't do math. So um you know, I I didn't have too hard of a time in terms of uh the math on their um and Danny, do you want to talk a little bit about the difference between taking the test in august in february and just the experience there of taking the difference because some people ask, okay what's better february, august.

Yeah, sure. So um I have my experience with the florida exam, I took a couple of times, actually ended up taking it three times unfortunately. Um I would say that time of year doesn't make that much of a difference other than if, you know that during your summers you like to be sitting by the pool and having fun and you know, taking it in august, it really just put a damper on your summer, at least from what I experience. Um, but I would just say make sure that you're ready when, when you want to sign up and as much as we want to get it over with and getting in the past, not passing the first time was really, really hard. It was very devastating. I, you know, lost a lot of confidence in myself because I thought I just went through this very rigorous graduate program, I feel really prepared for my career and then I didn't pass the board. So it took a lot of you know, self confidence building and a lot of positive reinforcement from my family and from my friends and what I didn't know at the time that I initially hadn't passed that I wish I knew because I would have felt a lot better is after I finally felt comfortable sharing, you know, unfortunately I actually didn't pass, but I am going to try again.

So many people came out of the woodwork that I never expected, that had never had said a word before, me signing up for my exam for the first time, that they said, oh I didn't pass and it was devastating for me too. I know how you feel, but you absolutely are going to pass this and you're still, it's not going to impact your ability to be a great genetic counselor, you're still amazing and what you do. Um and it just made me feel so much better and I don't know why no one talks about that. You don't always pass the first time and you might not even pass the second time, but you will pass, you just have to identify where your weaknesses are and work to improve and reach out to people get those resources, don't be afraid to ask questions or pay. Can you go over this with me? And I ended up finding out that one of my supervisors had had it passed up until her fourth attempt, her last and final effort before she would have had to go through her whole graduate training again.

And you know, if she could do it, I could do it and I did it and you know, and now I'm so glad that I went through that journey. Yes, I think it made me stronger and more mature, you know, really show that you really have to work for what you want. It's not always easy, but anything is attainable and we have a really great society of people who are always willing to help and band together and share resources. So I think we're really lucky, beautifully said Danny, I mean you are like such a great genetic counselor and like you know, it was such a great experience being a student under you a couple of summers ago and I think it's just so well said that you know, that is something that's not talked about, I think it's similar to not getting into grad school the first round or the second round. Um I think this is kind of like the new version of that of people not necessarily coming out right away and saying, oh I didn't pass the first time or the second time. And so I think this is something that yeah, we should normalize more and like it's really hard for a reason. You know, it's like we want to make sure that everybody knows as much information as we can, being genetic counselors and you know, it is really hard.

This is not something to take lightly, it's a really tough exam, but like as Danny said, I think that's a really good note to end on that. Um you know, you, you will pass and you'll put the time in and then it will feel really good when you do. Yeah, I'm so glad that you brought that perspective. Like even studying for months and months and months, I've only passed by a few points. So it is a difficult test. Yeah, yeah, definitely. So I just want to remind everybody, you can go back and listen to episode 1 26 with Adam Buchanan. He was the president of the american board of genetic counseling that provides the board exam for genetic counselors. So he was the president last year in 2020. And so he shared his insight and even talking about the new remote, taking the boards remotely, which I should have checked. I think they're doing that this year Um in February. So, um, certainly something you know, to look into there. And also if you haven't checked it out yet, you can check out our new YouTube channel. All of the episodes are by the end of this month, all of the episodes of the show are going to be on there. And all the episodes in 2021 are going to be recorded on video including this episode.

So if you'd like to see Ali and Danny's Beautiful faces, you can go to our Youtube channel and you can see us there. Um, and so be sure to check out DNA podcast dot com for all of the episodes of the show and show notes. So anything that we've mentioned in the episode, we're going to link to, we're going to link to the green book. Um lots of information there and you can search DNA today on twitter instagram, youtube facebook to connect with us there. So again, any questions you have for me, Ali Danny can be sent into info at DNA podcast dot com. So thanks for listening and join us next time to learn, discover new advances in the world of genetics. D n A n A n a.

#138 Genetic Counseling Boards Advice
#138 Genetic Counseling Boards Advice
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