Real Voices interview: Anaar Sajoo
Meet Anaar, as she tells Chrissie Giles about her life as a genetic counsellor
This interview was conducted in 2010. In the autumn of 2017, we checked to make sure its careers advice was still accurate and updated the essential subjects and salary guide sections.
What do you do?
I am a principal genetic counsellor and have been working in the field for 15 years.
Why did you become a genetic counsellor?
I did a science degree at university. I liked the science part but I didn’t want to spend all my time in the lab, and wanted some human contact, so I trained as a genetic counsellor.
What does your job entail?
Some genetic counsellors specialise, but I cover most areas, including prenatal diagnosis, cancer genetics and neurological conditions. The diseases I counsel on include cystic fibrosis, muscular dystrophy and Huntington’s disease. About half of what genetic counsellors do is to study families with lots of cancer. We test for genetic mutations that could be increasing a family’s risk of linked cancers – we find these in around 20 per cent of the families. This can be heartening work as this kind of knowledge can help subsequent cancers be detected early, and there are often therapies available.
How do you break bad news to patients?
People often think that giving bad news is the hardest part of my job, but it’s not something I do that often. Also, what we think of as ‘bad’ may not be so for the patient. When we do have ‘life-and-death’ news to give, we plan with the patient how they’d like to hear it – we can phone them before we see them in person, for example.
How has genetic testing changed over your career?
We don’t have cures for genetic conditions yet, but there’s been a lot of progress – such as increased life expectancies, better treatments and new ways to test – so we have to stay up to date. We are guided by the family, who deal with the condition first-hand, every day. Genetic counsellors translate complex medical and genetic information. Our advantage lies in listening to what they are going through, and offering a combination of support and genetic information.
Salary guide (2017)
Genomic counsellors – NHS pay bands 6–9: £26,565–£79,415 (NHS Careers).
Essential subjects (2017)
To become a genomic counsellor you’ll need to get a good degree in a bioscience subject, then apply for the graduate-entry NHS Scientist Training Programme. More information is available from NHS Careers.