Jordanna Joaquina '04, MS, CGC
- Received Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Barnard College of Columbia University
- Decided she wanted to be a genetic counselor in her high school AP Biology class
- Master's thesis topic: A pilot study comparing telemedicine to face-to-face cancer genetic counseling sessions
Why did you choose SLC for graduate school? Why Human Genetics?
I decided I wanted to be a genetic counselor in my high school AP Biology class after reading a story about Nancy Wexler, a researcher who helped uncover the genetic basis of Huntington’s disease after her mother passed away from the disease. I loved the paradox of being able to identify the genetic cause of a disorder, but having the ability to choose not to pursue genetic testing. I knew then, as the science progressed, genetic counselors would play a very important role in healthcare, and I wanted to be a part of it.
It took little research to discover that Sarah Lawrence was the place to be if you wanted to be a genetic counselor. The staff was impressive, the clinical rotations were exciting and progressive, and the counselors I had met from Sarah Lawrence were all pleased with their graduate experience.
How did your coursework prepare you for your fieldwork and eventual career?
My coursework provided a solid foundation for my fieldwork and career by teaching me the etiology and mechanisms of disease, how to critically evaluate research and advancements in the field, and most importantly, how to listen.
Where were you fieldwork assignments? What type of skills/knowledge did you acquire through your fieldwork, which have aided you in your professional life?
- Long Island College Hospital—Prenatal Genetics
- Albert Einstein Medical Center—Cytogenetics Lab
- Columbia University’s Huntington Disease Center—Huntington’s Disease, Alzheimer’s Disease and other Neurological Disorders
- Great Ormond Street Hospital, Royal Free Hospital, and Middlesex Hospital in London, England—Cancer Genetics
- Maimonides Medical Center—Prenatal and Pediatric Genetics
- St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital—Prenatal and Pediatric Genetics
- Cornell Medical Center—Prenatal, Pediatrics and Adult
Not only was I was fortunate to have varied clinical rotations while attending Sarah Lawrence College, but I was also able to learn from some amazing pioneers and mentors in the field of genetics.
At the conclusion of my internship at the Columbia HD Center, I was able to stay in a part-time position helping out with one of their research projects. In addition, I was offered a position at St. Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital upon graduation.
What was the focus of your thesis?
Coelho Jordanna Joaquina, Arnold A, Nayler J, et al. An assessment of the efficacy of cancer genetic counseling using real-time videoconferencing technology (telemedicine) compared to face-to-face consultations. Eur J Cancer 2005, 41, 2257-2261.
My thesis was a pilot study comparing telemedicine to face-to-face cancer genetic counseling sessions. In both cases, patients showed a similar increase in knowledge, decrease in anxiety, and high satisfaction levels.
In general, telemedicine is not commonly used in genetics because it’s effectiveness as a tool is largely understudied. The results from my thesis helped me to realize that all media can be powerful, successful tools in reaching an isolated patient population or a greater number of patients. This is one of the reasons that I co-founded AccessDNA.com, an online, patient-friendly genetics portal.
Where have you worked, and what have you worked on, since graduating?
- St.Luke’s/Roosevelt Hospital (Prenatal and Pediatric)—Dr. Mark Evans and Dr. Kwame Yeboa
- Genzyme Genetics (Prenatal)—office of Dr. Lawrence Platt and Dr. Neil Silverman
In my current position as Co-Founder and Director of Genetics for AccessDNA, Inc., I have been able to leverage my academic and clinical training to make genetics more accessible to a wider population. Using the Internet as a medium, AccessDNA.com offers reliable information about the genetics and inheritance of both common and rare diseases, genetic consultations, and genetic testing. In my new role, I am merging my genetic counseling skills with the world of the Internet, and I am quickly developing new skills in product development, marketing, public relations and business.
Have you pursued/do you intend to pursue another degree or explore certification options?
I have been board certified by the American College of Genetic Counseling since 2005. I hope to obtain my clinical doctorate in genetic counseling once a masters of science is no longer the terminal degree. Also, being a young entrepreneur, I have often thought about returning for an MBA as well.
What advice can you offer people who are considering pursuing Human Genetics as a career?
It’s a great profession, and one that is advancing as rapidly as the genetic testing technologies we utilize in practice. Although prenatal genetics is still the foundation of the profession, there are also many non-traditional and non-clinical opportunities for genetic counselors out there. I would recommend spending some time shadowing genetic counselors and visiting the different programs to get a first-hand sense of the field, the benefits it offers, and what area of concentration most interests you.