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Communication in Cancer Genetics

Written by Paige Brown

Two years before my impending graduation from the University of Cincinnati, I began wondering what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I was majoring in psychology with a minor in communication, but I had no idea what I wanted to do with that degree. Did I want to be a therapist? How about a researcher? As I continued my coursework in the field of communication, I began to love the application of it. I was constantly thinking about how we communicate and why we do the things we do, on a subconscious level.

After making a list of career interests and how to pursue these, I began volunteering with the genetic counselors at TriHealth’s Cancer Institute. Here, the counselors met with patients that had a family history of cancer. After determining to do a blood test to analyze the DNA for mutations, the genetic counselors sometimes had to share difficult news with the patients. This whole process, from the initial counseling session to sharing the results, was a process of communication.

Here is where my communication coursework came into play. I began to notice how the counselor would position their body, in an open and accepting way. This encouraged patients to feel safe while taking about difficult medical experiences. The counselor would nod their head and allow the patients to finish their thought before sharing their medical insight. Sometimes, when the patient was having trouble continuing, the counselor would share supportive stories and tell them how strong they were for fighting through this battle.

After taking a course titled Introduction to Interpersonal Communication, I began to apply the course material to these situations. It’s one thing to learn in a classroom how important nonverbal and verbal communication is, but until you see it in a situation that applies to you personally, it doesn’t have much meaning. I’m grateful for the opportunity to have learned about communication at UC, as well as in the field at TriHealth. Not only have I learned about an interesting field in genetics, but I’ve also learned how sensitive communication can be in a counseling field.

Paige Brown graduated from the University of Cincinnati in December 2016 with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and a minor in Communication. Throughout Paige’s academic career at the University of Cincinnati, she has found a particular interest in the study of Industrial Organizational Psychology. 


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