As genetic counselors, Dylan Platt and Allison Hutchinson represent an investment for Sanford Health. That is also the case for Augustana University, where the pair prepared to become part of a fresh approach to medicine.
In 2016 Augustana and Sanford entered into a graduate program partnership aimed at educating future genetic counselors. Hutchinson was part of the first class for the Augustana Sanford Genetic Counseling Graduate Program (ASGCGP). Platt was part of the second.
Their presence as members of the genetic counseling team signifies that Augustana offers a graduate degree that embraces the future of health care. Sanford Imagenetics, in turn, has a new and local source for dedicated, talented genetic counselors.
Essentially, counselors advise patients and their families in dealing with inherited conditions. They also pass along pertinent information that comes as the result of genetic tests. The scope of the profession goes well beyond that but it’s a place to start a conversation.
“My default explanation is that I help out individuals and families who are currently experiencing some medical conditions, as well as the social aspects that surround that,” Platt said. “Hopefully I can help them find an answer.”
Finding a career
Platt is from Boulder, Colorado, and came to Augustana considering a career in medicine. Also a baseball player for the Vikings, he graduated in 2016 when the genetic counseling graduate program was just beginning. Platt deemed it a perfect fit.
“I hadn’t heard about Augustana’s upcoming genetic counseling program until I was a senior in college,” he said. “That was also the year they broke ground on Sanford Imagenetics. That’s when I started looking into the profession. It melded some of my interests in helping people in tough situations — with scientific aspects as well.”
Hutchinson, a University of Sioux Falls graduate, taught biology at Roosevelt High School for seven years. For another six years, she taught biomedical sciences from a curriculum called Project Lead the Way at the Career and Technical Education Academy in Sioux Falls.
She was driving home from work in her minivan one day while listening to the radio. She heard Dr. Gene Hoyme, head of Sanford Children’s Genomic Medicine Consortium and a senior advisor for Sanford Imagenetics, talking about the role genomics can play in health care and Sanford’s efforts in researching and implementing it in primary care.
Intrigued, Hutchinson eventually set out on a new career path. It took her back into the classroom, but this time as a student.
“We had a chance to shadow some of the genetic counselors and I had some great experiences,” Hutchinson said. “I had great respect for what they were doing. When the time came to apply I went for it.”
Genetics’ compelling future
Hutchinson and Platt can move forward knowing genetic counseling has room to grow. The growth applies both to patients’ understanding of how it can help them and as it applies to health care overall.
“Incorporating genetics into health care is another tool for us,” Platt said. “We’ve had cardiology and immunology and all these different fields of study that have been incorporated into the health care system. Genetics is the newest natural progression at this point.”
Each new patient — which in many cases involves whole families — becomes a project. Information comes in from several sources and genetic counselors like Platt and Hutchinson give it context.
“Many times a child or adult or a family are on a diagnostic odyssey,” Hutchinson said. “No one has put all their symptoms together and created one coherent picture. Or maybe they’ve had changes in their diagnosis, which can be frustrating. At times, just giving their symptoms a name can provide value to the family.”
- Genetic counseling in cancer: Podcast with Larissa Risty
- Teaching genetic science, empathy and communication