Double major in Health Sciences and Pre-medicine
The B.E.S.T. Gene
When science produces a breakthrough discovery, ordinary people may or may not feel affected by the news. When genetics started making headlines years ago, it became clear that human lives could be saved by the links that were being made by researchers, geneticists and genetic counsellors.
B.E.S.T. Project Fund recipient Alexa Ehlebracht’s long-term plan is to be a part of this burgeoning field, and her summer internship will help her do just that. Indeed she’ll be travelling back to her hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, to work as a clinical assistant in the genetics department at the Children’s Hospital in Eastern Ontario.
“I will be shadowing genetic counsellors and geneticists, and my dream is to do what they’re doing,” says Alexa. “But they have different roles. Geneticists are doctors specialized in the genetics field. They evaluate, diagnose, and manage patients with hereditary conditions or congenital malformations. They calculate genetic risk and also conduct studies, tests and counsel patients with genetic disorders.”
“On the other hand, genetic counsellors meet with patients or their relatives who are at risk of an inherited disorder, and advise them on the consequences and nature of the disorder, the probability of developing or transmitting it, and the choices available to them.”
Alexa’s internship will allow her to see the complexities of her future occupation. “At this hospital the genetic counsellors handle a lot of prenatal cases, where parents are the carriers for some genes,” she points out. “They will answering questions from parents like, ‘What are the chances that my child will have some genetic defect?’ ‘How should I approach that?’ ‘What kind of care will my child need?’ ”
The 20-year-old credits B.E.S.T. for giving her the opportunity to develop the critical skills to handle the delicate issues that often accompany each case. “The internship will allow me to improve my people skills, but also my communication and organizational skills. I hope to learn more about patient care, how the genetic counsellors and geneticists deal with patients on a one-on-one basis, and how they make their diagnosis.”
Alexa’s duties will also include verifying the charts of patients, entering data, and running laboratory results.
As the president of Bishop’s University’s Pre-med club, Alexa feels fortunate to be one of this year’s recipients. “It’s rare to get experience in the genetics field before doing a Master’s degree, and I know it will increase my chances of getting accepted into medical school,” she says. “That’s what so great about B.E.S.T.: it gives people the opportunity to do something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do. Bishop’s puts a lot of emphasis on our individual learning, and this fund allows students to learn in a very specialized way inside a project that’s close to what they want to pursue after graduation.”