Genetic counseling helps shape health care decision-making

Jenni Mancuso knows how important answers are—even those bringing not-so-good news—particularly when the questions are difficult.

Jenni Mancuso
Jenni Mancuso

Mancuso is a certified genetic counselor in the Prenatal Genetics Clinic in the University of Iowa Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. She is one of 17 genetic counselors in various departments throughout UI Hospitals and Clinics.

“My area of focus is meeting with couples who are either currently pregnant or planning a pregnancy when they may be at higher risk to have a baby with a genetic condition,” Mancuso says. “My job as a counselor is to evaluate their risk factors, discuss further testing options to provide more information, and help them come to an informed decision about how to move forward.”

Mancuso says once parents learn their unborn child will be born with certain medical issues, she is able to provide answers to their questions—helping them understand the natural history of the condition, the variability of the condition, and the resources and support available to them once the baby is born.

The impact of genetics reaches well beyond obstetrics. With precision medicine a national priority, genetics is playing a much larger role in many health care decisions, which makes the demand for genetic counselors even greater.

Colleen Campbell, PhD
Colleen Campbell, PhD

“What we know is that genetics is going to be used as a tool in health care,” says Colleen Campbell, PhD, assistant director of the Iowa Institute of Human Genetics, based at UI Carver College of Medicine. “For doctors to be able to use genetics as a tool, we needed to add genetic counselors.”

Campbell, a certified genetic counselor at UI Carver College of Medicine, says the counselors’ jobs are all very similar but also very different. Mancuso, in Women’s Health, works with families to determine how genetics will affect the life of an unborn child. A genetic counselor at Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center at UI Hospitals and Clinics may work with cancer patients to determine if the cause of their cancer was genetic or environmental, which can influence therapy options, or whether genetics will increase the likelihood that their family members may develop the same cancer.

“We are all there to translate that genetic information for the patients and to help them feel more comfortable,” Campbell says. “It’s about providing the patient with the best information possible to allow them to make the best decisions at all times.”

Genetic counselors at UI Hospitals and Clinics:

Women’s Health: 3

Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center: 3

Division of Medical Genetics: 6

Neurology: 4 (3 full-time, 1 half-time)

Cardiology: 1 half-time

Iowa Institute for Human Genetics: 1

— Molly Rossiter

Fall 2016