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Family cancer battle inspires student’s journey to genetic counseling career


Witnessing a cancer care team in action inspired Laura Gorecki to pursue a career in genetic counseling at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center UTHealth Houston Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

Gorecki decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology at Temple University, in her home state of Pennsylvania, after her dad was diagnosed with oral cancer.

“I was opened up to the world of cancer,” she said. “There are so many other people involved in that journey in addition to your oncologist. I shadowed a genetic counselor and saw the support they bring to patients and families during times of pain and uncertainty. Through my dad’s experience, I was able to see, as a family member, how someone needs a community effort to help them get through cancer. Going through that experience inspired me to support patients and their families through times of uncertainty.”

Gorecki said she wanted to work in a science-related field and was looking for a degree program that had a research component. She discovered genetic counseling, which offered the perfect opportunity to combine genetics expertise with patient care.

“Genetic counseling is helping patients to navigate complex genetic information while supporting them through their genetic testing, results, and diagnostic journey,” she said. “Genetic counselors play an important role as part of a health care team by providing professional expertise and psychosocial counseling about how an inherited condition may affect patients and their families. They can take on many roles, which may involve direct patient care, research, and education.”

Gorecki found her passion, but it took a few more years for her dreams to be realized in Houston. There are 55 genetic counseling programs in the United States, and each has a selective and competitive admission process.

“It’s not uncommon to have to apply multiple times, and I’m an advocate for prospective students who are going through that process,” she said. “Once you know genetic counseling is for you, you do what it takes to achieve that goal.”

Gorecki’s journey included three application cycles and multiple opportunities to gain experience in the field. She worked for two years for a preclinical contract research organization and for a year as a genetic counseling assistant in Pennsylvania — where she also supported patients as a hospice volunteer — before coming to the Texas Medical Center to complete her genetic counseling program.

“I’m so happy that I ended up at UTHealth Houston,” she said. “This is my dream profession, and after learning about all that this university offers, it’s my dream school. I was overjoyed that I matched with this program.”

Once at UTHealth Houston, Gorecki was awarded the a genetic counseling scholarship, funded by the graduate school’s Dean’s Impact Fund, which has allowed her to get the most out of the prestigious program. The Dean’s Impact Fund is one of many supported on Giving Day — an annual 24-hour fundraising period where the UTHealth Houston community comes together to support initiatives that are meaningful to them.

“I was someone who worked a lot in undergrad because I had to support myself, and it wasn’t easy. It can be a difficult balancing act between being a student and an employee, while also keeping all the other commitments in your life,” she said. “This scholarship has helped me afford tuition and living expenses without having to work full time so that I can fully focus on succeeding in my classes and clinical rotations. It has allowed me to receive an excellent education at a genetic counseling program with so much to offer — to be the best future genetic counselor that I can be.”

It’s been a long road, but in May, Gorecki will earn a Master of Science in genetic counseling and join the workforce.

“Life can be stressful, but it’s important to take a moment to appreciate the journey and realize how far you’ve come,” she said. “I am proud of myself and how far I’ve come, and I’m so appreciative of the support and encouragement I’ve received along the way.”