For Genetic Counsellor Nadia Preitner, a willingness “to go where my interests lay” has taken her halfway around the world—and to a fulfilling role that unites genetic know-how with patient well-being.
Yet it’s been a surprising journey for the Otago graduate, from laid-back New Zealand to cosmopolitan Switzerland and flamboyant France, to her current position in loud and lively London.
“I’ve chosen things that I enjoy, rather than following a firm path,” Nadia explains, “and that’s how I’ve ended up with the interesting career I have now.”
Originally intending to study biomedical sciences at Otago, Nadia instead found herself drawn towards genetics. “I found the programme so broad, from Arabidopsis [a flowering plant used as a model genetic organism] to humans,” she says. “Though I was always more interested in human genetics.”
She also loved to travel and, once armed with an Honours degree in genetics, eventually ended up as a research assistant in a university hospital laboratory in Switzerland. While there, and still not entirely sure what career path to take, she bumped into a Genetic Counsellor.
“That’s when I had a ‘eureka moment’,” she says. “Genetic counselling seemed a career with a perfect mix of genetics and patient care.”
Already fluent in French, she enrolled in a Master’s degree in Genetic Counselling in Marseille, followed by jobs in Burgundy and Switzerland. Finally, in late 2018, she took up her current role working for a Regional Genetics Service, in North West London.
“I wanted to broaden my experience, and work in a country where the profession is more established” she says.
The job—which combines professional counselling skills with a specialist knowledge of medical genetics—is fundamentally about “empowering people to make decisions,” Nadia says.
“Genetic counsellors communicate health and genetic information to patients and families,” she explains, working in a wide range of areas such as hereditary cancer, prenatal diagnosis and family planning.
“For many people, the results of genetic testing can be life-changing. Genetic counsellors help individuals to realise choices about testing and medical management, and support them throughout this process.”
And while the work can often be challenging, at its heart are real human beings, Nadia says. “You have the privilege of working with people at a time that can be very difficult.”
Although like health professionals across the world, Nadia’s work has been disrupted by the Covid pandemic, she says in normal times “one of the beautiful things about this job is exposure to different people and cultures”.
Yet despite loving London, Nadia does now have one firm path she’d like to follow.
“I would really like to move closer to home and one day work in Aotearoa.”
Written by Mick Whittle
Images Supplied by Nadia Preitner