Stephanie Wallace, MS, LCGC, is Color’s lead cardiovascular genetic counselor, guiding individuals through their test results and toward productive next steps for their unique health journey. Today, Stephanie shares more about her life at Color and how building a population-level dataset around cardiovascular conditions can lead to improved outcomes.
Tell us about yourself and what got you into Genetic Counseling.
I am the lead cardiovascular genetic counselor at Color, and I also serve as the genetic counseling liaison between our team and the Scientific Affairs team. I come from a clinical/research background and have been able to use both skill sets in my role at Color. I provide support and education to our team on cardiovascular genetics and also help in launching products such as our coronary artery disease genetic risk score research study.
During graduate school, I was exposed to the role of cardiovascular genetic counselors in post-mortem genetic testing. In these circumstances, someone may have passed away suddenly; in one third of such cases, the underlying cause is a cardiovascular genetic disorder. The genetic counseling in these situations is complex — it’s a combination of grief counseling, expectation setting, and then helping the individual understand the complexity of genetic information. This unique situation requires an investigative personality, which I have, making cardiovascular genetics a perfect fit. Every day, I provide answers, guide understanding, and protect families from additional trauma. It’s been a huge shift in how I think about my job: now, instead of using my skills to help families make sense of a devastating life event, I am using my skills to help prevent one.
I’m a naturally extroverted person, so I love being on the phone with patients. It makes my day to work with a person who may be under stress and to help turn that ship around. Nothing is more satisfying than helping someone understand their results or their family history and empower them with steps to move forward and mitigate risk.
What attracted you to working here?
I was looking for a shift from a traditional clinic role to an industry position that still allowed me to interact with patients. In a traditional clinic, one of the biggest frustrations is the burden that finances and insurance can put on patients. Here at Color, where access to clinical testing and potentially life-changing genetic information is a priority, I get to work with a team that is able to identify people who are at risk before an adverse event occurs. That is empowering. (The free snacks and dog-friendly office don’t hurt, either! When I was researching Color, the snacks were featured on the Careers page–that drew me in pretty quickly!)
What excites you about what Color is doing?
As a cardiovascular genetic counselor, I know that cardiovascular disease lacks the population level data that cancer boasts. I’m excited that we’re working to build datasets that address this discrepancy. The additional information will help drive patient screening and management as well as further our community’s understanding of exactly what these mutations can mean to those who have no history of disease in their family.
What has been the biggest surprise for you here at Color?
One of the best parts of what I do is empowering people with their results. My job involves counseling individuals with mutations in cancer and cardiovascular genes, many of whom had no previous knowledge of their risk. I thought I would be giving bad news to every person, but most people are so thankful that they have the information and can act on it.
When I started I was a bit skeptical about our Discovery product, which gives individuals insights into things like ancestry, cilantro taste, and lactose intolerance. These traits are so far from the traditional clinical testing that I was used to and I originally wasn’t sure if they would have relevance for us. What I didn’t expect is that these offerings drive re-engagement with core health results and can lead to action and impact. I’m a data-driven person and seeing how our Discovery product helps people engage in their core health results and reach out for additional help has converted me.
What has been your favorite memory so far?
Our genetic counseling team is a spectacular make-up of extremely intelligent, hard-working, thoughtful people. As a result, I’ve produced work that is much better than I ever dreamed and I’ve felt safe enough to step out of my comfort zone because I know I have a team that will support me if it doesn’t go perfectly. We’re a very close team — several of my teammates were at my wedding! Every year, we host a team onsite, where we strengthen the team by sharing our unique insights and skills gained over the year. This year we also made pizza together in a cooking class as a bonding activity and it was one of the best group experiences we’ve had.
How else do you bring your unique talents to Color?
My favorite way to relax is to bake and I’ll often bring in the fruits of my labor for my co-workers to enjoy, so I don’t eat them all at home. Around Thanksgiving, I hosted a pie-making class to help everyone get ready for the holiday. Great British Bake-Off is one of my favorite shows, so I hosted a finale watch party last fall. Everyone brought in their favorite treats for an early morning!