Intern enjoys genetic counseling mini-rotation on HudsonAlpha campus

Courtney Heckman, a genetic counseling student at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, spent two weeks on the HudsonAlpha campus this July in the first genomic counseling mini-rotation at HudsonAlpha and The Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine. The goal of the mini-rotation is to allow a second year genomic counseling student to observe and participate in genetic counseling work with the HudsonAlpha team. This summer, Heckman was immersed in a variety of settings at the Institute, including genomic medicine, sequencing and bioinformatics, variant analysis and educational outreach.

“HudsonAlpha is an incredible institution that is helping lead the way in genomic medicine, and we are thrilled to begin offering opportunities for trainees to work alongside our genetic counseling team,” said Kelly East, a certified genetic counselor who worked with Heckman this summer. “The genomic counseling mini-rotation provides the selected student with first hand experience in where the field is going and how the genetic counseling role can be applied in cutting-edge research and clinical care.”

Courtney Heckman (second from left) was selected for the 2016 genetic counseling mini-rotation at the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology. During the two-week program, she worked with HudsonAlpha genetic counselors (from left) Kelly East, Meagan Cochran and Whitley Kelley.

Check out our Q&A with Heckman about her experience in the mini-rotation at HudsonAlpha:

1. How would you describe your genomic medicine mini-rotation experience at HudsonAlpha?

Over the past two weeks, I was given the wonderful opportunity to explore many different specialty areas within HudsonAlpha. I spent several days in The Smith Family Clinic for Genomic Medicine where I observed both patients who wanted diagnostic genomic sequencing and others who wanted elective genomic testing. I also shadowed the genetic counselors when they consented families for a research project around genomic testing for families of children with unexplained developmental delay. During my mini-rotation, I also had the chance to meet with a variety of people from the various departments. They explained what they do on a day-to-day basis and their contribution to the HudsonAlpha team.

2. What was the most valuable part of the experience?

My time at HudsonAlpha has been a very insightful experience. Through the mini-rotation, I have gained a better understanding of genomic medicine and the immense impact it will have in the future on health as the knowledge base for genetics continues to grow. It was such a great opportunity to explore what genetic counselors as well as many other team members work on daily and witness their enthusiasm towards their work.

4. Has the experience supplemented your genetic counseling training? If so, how?

Even though I already had some exposure to genome sequencing and analyzing genomic variants, it was great to get a more in-depth training of the process and understand how results are obtained. The patient population was also different than what I will typically see. I enjoyed witnessing the research aspect as well. It was interesting to see how genetic counselors can utilize their unique skill set and complete a wide variety of tasks and projects. This internship has helped prepare me for the future of genomic medicine and how to implement it into health care.

Overall, the mini-rotation was an incredible experience, and I am so glad that I was able to learn more about HudsonAlpha as a nonprofit, as well as genomic medicine and where the field is heading in the future.

The 2017 genomic counseling mini-rotation will be July 24-August 4, 2017. All rising second year genetic counseling students at an ACGC accredited program are encouraged to apply. The program provides housing on the University of Alabama in Huntsville campus upon request and a $400 stipend upon completion of the two week rotation. For more information, visit