Skip to main content

Hooker to lead National Society of Genetic Counselors

Jul. 18, 2019, 9:48 AM

 

by Tom Wilemon

Gillian Hooker, PhD, ScM

Gillian Hooker, PhD, ScM, president-elect of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, will lead the organization at a pivotal time when she takes over as president Jan. 1, 2020.

The organization is asking Congress to authorize the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) to reimburse for genetic counseling. Its other priorities include fostering diversity in the rapidly expanding field and bridging the gap between scientific innovations and interpretation at the clinical level.

“A federal bill has been introduced to recognize genetic counselors as health care providers under CMS, which would allow us to be reimbursed for our services by Medicare and Medicaid,” said Hooker, adjunct professor of Medicine, Division of Genetic Medicine, Vanderbilt Genetic Institute. “Right now, genetics counselors are not recognized providers, which presents big access issues for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries.”

The Access to Genetic Counselor Services Act of 2019 would authorize genetic counselors to be paid for the services they provide to patients across the lifespan. It would also allow counselors to assign reimbursement to their employers. Hooker said the legislation has bipartisan support.

Although the bill would not direct commercial insurance companies to reimburse if it becomes law, those companies look to CMS to set standards.

“There are people with some commercial insurances who have access to genetic counselors paid for by their insurance,” Hooker said. “But there are large swaths of the population who don’t have coverage for those services, which means they either pay out of pocket themselves or they don’t get the same level of service.”

The demand for genetic counselors has increased in recent years as more genetic tests have become available that alert people of disease risks, including some breast and colorectal cancers.

“Over the next three years, we will add more than 1,000 genetic counselors to our workforce,” Hooker said. “Now, we have 5,000 genetic counselors. Five years ago, we had 3,000, so we are growing at an incredibly rapid rate. We are one of the fastest growing areas of health care. Three or four years ago, we had a lot of people talking about genetic counselor shortages. We have really risen to the challenge at places like Vanderbilt, building new training programs and opportunities to both innovate on our current models, but also grow with those models.”

A priority for the organization is making sure that the profession meets the needs of a diverse population.

“Our strategic plan is really focused on diversity and inclusion efforts, both internally, working to foster a more diverse workforce of genetic counselors, and externally, thinking about how we can best serve a more diverse patient population,” she said.

Hooker, who has a PhD in molecular, cellular and developmental biology from Yale University and a ScM in genetic counseling from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health/National Human Genome Research Institute Counseling Training Program, joined Vanderbilt this month. She chairs the research curriculum committee for the newly established Vanderbilt Genetic Counseling Training Program and serves as instructor for two classes. She also is the vice president of clinical development for Concert Genetics, a Health IT company based in Franklin, Tennessee.

Recent Stories from VUMC News and Communications Publications

Keeping pace: Nashville, once a mid-size city with a Southern small-town feel, is experiencing explosive growth.

Vanderbilt Medicine

Keeping pace: Nashville, once a mid-size city with a Southern small-town feel, is experiencing explosive growth.

VUMC campus

VUMC campus

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine entrance

Vanderbilt University School of Medicine entrance

Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital with helipad

Vanderbilt University Adult Hospital with helipad

more