image001This past month, I had the privilege of attending the International Society of Nurses in Genetics (ISONG) conference in Bethesda, Maryland. This opportunity was made possible by funding from KILN and Associate Dean Catherine Read, who introduced me to ISONG and motivated me to attend. It was the organization’s 25th anniversary, so what a perfect time to be there to learn about its history and the exciting future that lies ahead. Although the untimely government shutdown led to the cancellation of presentations by National Institutes of Health researchers, it was still a wonderful conference full of nurses passionate about this relatively new frontier of genetics.

All the things I learned at this conference would take many hours to recount, but some of the highlights looking into the next 25 years are:

  1. Next generation sequencing –  It is going to change our world. Companies will be able to spell out the precise order of DNA in multiple genes, and pretty soon the whole genome, for less than $1,000.
  2. Personalized medicine –  By understanding the individual molecular characteristics of patients, we will be able to offer medications and treatments personalized for each patient.
  3. Improved taxonomy of disease – Using phenotypes, we will be able to better classify and define subtypes of obesity, diabetes, and other generalized illnesses.
  4. EpigeneticsA better understanding of how the environment and lifestyle choices affect our genes will change the way we think about health and disease.

Along with these groundbreaking interventions and diagnostic tools, I discovered that there will be many challenges for nurses and nurse practitioners yet they will be indispensable to the application of these tools. For starters, nurses will be called upon to help patients understand what all of this genetic information means to them, and how they can use it to make decisions. A large challenge for nurse practitioners will be moving this science into application within primary care, because it is of little benefit if it remains only at the bench. Situations like this made me realize why nurses are needed within this specialty. When sharing information as sensitive and complicated as genetics, the hallmarks of nursing- humanism and compassion- are invaluable.

In addition to all the knowledge gained at this conference, I met others working in the field, and heard their insights and advice on getting started as an NP. One of the most fortuitous connections I made was with Margaret Klehm, an NP currently working at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston. Throughout the conference, she shared her more than 20 years of experience working in metabolic and cancer genetics in several of the Boston hospitals. Her message was inspirational- to go out and create the dream job that you seek, and you will find the help you need along the way if you are passionate and genuinely interested. Given my experience, I definitely recommend other KILN students to take advantage of the many different conferences out there.  Engaging socially and intellectually with people who share your interests is priceless. I am appreciative to KILN for the opportunity to feel the excitement and passion for genetics in nursing.