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Genetic Counseling

Welcome to the Department of Genetic Counselling

Do you, your child, or a member of your family have a health issue where the question of it being “genetic” has come up? What does it mean to have a genetic condition? How do you find out for sure? How do you deal with the emotions that can come from this situation? Genetic counsellors are here to help. We are specially trained members of your health care team.

You may have learned about genetics in science class back in high school. Why is it coming up now in your child’s health care? Over the years, our understanding of how genes play a role in many conditions has grown. We now have tests that can look at many genes or even all of our genes at one time. These genetic tests can provide results that may tell us:

  • the cause of your child’s health issues
  • what other health issues to watch out for
  • which treatments or medications may be more effective
  • who else in the family may be at risk

Genetic information can be confusing. It can be hard to make sense of what genetic results means for you and your family and what to do next. As genetic counsellors, we help translate genetic information in a way that is easier to understand. We focus on supporting you to make the choices that are consistent with your family’s needs, values and beliefs.

Who we are

Genetic counsellors are health-care providers with education in genetics and counselling. We have a Masters level degree and are certified by the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors (CAGC) and/or American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC).

We usually work in a team with other health-care providers and staff like:

  • doctors (for example geneticists, neurologists, cardiologists, ophthalmologists, oncologists)
  • nurses
  • social workers
  • dieticians
  • lab scientists

Our goal is to make sure you understand your family’s genetic information, so that you can make choices that are right for you and your family. We help you think about your social situation, personal beliefs, and cultural values while you make your decision. Genetic counsellors provide patient care, educate health-care professionals and the public, and are often involved in research.

What we do

If you or your family member has a condition that is genetic or may be genetic, you should see a genetic counsellor. Genetic counsellors will help you understand what the genetic condition is, what causes it, how to test for it, and what the results mean.

During an appointment, a genetic counsellor may:

Ask about:

  • your concerns and questions related to the health issues
  • you or your child’s development and health issues
  • other family members and their health

Talk with you about:

  • the role of genetics in your family’s health issues
  • genetic tests that can be ordered
  • the chances that your future child could have the same condition

Explain:

  • what the results of genetic tests mean
  • how the results can affect your health and the health of other family members

Help and support you:

  • make choices that are right for you and your family
  • cope with the information

Connect you to:

  • social workers and community programs
  • other families and support groups

How to prepare for your appointment with a genetic counsellor

  • Complete and bring with you any forms that were mailed to you ahead of time (like family history forms).
  • Make note of any family members with the same or similar health issues.
  • Write down any questions you have before your appointment and bring these with you.
  • Check your appointment letter to see who needs to be at the appointment. Sometimes your child does not need to be present.
  • You and/or your child may be offered genetic testing and this may involve a blood test.
  • Be prepared to be at the appointment for one to two hours.

More information about genetic counsellors

Learn more about what genetic counsellors do.

Associated clinics and departments

Clinical & Metabolic Genetics

We support patients and families impacted by a range of genetic disorders.

Cardiology

One of the world's largest paediatric heart institutions.

Ophthalmology & Vision Sciences

Our clinical program is one of the world’s largest, seeing over 26,000 patients and 1,300 surgeries per year.

Neurology

Our Division strives for optimal outcomes for children with neurological conditions.

Research

Research studies

There are a lot of research studies going on at SickKids. Your genetic counsellor may tell you about a study that is relevant to you or your child. You can choose to participate or not. Your choice will not affect the clinical care your family will receive. Learn more about ongoing studies on Research4Kids.

Genomic Research Genetic Counsellors

As genomic technologies becomes more accessible, the use of genome-wide sequencing has increased in both clinical and research settings. These tests have the potential to uncover the genetic contribution to a wide range of health conditions. There are many benefits to genome-wide sequencing, but the use of these technologies also calls for the development of best practices to ensure that genomic testing is implemented responsibly in both the research and clinical setting.

The Genomic Research Genetic Counsellors (GRGC) was created at SickKids to meet the need for careful consideration of the legal, ethical, and social implications of genomic applications. GRGC is a group of genetic counsellors working in research programs that utilize genomic technologies like whole genome sequencing. Drawing from their experience in autism, cancer, cardiology, and genetic medicine research, the GRGCs strive to standardize research practices and develop guidelines for implementation in clinical care across the hospital. GRGC is dedicated to facilitating translational genomics and collaborates with many initiatives across SickKids, including Precision Child Health.

Meet our team of Genetic Counsellors

Abby Watts-Dickens, MSc, CGC

Abby is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor in the Newborn Screening Program, which is part of the Division of Clinical and Metabolic Genetics. She trained at the University of British Columbia Genetic Counselling Program and joined SickKids in 2018. She sees patients who have had a positive newborn screening test, assists these families through the newborn screening follow-up process, and helps families understand the genetic basis of the condition(s) identified through newborn screening. Her areas of clinical specialty include newborn screening, metabolics, and cystic fibrosis. Abby provides clinical supervision in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto.

Andrea Shugar, MS, CGC

Andrea is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor in the Division of Clinical and Metabolic Genetics. She completed her Masters degree in biological sciences and genetic counselling from the University of Cincinnati in 1992, and joined SickKids in 2003. Andrea is a lecturer and clinical supervisor in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto and holds a Project Investigator appointment in the Research Institute at SickKids. Her areas of clinical specialty include neurofibromatosis, genodermatoses and 22q11 deletion syndrome.

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Anna Pan, MSc, MSc

Anna is a board eligible genetic counsellor who recently completed her MSc in Genetic Counselling at the University of Toronto in 2020. She has been a part of the SickKids team since 2012 in various roles, and is currently a laboratory genetic counsellor and coordinator in the Division of Paediatric Laboratory Medicine. As a laboratory genetic counsellor, Anna helps to organize and educate providers about genetic testing, as well as analyze genetic test results. She has a special interest in cancer genetics and the incorporation of new technology into genetic testing and diagnosis.

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Anna Szuto, MSc, CCGC

Anna is a board eligible genetic counsellor who recently completed her MSc in Genetic Counselling at the University of Toronto in 2020. She has been a part of the SickKids team since 2012 in various roles, and is currently a laboratory genetic counsellor and coordinator in the Division of Paediatric Laboratory Medicine. As a laboratory genetic counsellor, Anna helps to organize and educate providers about genetic testing, as well as analyze genetic test results. She has a special interest in cancer genetics and the incorporation of new technology into genetic testing and diagnosis.

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Bailey Gallinger, MSc, CGC

Anna is a board eligible genetic counsellor who recently completed her MSc in Genetic Counselling at the University of Toronto in 2020. She has been a part of the SickKids team since 2012 in various roles, and is currently a laboratory genetic counsellor and coordinator in the Division of Paediatric Laboratory Medicine. As a laboratory genetic counsellor, Anna helps to organize and educate providers about genetic testing, as well as analyze genetic test results. She has a special interest in cancer genetics and the incorporation of new technology into genetic testing and diagnosis.

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Cara Inglese, MSc, CGC

Cara is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor who completed her MSc in Genetic Counselling at the University of British Columbia in 2018. She joined the Department of Genetic Counselling at The Hospital for Sick Children in June 2018. She was certified in Genetic Counselling by the American Board of Genetic Counseling in 2019. Cara sees patients and families for a variety of pediatric genetic conditions, including patients with and at risk for cancer predisposition syndromes. She is a clinical supervisor and course coordinator in the University of Toronto M.Sc. Program in Genetic Counselling.

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Cheryl Cytrynbaum, MS, CGC

Cheryl is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor who completed her Master of Science in Medical genetics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1990. She joined the Department of Genetic Counselling at the Hospital for Sick Children in 1992 working within the Division of Clinical and Metabolic Genetics. Cheryl is a Lecturer and clinical supervisor in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto. She holds a Project Director appointment in the SickKids Research Institute based on her involvement in clinical research and supervision of graduate students. Cheryl has a special interest in 22q11 Deletion Syndrome, overgrowth syndromes, epigenetics and bioethics.

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Eriskay Liston, MS, CGC

Eriskay is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor in the Department of Paediatrics and is the Program Director of the Precision Child Health Initiative. She earned her Master of Science in Human Genetics from Sarah Lawrence College in 2003. Eriskay joined SickKids in 2011 as a Genome Diagnostics Lab Coordinator then transitioned into the Cardiac Genome Clinic. In her current role in Precision Child Health, Eriskay promotes the translational of genomics into clinical and research initiatives. Eriskay is a member of Genomic Research Genetic Counsellors at SickKids, and is a Lecturer, clinical supervisor, and course coordinator in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto. Her areas of specialty include clinical genetics research and translational genomics.

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Heather MacDonald, MSc, MSc, CGC, CCGC

Heather is an ABGC and CAGC certified genetic counsellor who completed her MSc in Genetic Counselling at the University of Toronto. She joined the Department of Genetic Counselling at the Hospital for Sick Children in 2012. Since 2014, she has worked as a genetic counsellor in the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences. Heather is a Lecturer and clinical supervisor in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto. She sees patients and families who experience symptoms related to an underlying genetic condition affecting primarily the eye and is involved in research work investigating the cause of inherited eye conditions.

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Jennifer Keating, MS, CGC

Jennifer is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor who completed her Master of Science in Human Genetics at Sarah Lawrence College. She practiced as a prenatal and cancer genetic counsellor at Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, New York for 5 years before joining the SickKids Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine as a laboratory genetic counsellor in the Genome Diagnostic Laboratory in 2019. In 2020 she joined the Department of Dermatology as a genetic counsellor in the Café-au-lait Macules (CALM) Screening Clinic. Jennifer provides clinical supervision in the University of Toronto M.Sc. Program in Genetic Counselling.

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Kelsey Kalbfleisch, MSc

Kelsey is a board eligible genetic counsellor who completed her M.Sc. in Genetic Counselling at the University of Toronto in 2020. Upon graduating, she joined the SickKids team as a genetic counsellor in the Cardiac Genome Clinic. In her role, Kelsey meets with patients and families at risk for heart failure to discuss the option of pursuing genetic testing on a research basis and helps families make sense of their genetic results. Kelsey has special interests in cardiac and prenatal genetics, as well as in contributing to health care research.

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Kimberly Amburgey, MS, CGC

Kimberly is an ABCG certified genetic counselor in the Division of Neurology who completed her training at the University of Pittsburgh. She joined the neuromuscular clinic at SickKids in 2013 and later the Genetic Brain Malformation clinic. Kimberly is a Lecturer and clinical supervisor in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto. She currently sees patients with neuromuscular conditions and changes on brain MRI. Her research focuses on the natural history, genetic causes, and clinical trials of therapies for neuromuscular conditions. Kimberly is a member of the Canadian Gene Cure Advanced Therapies for Rare Disease (Can-GARD) and the Neuromuscular Disease Network for Canada (NMD4C).

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Larissa Waldman, MSc, CGC

Larissa is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor in the Division of Clinical and Metabolic Genetics, and Genetics and Genome Biology. She completed her MSc in Genetic Counselling at the University of Toronto, and joined the Department of Genetic Counselling at SickKids in 2018. Larissa has worked with numerous subspecialty clinics, and is currently the genetic counsellor in KiCS, a precision oncology program. Larissa is a member of the Genomic Research Genetic Counsellors at SickKids, a Lecturer and clinical supervisor in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto, and a curator with the NIH ClinGen Group.

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Laura Zahavich, MSc, CGC

Laura is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor who completed her MSc in Genetic Counselling at the University of Toronto. She joined the Department of Genetic Counselling at the Hospital for Sick Children in 2009 and has worked in various subspecialties including oncology and neurology. She also served as an interprofessional education specialist focusing on cross-cultural communication. Since 2013, Laura has worked as a cardiac genetic counsellor in the Labatt Family Heart Centre. Laura is a Lecturer, clinical supervisor, and course coordinator in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto and holds a Project Investigator appointment in the Research Institute at SickKids.

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Lucie Dupuis, MSc, MS, CGC

Lucie is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor who completed her MS in Genetic Counselling at Brandeis University. In 1998, she joined the Department of Genetic Counselling at SickKids. Lucie's primary interest is in skeletal dysplasias. She is a key member of the multidisciplinary Bone Health Dysplasia Clinic at SickKids and an honorary member of the Little People of Ontario, an organization dedicated to raising awareness about dwarfism. She is involved in multiple research studies related to inherited bone disorders. Lucie is a Lecturer, clinical supervisor, and course coordinator in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto.

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Nada Quercia, MSc, CGC, CCGC

Nada is an ABGC and CAGC certified genetic counsellor in the Division of Clinical and Metabolic Genetics who received her Master of Science in Genetic Counselling from McGill University. Since joining Sickkids in 1998, she has provided genetic counselling to families in various specialty clinics including cancer genetics, skeletal dysplasias, connective tissue disorders, neurogenetics, and cardiac genetics. Her current areas of clinical focus include craniofacial differences, sex chromosome differences, primary ciliary dyskinesia and hearing loss. Nada is a Lecturer, clinical supervisor, and course coordinator in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto.

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Ny Hoang, MS, CCGC

Ny is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor in the Autism Research Unit of the Genetics and Genome Biology program. She joined SickKids after receiving her Master of Science in Human Genetics from Sarah Lawrence College in 2011. In her current role, she specializes in autism spectrum disorders and other neurodevelopmental disorders. Ny is a Lecturer, clinical supervisor, and course coordinator in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto. She is a member of Genomic Research Genetic Counsellors at SickKids and an administrator of Genetic Counsellors of Ontario. Her areas of research interest include genomic technologies, autism spectrum disorder, and knowledge translation.

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Regan Klatt, MS, CCGC

Regan is a CAGC certified genetic counsellor in the Department of Genetic Counselling. Following graduation from the MS program in Medical Genetics at the University of Cincinnati, she joined SickKids in 2002 and participated in a number of general and specialty clinics within the Division of Clinical and Metabolic Genetics until 2012. She is currently affiliated with the Department of Ophthalmology and Vision Sciences. Regan is a Lecturer and clinical supervisor in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto and a member of the Research Ethics Board. Her areas of clinical specialty include Ocular Genetics and hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT).

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Riyana Babul-Hirji, MSc, CGC

Riyana is an ABGC certified genetic counsellor in the Division of Clinical and Metabolic Genetics. She joined SickKids in 1993 and is currently affiliated with numerous specialty clinics including the MUG (Multidisciplinary Urogenital) clinic. Riyana is an Associate Professor in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto and an Assistant Program Director - Operations of the MSc program in Genetic Counselling. She holds a Project Investigator appointment in the Research Institute at SickKids. Her areas of clinical specialty include autism and disorders of sexual differentiation.

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Stacy Hewson, MSc, MSc, CGC, CCGC

Stacy is an ABGC and CAGC certified genetic counsellor who completed her MSc in Genetic Counselling at McGill University. She joined the Department of Genetic Counselling at the Hospital for Sick Children in 2000 working within the Division of Clinical and Metabolic Genetics. Stacy is a Lecturer, clinical supervisor, and course coordinator in the MSc Genetic Counselling Program at the University of Toronto. She sees patients and families with metabolic conditions and is involved in research related to these conditions.

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