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Psychology Spotlight

Elizabeth Schmitt: Discovering Her Passion

Elizabeth Schmitt“Because I was encouraged to explore the new, exciting, and growing field of genetic counseling, I have found not only a career but a field I am becoming increasingly passionate about.”

As a student at Transylvania, Elizabeth Schmitt ’12 seriously pursued studio art, played on the varsity soccer team, joined a sorority, and served as a student orientation leader as well as an admissions ambassador and overnight host. From these activities, she developed an array of skills that undergird her post-college success: passion, drive, dedication, accountability, loyalty, time management, an interest in teaching and counseling, and the desire to listen to others’ stories.

But how did she end up at Emory University School of Medicine pursuing a master’s degree in human genetics and genetic counseling?

During her junior year, psychology professor Meg Upchurch and biology professor Belinda Sly encouraged her to shadow a professional in the emerging field. Schmitt always had an interest in medicine and, although she was a psychology major, completed nearly all of the recommended pre-med courses while at Transylvania.

So it seems natural that she would find a home in a medical field that involves counseling individual patients about the genetic aspects of illness. While at Emory, she is also an intern at the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education working on a grant that the Georgia Department of Public Health received from the Centers for Disease Control.

“I am focusing on how we can improve education and policy relating to Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOCS),” explained Schmitt. “Our goal is to provide better care for families with the genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2, which significantly increase a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Ultimately, we want to save lives by educating health care providers about the clinical value of genetic testing for some hereditary cancer syndromes.”

The unique bond that Transylvania students form with their academic mentors, as well as the other students on campus, has also helped Schmitt feel comfortable in her new role.

“I am interacting with several diverse communities: racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, academically, you name it. Because I was able to have deeply personal relationships and interactions with my peers and my instructors, I have felt equipped to connect with a variety of people.”

As she was considering graduate schools, Schmitt also worked closely with Transylvania’s Career Development Center staff. She credits their support, in part, for her success. “Their sincere interest in me and their excitement about my future were crucial to the application and interviewing process.”

One aspect of her career choice that most satisfies Schmitt is the opportunity for lifelong learning. At Transylvania, she quickly overcame any fear she had of asking questions. That is vital to her professional growth in her new field.

“Not knowing something or wanting to know more is what drives me daily in my study of genetics. That same drive also pushes me to learn more about the individuals I’m counseling.”

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