The Irishwoman in Sydney training the next generation of genetic counsellors

Rosie O'Shea: 'In Australia, there is a wider network of professionals in the field of medical genetics'

This week, Rosie O Shea from Kerry on working as a lecturer and genetic counsellor in research and education in Sydney, Australia.

Where are you from in Ireland?

I am originally from Kerry and grew up in a beautiful seaside village called Glenbeigh on the Ring of Kerry. My family lived on a farm nestled between Seefin mountains and the Atlantic ocean, and we were lucky to have a beautiful six-mile beach near were we lived where I learned to swim and appreciate the calming sound of the ocean.

When did you leave Ireland, and what were your reasons for leaving?


In 2016, after several years working as a clinical genetic counsellor in Ireland, I was offered a position as a lecturer and researcher with the University of Sydney in Australia.

There is a global shortage of genetic counsellors and so part of my job is training the new generation for this role and the changing landscape of genomics in modern medicine.

What is genetic counselling?

Genetic counselling is all about working with families and individuals to help them adapt to and understand the implications of genetic information for their individual or family experience.

Many families come to see a genetic counsellor if there is a family or medical history with or likely to have a genetic basis. The genetic counsellor uses advanced knowledge and skills in genetics, communication and counselling to help families navigate genetic or genomic testing and to make meaning of the results from such testing for themselves and their families.

Have you done any training or studying in Australia or elsewhere?

I am undertaking a PhD in cancer genetics that is looking at preparing the health system to integrate genomic testing into the mainstream of oncology medicine.

My undergraduate studies in genetics at University College Cork prepared me well for further training and I got a Master's of Genetic Counselling in Cardiff University. This specialist training has allowed me to develop good counselling and communication skills in the application of genetic knowledge in a real life medical genomics setting with a very client-centred focus.

Tell us about your career there.

In Australia, there is a wider network of professionals to engage with in the field of medical genetics. My role here involves working with clinicians, genetic counsellors and laboratory specialist to ensure our graduate genetic counsellors have the necessary skills and knowledge to start their careers as genetic counsellors. This has allowed me to broaden my professional network, skill set and knowledge in genomics and learn of new approaches to genetic counselling service delivery.

What does your day-to-day work involve?

I lecture to students to teach them about the clinical aspects of genetic disease and how to communicate about the medical impacts that a genetic disease can have on a person and their family.

Also I train them in explaining about genetic and genomic testing with the use of counselling skills to support those going through the journey of finding out about genetic information and risk in their families. The research I am involved in is assessing how oncology can best incorporate genomic testing for colon cancer, to help with treatment decisions for their patients, and assess genetic risk in families to aid in cancer prevention. I am working in a multidisciplinary environment and a very engaging cancer research division to support this work.

What is it like living in Sydney?

Life in Sydney is really good, with good opportunities for career growth, work life balance and the lifestyle is awesome. Excellent beaches and a good food and wine culture make Sydney a model city to live in despite the cost of living.

Are there any other Irish people in your social circle?

I joined an Irish networking group that gives me access to people from Ireland who have lived in Sydney for many years and people who, like me, arrived more recently. This helps you to stay connected to where you are from as well as keeping abreast of how the Irish in Sydney are progressing and impacting life in business in Australia.

Do the Irish fit in well there?

I do think there is an affinity between the Irish and Australians, be that the history of emigration from Ireland to Australia or be that some of the first settlers here were from Ireland and have contributed positively to building a good life for future generations.

Is there anything you miss about living and working in Ireland?

The drawback of living here is it is so far away from home, family and friends. Skype and FaceTime can help to bridge the gap but there is no replacement to a hug from a family member or friend and just sitting with them and chatting naturally and freely.

Where do you see your future?

I hope to come back to Ireland to share what I have learned and to promote and advocate for the importance of genetic counselling within mainstream medicine.

Genetic counselling is a young profession and it brings a unique set of skills to the current medical model in that it combines the advanced knowledge of genetics and genomics with a psychosocial component. The new genomic era offers personalised and preventative medicine approaches that will over time help to reduce the burden of hereditary disease and genetic counsellors should be key leaders for the integration of genomics in medicine in Ireland.