"I was doing a science degree way back last century when I realised 'I don't want to be a lab rat. I like talking to people'."
It was this realisation, coinciding with an opportunity to enrol in what at the time was a brand new course in genetic counselling, that set Bruce Hopper on the path that has seen him serving as the Lower Mid North Coast genetic counsellor for the past 24 years.
Since starting the role in 1998, Bruce's scientific aptitude and passion for working with people has combined to forge a career that has helped countless patients in the region.
It has also seen him compile extensive family medical histories over the past two and a half decades, records that help not just patients, but also their children, and even those yet to be born.
"As a genetic counsellor we're quite different from most other areas of medicine. We see patients from before conception to after death in regards to a whole heap of different conditions, like breast cancers, the bowel cancers, pregnancy planning, birth defects, developmental delay, all those kinds of things," Bruce said.
As a genetic counselor we're quite different from most other areas of medicine. We see patients from before conception to after death- Bruce Hopper
"The question we're trying to help with is, is there potentially a genetic component to the condition, and if so, can we find a gene mutation that's causing it? And if we can, what does that mean for that person, but also, what does it mean for other family members?"
While advances in the field of genetics have helped medical practitioners identify predisposing health issues, there is no escaping the inherent emotional consequences the situation brings to both patient and medical staff.
"The hardest part of the job is when you have to give really crappy news, especially if you're doing pregnancy testing," Bruce said.
The positives, however, are that early diagnosis often means early treatment, providing the best possible outcome in many situations.
"Once we know we can let your GP and your specialist know so they're aware to pick up on early signs and not just go 'let's just watch and wait'. If this letter sits in your file they'll refer you through, and that's what you want," Bruce said.
Jeans for Genes Day is on again on August 5 raising funds for the Children's Medical Research Institute, who do significant genetic research into childhood health conditions.
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