The Gene Scene
Laura Rittmeyer Jenkins ’88 guides patients through difficult times
by Julia Stevens ’20

Genetic counselor Laura Rittmeyer Jenkins ’88 explains that when calling a patient with a new genetic diagnosis, she is quick to caution, “Do not Google this,” adding, “The internet loves the worst-case scenario, right?” To counter online information that can be overwhelming and frightening, Jenkins steers patients away from the uncurated information that can be found on the internet and provides specific online resources to help patients learn about and adjust to a new diagnosis.

Jenkins first discovered the relatively new field of genetic counseling at the wedding of Stefanie Lin ’88, P’19 during a conversation with Lin’s sister, a geneticist. Jenkins, who majored in psychology and English, soon found herself pursuing an M.S. in genetic counseling at the University of Pittsburgh. Since 2015, she has worked at the Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh and is an adjunct instructor in human genetics at the University of Pittsburgh.

Laura Rittmeyer Jenkins, a genetic counselor from University of Pittsburgh.
Photo: Emily Paine
Laura Rittmeyer Jenkins ’88 is drawn to genetic counseling because of the dynamicity it brings to her life.

When Jenkins started her career 24 years ago, “Dr. Google” was not yet a concern. She would do genetics research by manually sorting through academic journals, and the journey to a diagnosis was typically a time-intensive process requiring many clinical visits and multiple genetic tests. Today, that same research can be done at the click of a mouse, and diagnoses often come much faster due to more efficient genetic testing technologies.

The majority of Jenkins’ patients are children experiencing an array of medical issues ranging from autism to 22q11.2 deletion syndrome, which increases the risk of developing a mental illness. Whatever their diagnosis, Jenkins guides patients through their next steps, whether that be drafting a letter to family members to explain what they should expect or discussing treatment options.

Despite the challenges that come with counseling patients faced with uncertain and difficult situations, Jenkins is drawn to the field. Says Jenkins, no day at work is the same as the last. “I love that we’re constantly learning. Literally every day I learn something new.”