UW News

November 15, 2007

Genetic counselor Robin Bennett lauded with local, national honors

By Mary Guiden
News & Community Relations

Senior Genetic Counselor Robin Bennett was honored on both the local and national levels in recent months. Bennett, who serves as associate director of the UW Medical Center Medical Genetics Clinic, in October received the Natalie Weissberger Paul national achievement award from the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC). In being recognized for the award, Bennett was singled out as a “true leader” in the field of genetic counseling, according to NSGC. “Her efforts to promote and advance the genetic counseling profession are inspirational,” said the society.

In September, Bennett was also the recipient of a 2007 Women to Celebrate award given by the YWCA of Seattle-King County-Snohomish County, ACT Theatre and the Sunday Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer. Nominations for the award came from the general public, who were instructed to honor a special woman in the community. The awards were held to help kick off The Women, a play by Clare Booth Luce depicting the world of women in the 1930s.

Over the years, Bennett has inspired others to enter the field of genetic counseling. Whitney Neufeld-Kaiser, now a genetic counselor in perinatal genetics at UWMC, said she was influenced to enter the profession after listening to guest speaker Bennett in a graduate-level medical genetics course. “After Robin talked about genetic counseling, focusing on the issues surrounding Huntington’s disease, a light bulb went off for me, and I realized, ‘That’s what I want to do,'” she said.

Neufeld-Kaiser said she nervously followed up with Bennett via phone the next day, and was stunned to be invited immediately to Bennett’s office for a career chat. “This is amazing to me now, given how busy she is,” said Neufeld-Kaiser.

Dr. Arno Motulsky, professor emeritus of medicine and genome sciences, said Bennett is “outstanding” in the realm of genetic counseling. “She had very good training and has increasingly gotten strength in using all the data and thinking and writing that has been done in the field and incorporating it into her practice,” he said. Not only is her practice outstanding, but she has also written a book on family history and family genetics which is used by counselors and medical geneticists, Motulsky (who has known Bennett for nearly 20 years) added.

He also praised Bennett for her sensitivity to the emotional and scientific aspects of genetic diseases. “She is highly recognized by the profession of counseling, and … there is no question about her in the sense that she’s succeeded marvelously in different ways in this field,” he said.

Bennett’s boss, Dr. Gail Jarvik, head of the Division of Medical Genetics — and someone who has known her for 17 years — agreed. She also described Bennett’s work and interaction with families as remarkable. “In genetics, a lot of the family dynamic needs to be negotiated. [Robin] is very good at perceiving what the dynamics are and responding in a way that doesn’t intimidate the more reticent members of the family, but still addresses the needs of the family members [who are] more interested in getting genetic information.”

“She’s a huge believer in patients making their own decisions, and really respects patients’ choices,” Jarvik added.

What does Bennett think about all these kudos? The genetic counselor said the national recognition was perhaps the highest award she will ever receive. “It’s a true honor to be compared to the people who have gone before me and received this award,” she said. But the local award is also special for Bennett. “I was floored because I was being honored with women who have really gone out into the community, in Africa and all over. To think that working in genetics has reached this kind of a priority, and that people would care about that in the community, was really an honor,” Bennett added.