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Arnold School of Public Health

August graduate completes degree in public health as foundation for career in genetic counseling

August 18, 2021 | Erin Bluvas,

Charleston, South Carolina native Abby Spencer knew she was interested in health, but she didn’t truly understand the value of a public health perspective until she worked on a congenital heart disease project during high school. Spencer was investigating the effect of socioeconomic status on prenatal diagnosis of the condition for her senior thesis when she had her light bulb moment.

“I always knew I wanted to go into the medical field, but this project prompted me to look at health through a broader lens that takes environmental and social factors into account,” she says. “I want to be able to provide well-rounded care to patients as well as resources to low-access communities, and I knew a degree in public health would be a good first step in achieving that goal.”

Home to the only accredited school of public health in the state, UofSC offered Spencer the foundation she was seeking for her bachelor’s degree. She had heard great things about the Arnold School’s faculty and curriculum from alumni and knew that UofSC offered the opportunity to explore her other interests in anthropology and counseling, which became her dual minors.

In the classroom, Spencer found a mentor in clinical instructor and undergraduate students services director Barbara Cuevas. Her advisor’s guidance ensured that Spencer was aware of the many resources at UofSC and the best way to navigate her courses, minors and internship opportunities. Cuevas also helped her explore different career paths, with Spencer eventually landing on her goal of becoming a genetic counselor.

By her junior year, Spencer was pursuing this goal outside the classroom as well. As a research assistant in psychology assistant professor Jessica Bradshaw’s Early Social Development and Intervention Lab, she gained hands-on experience in the areas of infant attention/social stimuli and biomarkers in connection with the later emergence of autism spectrum disorder. She also joined the Maternal and Child Health Student Association to further her understanding of healthcare disparities, particularly access to prenatal healthcare.

After graduating this month, Spencer plans to work as a genetic counseling assistant while applying to graduate programs in the field. Long term, she’s interested in using her public health background to make genetic counseling more accessible and inclusive and to better understand how environmental and lifestyle factors influence genetics.

“Something I really loved about my degree in public health was how applicable it was to my other classes outside of the major,” the Dean’s List honoree says when looking back on her undergraduate tenure. “I am graduating with minors in anthropology and counseling, and using a public health perspective in these classes was really helpful in understanding how relevant public health is in nearly every other field.”

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