FLORIDA ASSOCIATION OF GENETIC COUNSELORS
The “Florida Genetic Counselor Network” was an informal group of genetic counselors throughout the state of Florida who connected via e-mail and an annual meeting. The first meeting of Florida genetic counselors took place in 1990, and a more formal group was created at the initiation of discussions about licensure for genetic counselors. In 2004, the group, led by Dan Riconda MS, CGC, worked with a lobbyist and successfully passed one of the first licensure bills for genetic counselors in the United States. Unfortunately, the bill was vetoed by then Governor Jeb Bush. Among other endeavors, the group also worked to establish a genetic counseling training program in the state of Florida.
At the annual meeting in the spring of 2015, Dan announced his intention to hand off leadership of the network after over a decade of service, and Laura Barton, Darrow Speyer, and Heather Stalker volunteered as “president,” “vice president,” and “treasurer/secretary,” respectively, of the informal organization. In March of 2016 the Florida Association of Genetic Counselors (FLAGC) was officially incorporated as a Florida non-profit organization, and the organization became a state chapter of the National Society of Genetic Counselors in January 2017, giving FLAGC status as a 501(c)6 organization.
While the informal network held annual education meetings, being a formal organization allowed the meetings to become a source of revenue for the organization by having corporate sponsors. Sponsorship allowed networking among members and representatives from industry as well as increased member benefits, including coverage of fees to obtain CEUs. In 2017, our bylaws were formalized, establishing Full and Associate membership levels, as well as defining our Executive Board Leadership and standing committees: Public Affairs, Education, and Development. Initial communication with members was done via Google Group messaging. With the 2017 establishment of a website and member platform at www.FloridaGenetics.org, FLAGC expanded to include “affiliates,” allowing for students and others with an interest in the profession to join our mailing list and attend meetings.
As the organization has grown, we have awarded various grants for student research, conference travel, and most recently application & match fee reimbursement for prospective genetic counseling students as part of our effort to increase the diversity of our field. In 2018 we partnered with University of South Florida (USF), the only genetic counseling training program in Florida, to provide training for our members who would serve as clinical supervisors for trainees, and these trainings and supervisor workshops continue as the number of clinical supervisors grow. Since 2019, FLAGC and the USF genetic counseling program jointly host an annual open house for prospective students. These events give prospective students insights into the profession in general as well as an overview of what the USF program offers as the only accredited training program offering a master’s in public health (MPH).
Following the veto of the bill to license Florida genetic counselors, no additional lobbying efforts were made until 2015 when FLAGC first applied for and was provided grant funding by NSGC to support licensure efforts. With the annual funding support of NSGC for lobbying and tireless efforts of FLAGC leadership and members, the Florida legislature passed the “Genetic Counselor Workforce Act” in 2021, and Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law on June 21, 2021. Starting in July 2021 genetic counseling licenses were granted in Florida, and over 500 licenses were issued within the first year.