I am the I in IWK – Jenn Macgillivray, Clinical Genomics Technologist

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Jenn Macgillivray is from Halifax, and like many from the province, she has a long-standing relationship with the IWK and was a volunteer here during high school. With her drive towards science and health care, Jenn seized an opportunity through the IWK as they searched for a student to send for genetics education in Toronto.

“I hadn’t really thought too much about genetics before that opportunity came up,” says Macgillivray. “It all worked out even though I didn’t have a ton of lab experience at the time. My first lab partner laughed a little when I asked her how to use a pipette on the first day.”

The IWK is home to the main genetics lab for all of the Maritimes, receiving samples from every province to process and analyze. The lab has a big job of solving chromosome and DNA mysteries and providing answers in as quickly as a one-day turnaround.

“We take the samples in, do the extraction or harvesting, set up the tests, make the slides, and then actually analyze the test or chromosomes. We come up with the results that are checked by the lab scientist, but the main analysis is all done by the technologists.”

Macgillivray joined the IWK family as soon as she finished her clinical work through school and has been here for eight years since.

“There are always so many new technologies to learn and interesting mysteries to solve in genomics. With chromosome analysis, you might be the first person to ever see a result or strange rearrangement. At the end of the day, it’s about providing answers.”

“Knowing that there’s a patient on the other end of the test is always on our minds, especially with the time-sensitive ones. You might think that because we don’t see the patients that they’re not as present in our work but they are. When you see a name on a sample and then that name comes back, again and again, you know there’s someone on the other end who’s probably been waiting a long time to hear these results.”

Macgillivray is looking forward to educating herself as much as possible on the new techniques and technologies that are always coming into the lab. “When I say I work in genetics, people always think ‘you are not the father’ kind of tests, but the stuff we do here is so important and I think is super, super cool.”