UNL Graduate’s Personal Experience Sparks a Passion for Genetic Counseling and Drives Career Aspirations 

“Fathoming the great potential of genetic diagnostics and personalized care ignited my passion for becoming a genetic counselor and my desire to contribute to the field through my academic performance and community involvement,” said Violetta Bakunina.  

Pictured: Violetta Bakunina

Bakunina’s unique background has played a pivotal role in turning her passion for genetic counseling into a career. Bakunina and her family moved to the United States and settled in Omaha when she was in 11th grade. She came to UNL to pursue her dream of becoming a genetic counselor. She received the Buffett Scholarship, which aided in her dream becoming a reality. Although, this journey was not easy.    

“I kind of struggled all that time, especially in high school. There’s been a lot of communication difficulties that I had to navigate,” Bakunina said. “I was trying to acclimate myself to the new country and also help my family because they don’t really speak English. So, I had to do a lot for that. But I think that kind of gave me more maturity on many things in life, and that’s why I greatly enjoyed my experience here in Nebraska. I think my greatest achievements are not really any kind of distinctions or honors, but the friends that I’ve met in the time that I’ve made throughout my four years of experience here.”   

Her passion for genetic counseling sprung from experiences during her youth. Helping her mom through a medical diagnosis.    

“I think my immigration experience kind of facilitated my passion for this field. I didn’t know about genetic counseling beforehand. But when we just moved here, my mom was pregnant, and she had twins,” Bakunina explained. “And it was a complicated pregnancy because what we learned is that she had twin-twin transfusion syndrome, which is basically when twins share the same placenta. So, we had to change several hospitals and moved here because not every hospital could facilitate this kind of medical evaluation.”   

As the only English speaker in her family, Bakunina advocated for her mother and two younger siblings. She became very familiar with medical and financial terminology and also the medical system as a whole. Bakunina’s family was having a difficult time finding holistic care for her mother. They were constantly running into obstacles with various providers, record keeping & treatment plans.    

It was a genetic counselor who provided a holistic medical evaluation to her mother, and ignited the spark that became Bakunina’s passion for pediatric genetic counseling. Her family was forever grateful for the wonderful care that their mother received, and Bakunina was inspired by the potential of how genetic counseling could change the world.    

“So, when we got to interact with a genetic counselor, she really took everything into consideration. And she was the first person who kind of put everything together and provided this holistic approach to my mom,” Bakunina said. “And she also always advocated for my family. And this advocacy, as well as how she approached the treatment, was really close to my values and how I do approach healthcare. And this sparked my interest in this field. And since then, I’ve been trying to learn more about it.”   

Bakunina came to UNL to pursue her dream of becoming a genetic counselor. She received the Buffett Scholarship, which aided in that dream becoming a reality. Although, this journey was not easy. Bakunina’s time at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln has helped her to learn more about and immerse herself in the field of genetic counseling. Bakunina was one of the many female co-founders of UNL’s first Genetic Counseling Club.   

“Honestly, I wish I met those girls earlier. Because it’s been an incredible experience working alongside them and working and improving yourself in something that you’re very passionate about. We all dedicated a lot of efforts to this club,” said Bakunina. “And we were so excited to see that students who have not even considered genetic counseling or would not even know about it started to come to our meetings. So, we really want to spread the word about this career because it’s not as well known.”  

Bakunina emphasized how the club’s primary goal was to educate students on the ins and outs of the profession, as well as help them have a good understanding of the field & get opportunities to connect with and learn from genetic counselors.   

It was a priority for Bakunina to have a solid foundation of knowledge and skills, as genetic counseling school is very competitive. Her senior thesis was centered around Mito-nuclear incompatibility and temperature-sensitive sterility in male Drosophila. Throughout her senior thesis project, she got to interpret cells, conduct lab tests, and work alongside outstanding students and professors. Her professors and mentors made quite an impact on her during her time at UNL.    

Female student stands in front of research project board.
Recent UNL Graduate Violetta Bakunina stands in front of her senior research project board.

“They helped me advance in my senior thesis project and focus on deciphering the mechanism of mitochondrial and nuclear interaction and its contribution to neurological disease,” Bakunina said. “Which got me selected for the Annual Biomedical Conference for undergraduate minority students in research in California.”   

Bakunina also utilized many campus resources to assist with her professional development journey.  

“I was working on writing my personal statement, which I’ve never really done before. So, I would be a frequent guest of Career Services,” said Bakunina. “I met with Tracy Lungrin, who was always very helpful when it came to my personal statement and also my resume…It was helpful knowing that I’m not alone in this, but it was also relieving from an emotional standpoint.” 

Bakunina made quite an impression on Lungrin as well.  

“I was blown away by her story on how she became interested in this field,” said Lungrin. “To have to help navigate a move to another country, a second language and be the primary translator for your mom and future siblings medical care at such a young age demonstrated so much courage and maturity. Not only will she be successful in her career, but I also predict she will be a thought leader, as well.” 

Bakunina graduated from UNL this past May with a bachelor’s in microbiology & another in Counseling Psychology. She has since been looking for genetic counselor assistant positions to gain more patient interaction before taking the next step to apply for genetic counseling school. She eventually hopes to earn a master’s degree in Genetic Counseling and start a career in pediatric genetic counseling, with a specialty in fetal care.    

As Bakunina moves forward in the pursuit of her dreams, she emphasizes the need for patient-focused care and genetic counseling. She hopes to someday give others the same holistic care that was given to her mother so many years ago.    

By Annelise Christen
Annelise Christen Engagement and Connections Coordinator