Triton 5: Sara Riordan ’99

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Woman wearing a brown blazer over a colorful blue shirt with jeans and heels, standing with her hand on her hip, smiling toward the camera.
Photo credit: Kristen Taylor ’99

01. What do you do? I am a genetic counselor. Genetic counselors are health care providers that empower patients and their families with information, guidance and emotional support to help them understand their family history, evaluate genetic testing options and make informed choices based on genetic test results. In my current role as VP of clinical and research programs at Unified Patient Network, I work with our health system partners to ensure that patients and their families have access to the most accurate and comprehensive genetic tests and services.

02. Why do you do what you do? My career choice was inspired by a personal family experience. I had a younger sister who died as a baby from complications of a rare genetic condition. At that time in the late 1970s, genetic counseling was still a new field, and my parents did not have access to a genetic counselor’s guidance and support. It made a painful time all that much more stressful and difficult. This experience in my own family inspires and motivates me in the work I do with other families, as I want everyone to have access to the genetics expertise and resources they need.

03. What have you done? While I began my career in academia, I transitioned to industry because I enjoy the fast pace and the opportunity to develop innovative products and services. I’ve worked with both large corporations and startups in bringing genetic testing products to market. I am the immediate past president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors, and in this volunteer role I have focused on growing a diverse genetic counselor workforce and advocating for equitable access to our services.

04. What did you learn here? UCSD opened me up to a wider world of possibilities and encouraged me to aim for ambitious goals. I remember passing by Pacific Hall on my way to class as a freshman and being in awe of the scientists and research labs within. By my senior year I was working in one of those labs every day! I also met much of my adult family at UCSD—my spouse as well as many of my closest friends. These relationships have truly stood the test of time and have influenced my life in countless positive ways.

05. What have you learned since? I’ve since learned that after each goal you achieve there is another and then another; life is less about a destination and much more about the journey. Genetics is a rapidly evolving area of medicine and it’s exciting to be in a field where I am always learning and trying new things, and ultimately hoping to help more patients and families.