Quinn Stein hooked by chromosomes

Quinn Stein grew up playing baseball and continued in college, but at one point he had to choose, athletics or study. He loved science and chose academics, a path he has never regretted.

Quinn Stein, formerly of Great Bend, remains humble despite the advancements he has made both in his career and in the genetic counseling industry that serves varied forms from pre-natal to cardiology and oncology.

He has been a trailblazer as one of South Dakota’s first genetic counselors. Then he was appointed to a two-year stint on the National Society of Genetic Counselors Board of Directors and most recently is developing the first genetic counseling graduate program at Augustana University, Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in partnership with Sanford Health.

Not done there, he has been researching rare genetic disorders and works on “genesurance counseling,” which is gaining attention at the national level. Genetics counseling tests often are expensive and it can become difficult to get insurance companies to cover what they call experimental procedures. So genesurance counseling means meeting patients face-to-face to discuss what insurance will cover and expense of procedures, Stein said.

“Day by day, I don’t look at my life and go, ‘oh, look at all the neat stuff I’ve done. It’s the same things that everybody in Hankinson and Great Bend does. You get up, go to work, you do a good job and hope you did it well,” he said. “I don’t think there’s a day in my life where I thought, ‘look what I accomplished.’”

He specializes in adult and pediatric genetics, down syndrome, prenatal screening and diagnosis, hereditary cancer, infertility and pre-implantation genetic diagnosis. This is a rich and varied field that Stein laughingly said earlier it took five Christmases to fully explain to his family. He is the son of Stan and Cheryl Stein, who live in rural Great Bend, North Dakota.

Genetic counselors can work in many medical sub-specialties, from seeing patients with cancer, heart disease, obstetrics and internal medicine. Stein said genetics counseling is a competitive field since there are few programs in the country. He explained he essentially is a translator of complicated genetic information who must make the information understandable to families looking for a diagnosis because of a health concern. He holds a master’s degree in genetic counseling from the University of Wisconsin and did his under grad work at the University of Jamestown.

His life has taken an interesting twist from when he grew up in southeastern North Dakota. He was hardly different than his peers during his formative years. He helped his dad work the family farm while remaining active at Hankinson High School, where he graduated with the class of 1994. His early interests were playing football, basketball, baseball, and participating in the music program, theater and Science Fair.

Being active in his high school means Stein had to learn time management skills, which served him well in his under grad and graduate work, since he had to learn to balance his interests with studying for classes.

“I was always able to do well in class. I was not a 4.0 student. Some things came easy to me and some things didn’t,” he said.

Early on, he was interested in agronomy and plant pathology because that’s what he knew, until his junior year at Jamestown propelled him on his career path. A professor had students complete a genetic counseling inheritance lab that Stein found interesting to the point it became his chosen field.

He was at a crossroads of sorts since he played baseball at Jamestown and frankly was tired of losing the feeling in his toes from early spring baseball in North Dakota.

Baseball — or — study.

Stein chose studying.

“The path – doing well in school – was always important to me. There comes a point when you have to figure out what you are going to do with that, doing well in school or activities. Science is what I liked best,” so science became his focus after being introduced to genetic counseling, Stein added. The appeal of a scholarly profession meant going beyond teaching and researching. It offered him an opportunity to work individually with patients to offer solutions to their present health concerns.

He has published numerous articles on topics such as hereditary cancer, autism, obesity, newborn screening, first-trimester screening and rare genetic disorders.  Stein isn’t certain whether this career found him, or he found it. No matter how it happened, he feels this is exactly the path his life was supposed to take. Since he was among those responsible to interview students into the graduate program at Augustana, he answers that kind of question this way.

“People tell you if you find a job you love, you never work a day in your life. That’s crap. This job is a lot of work. It’s a really good job and there is nothing I would rather do. It is a lot of work and it’s still an enjoyable career. I’m glad I found it, or it found me,” he said.

Case in point.

His wife, Cari, drove while he worked in the car on their way from their home in Sioux Falls to Mitchell, South Dakota, to watch their son, Brooks, play in a baseball game. This undoubtedly gave him that “circle of life” feeling when he sweated in the stands while watching 13-year-old Brooks participate in a double header in 100-degree heat. And he can’t even complain to his dad about sitting in the stands because Stan Stein spent years following his son’s sporting endeavors and even coached his baseball team.

“My dad was always out there coaching and volunteering. He sat through it, too,” Stein said with a laugh.

The Steins have another son, Shea, who is 10.

The teacher in Stein is anticipating those first eight students coming on campus to undertake the first graduate program at Augustana. He and colleagues Dr. Gene Hoyme and genetic counselor Jay Flanagan have talked about creating this type of program for more than a decade, until the last two years when Stein was part of a request for funding by T. Denny Sanford, South Dakota businessman and philanthropist who provided a $400 million gift to Sioux Valley Hospitals and Health System, which renamed itself Sanford Health.

“We knew children’s issues and cancer issues really touched him and genetics as well,” Stein explained. Sanford generously provided the financial gift to get this graduate program off the ground, so it went from 10 years of talking about it to asking for start-up money to make it happen.

Stein hadn’t planned on being the program director and in fact assumed he would be part of the national search to find a director for the Augustana graduate program. Through encouragement he received across the country, he applied and received the directorship.

“I understand South Dakota the best, the Midwest the best. I had the best chances of making this program succeed,” he added.

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