A graduate program in Genetic Counseling

Last updated: July 11, 2017 at 2:42 p.m.

Objectives

Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling
The Master’s Program in Genetic Counseling is a two-year course of study integrating didactic course work with experiential learning in an environment that encourages close student/faculty interaction. The program places a strong emphasis on disability education and awareness, provides in-depth coursework on human, molecular and clinical genetics as well as counseling theory and technique and offers students extensive fieldwork experience and clinical training.

Graduates of the program are expected to have:

  • a clear understanding of human and medical genetics, developmental biology, molecular biotechnology, gene mapping, sequencing and variant analysis;
  • a solid foundation of knowledge on the major genetic diseases, cancer predisposition syndromes and birth defects and the methods used to diagnose and/or manage them;
  • familiarity with a variety of counseling theories and techniques that are employed in short-term counseling settings;
  • the ability to present relevant genetic information to individuals and families from diverse backgrounds in a compassionate manner, facilitate informed decision-making and help families obtain the medical and social services they need;
  • sensitivity to the needs of, and entitlements for, children and adults (including parents and potential parents) with intellectual disabilities, developmental disabilities, and other genetic disorders;
  • an awareness of the legal, ethical, and public policy issues raised as a result of evolving DNA and reproductive technologies;
  • experience in the application of research methodology, the design and execution of research projects involving human subjects and the preparation of completed projects for professional publication and presentation;
  • the skills to review relevant scientific literature and utilize computer-based tools and websites; and
  • an appreciation of how genetic counselors function in a variety of work settings and their roles and responsibilities within a clinical, research or laboratory team.

The Program requirements are typically completed in two academic years and the intervening summer. The Program is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and prepares graduates for the certification examination administered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.

Learning Goals

Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling

Brandeis University's Master of Science (MS) in Genetic Counseling is a two-year course of study, fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC), that integrates coursework with clinical experience in an environment that encourages close student/faculty interaction. Through teaching and supportive mentoring, our Program provides students with the clinical, counseling and research skills that will enable them to effectively work with individuals and families with disabilities, couples who are pregnant or hoping to become pregnant and patients who have, or may be at risk for, hereditary forms of cancer in a profession that continues to evolve.

Students who successfully complete the requirements for a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling will have a strong knowledge base in:
1. Human genetics and genomics, molecular biotechnology and developmental and reproductive biology
2. The clinical features, natural history, inheritance and treatment of a variety of birth defects and genetic conditions
3. Laboratory testing methods utilized in the prenatal, pediatric and cancer settings
4. Counseling theory and the techniques employed during short term counseling
5. The social, legal and ethical issues surrounding genetic testing and counseling
6. The methodology used to design and implement a research project
7. How genetic counselors function in a variety of work settings and their roles and responsibilities within a medical team

Through education in both the classroom and their internships, students will acquire essential core skills used by genetic counselors and be well prepared to:
1. Gather and document medical and family history information
2. Assess patient risk and determine appropriate testing options
3. Explain complex information in a way that is understood by patients
4. Give bad news in a sensitive and compassionate manner
5. Counsel patients from diverse backgrounds for a variety of indications
6. Initiate, or participate in, clinical research
7. Work as an integral part of a healthcare team

Disability awareness and education have been a part of the curriculum since the program’s inception. Students spend time with families and individuals who have a disability or genetic condition in their classes as well as through home visits and in educational settings providing services for these individuals. These activities will:
1. Provide students with exposure to both individuals with a variety of disabilities and the services that are available to them
2. Add to students' comfort level in working with individuals and families who have disabilities or genetic conditions
3. Increase sensitivity to the many issues faced by children and adults with disabilities

Students who complete the program have demonstrated mastery of all the required content areas within the 24 ACGC Practice Based Competencies. This should allow students to:
1. Work as a genetic counselor in a variety of clinical and non-clinical settings
2. Successfully sit for the American Board of Genetic Counseling’s Certification exam

How to Be Admitted to the Graduate Program

In addition to a Bachelor's degree, applicants should have completed the following courses: one year of general chemistry; one year of biology with lab; one semester of genetics (course should include both Mendelian and molecular); and one semester each of organic chemistry, biochemistry, psychology and statistics. Applicants lacking one or more of these courses are invited to consult the Program Director on how to fulfill these requirements.

Crisis counseling experience, volunteer or work with individuals who have disabilities and shadowing of genetic counselors working in the field are strongly recommended.

All applicants must submit a personal statement and three letters of recommendation, forward transcripts of all undergraduate and graduate work and send results of the General Test of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). The GRE codes for this Program are Institution 3092, Department Program 0210.

Faculty Advisory Committee

Gretchen Schneider, Chair and Graduate Advising Head
(Genetic Counseling)

Cassie Buck
(Genetic Counseling)

Gayun Chan-Smutko
(Genetic Counseling)

Joseph Cunningham
(Psychology)

Judith Jackson
(Genetic Counseling)

Lauren Lichten
(Genetic Counseling)

Thomas Mullen
(Genetic Counseling)

Alice Noble
(Genetic Counseling and Heller School)

Terri Queler
(Genetic Counseling)

Joan Stoler
(Genetic Counseling)

Judith Tsipis
(Biology and Genetic Counseling)

Rachel Woodruff
(Biology)

Requirements for the Degree of Master of Science

Program of Study

Academic Coursework
The academic component of the curriculum consists of graduate-level courses in: molecular biotechnology, human genetics, human reproductive biology, genetic counseling, clinical genetics, counseling theory, research methodology, and biomedical law and ethics. These courses allow for the acquisition of a strong scientific knowledge base and solid counseling skills with integration of these throughout the curriculum.

Experiential Learning
First-year students have a community fieldwork placement at a site that provides services to individuals with a wide variety of disabilities and spend time with a family raising a child with a genetic disorder or other disability. Students also visit a number of additional educational facilities for individuals with disabilities and tour the Newborn Screening Laboratory. These experiences deepen the students' understanding of issues faced by individuals and families with disabilities as well as the services available to them.

Clinical Training
Students begin their clinical training by observing both clinical and non-clinical genetic counselors in their first two semesters. In the summer before their second year students start their internships with a 30-contact day rotation in one of the three major practice areas: prenatal, pediatrics, or cancer. During the second year, students do two 7-week rotations during each semester. These include one each in the two remaining practice areas, one in a clinical genetic testing laboratory, and one in an area of interest to each student. In each clinic, students work directly with patients and families, under the supervision of genetic counselors or clinical geneticists, and develop their counseling and communication skills in a variety of settings. These experiences illustrate how the genetic counselor fits into the health care continuum, and expose the various roles genetic counselors can have. Satisfactory completion of all internships is required for graduation from the program.

Professional Development
Students develop their professional skills throughout the two years by discussing and analyzing clinical cases, critically reviewing scientific literature and doing formal presentations. Second year students are required to attend two professional meetings and students in both years are encouraged to attend local meetings of interest whenever possible. A seminar for second year students includes sessions on preparing for your career, developing your own professional identity, initiating the job search, preparing to take the certification exam and working as a student supervisor. These activities allow students to become comfortable functioning as a member of the genetic counseling profession.

Master's Thesis
All students design and carry out an independent qualitative or quantitative research project related to the field of genetic counseling. Their Master's thesis must be completed and deposited electronically in the Brandeis Institutional Repository prior to graduation. Students are also required to present their thesis findings to students and faculty at the conclusion of their second year and submit their work for either publication or presentation.

Residence Requirement
The residence requirement for this program is two years of full-time study.

Language Requirement
There is no foreign language requirement for the Master's degree.

Year 1 - Fall Semester

BIOL 101a Molecular Biotechnology
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Prerequisite: BIOL 14a.
Develops knowledge and skills to research, choose and interpret the bext experimental approaches for answering research questions in molecular biology. Studies molecular biology techniques such as PCR, DNA sequencing, genomics, cloning, microarrays, and CRISPR, and their research applications. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Woodruff

BIOL 128a Human Genetics
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Prerequisites: BIOL 14a and BIOL 15b.
Survey of topics, including: overview of the human genome; variation; mutation and polymorphism; reproductive genetics; single-gene inheritance and complexities thereof; multifactorial conditions;risk assessment including Bayesian analysis; gene mapping including linkage analysis and genome wide association studies (GWAS); molecular methodology in genetics and genomics; cytogenetics; hemoglobinopathies; population genetics; cancer genetics; genetics of development;biochemistry of selected genetic diseases; treatment including pharmacogenetics and gene therapy; ethical considerations in genetics and genomics. Usually offered every year.
Mr. Mullen

BIOL 160b Human Reproductive and Developmental Biology
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Prerequisites: BIOL 14a or BIOL 22a and BIOL 15b or BIOL 22b.
Course deals with hormonal, cellular, and molecular aspects of gametogenesis, fertilization, pregnancy, and birth. Pathological and abnormal variations that occur and the available medical technologies for intervention, correction, and facilitation of these processes are discussed. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Jackson

BIOL 202d Introduction to Genetic Counseling
A two-semester sequence that provides the historical and theoretical foundations for the practice of genetic counseling and the role of genetic services within the health care delivery system. Introduces students to some of the practical aspects of genetic counseling, including case preparation, pedigree construction/interpretation, risk assessment, psychological assessment and support, patient education and medical documentation. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Chan-Smutko

BIOL 206d Genetic Counseling Journal Club
Noncredit.
Informal biweekly meeting of students and faculty at which recent papers are discussed. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 211a Genetic Counseling Fieldwork Placement: Part I
Students work one day per week in a community-based health service organization, school, clinic, or public health agency to develop awareness of disability-related issues and the variety of community-based services for individuals with special needs. Students also observe in a genetics clinic twenty to thirty hours over the course of the semester to gain exposure to concepts learned in BIOL 202d (Introduction to Genetic Counseling). Periodic course discussions supplement the fieldwork experience. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Chan-Smutko

Year 1 - Spring Semester

BIOL 202d Introduction to Genetic Counseling
A two-semester sequence that provides the historical and theoretical foundations for the practice of genetic counseling and the role of genetic services within the health care delivery system. Introduces students to some of the practical aspects of genetic counseling, including case preparation, pedigree construction/interpretation, risk assessment, psychological assessment and support, patient education and medical documentation. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Chan-Smutko

BIOL 203a Proseminar: The Molecular Basis of Genetic Diseases
Covers the molecular basis of muscular dystrophy, fragile X syndrome, cystic fibrosis, Huntington's disease, and several inherited cancer syndromes. A historical perspective is used for each topic; molecular diagnostics and genetic counseling issues are addressed as well. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Tsipis

BIOL 204b Clinical Genetics I
Introduces the major practice areas of clinical genetics: prenatal, pediatrics, biochemical and cancer genetics for first year students. The course is broken into fours blocks, each devoted to one of these areas. The blocks include didactic lectures from experts in the field as well as case discussions led by practicing genetic counselors meant to allow students to put what they have learned into practice. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Lichten and Ms. Stoler

BIOL 205b Counseling Theory and Technique
A comprehensive overview of counseling theory and practice. Topics include listening, observation, and interview skills and strategies; family dynamics and development; coping and adaptation processes; referral and consultation procedures; and ethical principles. Students are provided an opportunity to integrate clinical experiences with the coverage of topics. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Queler

BIOL 206d Genetic Counseling Journal Club
Noncredit.
Informal biweekly meeting of students and faculty at which recent papers are discussed. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 211b Genetic Counseling Fieldwork Placement: Part II
To begin preparing for clinical genetics internships, students participate in a variety of experiences that serve to foster and integrate the concepts introduced in courses and presentations. Students are exposed to procedures in clinical labs through lectures, site visits, and/or lab work. In addition, students continue observations in a genetics clinic and meet several times with a family with a child with a disability. Periodic course discussions supplement the fieldwork experience.
Ms. Chan-Smutko

Summer

BIOL 212a Genetic Counseling Internship I
Students complete a 30 contact day clinical genetic internship under the supervision of a genetic counselor or other qualified clinician. Students increase their knowledge of clinical genetics and master genetic counseling skills by offering genetic counseling services in a prenatal, pediatric, cancer, general, adult ,or specialty clinic setting. Usually offered every summer.
Ms. Lichten

BIOL 213a Genetic Counseling Research I
In the summer semester students chose a research project, do a review of the literature and summarize key findings, and write a research proposal for a thesis project (to be done in the following fall/spring semesters). Usually offered in the summer.
Ms. Buck

Year 2 - Fall Semester

BIOL 206d Genetic Counseling Journal Club
Noncredit.
Informal biweekly meeting of students and faculty at which recent papers are discussed. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 207a Genetic Counseling: Case Conferences and Family Counseling
Examines case studies providing the basis for discussion of a variety of genetic disorders and the application of counseling modalities. Students have an opportunity to share experiences gained during clinical internships. Discussions emphasize the interplay of medical, psychological, ethical, legal, social, and cultural factors in genetic counseling. Co-taught by a clinical psychologist and a certified genetic counselor. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Queler

BIOL 212b Genetic Counseling Internship II
Students complete a 25-30 contact day clinical genetic internship under the supervision of a genetic counselor or other qualified clinician. Students increase their knowledge of clinical genetics and master genetic counseling skills by offering genetic counseling services in a prenatal, pediatric, cancer, general, adult, or specialty clinic setting. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Lichten

BIOL 213b Genetic Counseling Research II
Prerequisite: BIOL 213a.
Students are introduced to the principles and basic techniques of social science research in a series of seminars while they implement their thesis research projects. Usually offered fall and spring.
Ms. Buck

BIOL 214c Genetic Counseling Process Group
Students share and learn from their collective experiences in their internships, courses, and individual lives and have the opportunity to process and integrate the experience of becoming a genetic counselor. Usually offered every semester.
Mr. Cunningham

BIOL 220a Clinical Genetics II
Prerequisite: BIOL 204b or permission of the instructor.
Continuation of BIOL 204b with emphasis on the genetic and developmental disorders of most major organ systems. The course includes discussion of neurogenetics, neuromuscular, hematological, cardiovascular, connective tissue, skeletal dysplasias and craniosynostoses, vision and hearing disorders as well as coverage of renal, immunological and GI and pulmonary disorders. Each week covers a different system in both a didactic lecture and a case discussion. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Lichten and Ms. Stoler

Year 2 - Spring Semester

BIOL 206d Genetic Counseling Journal Club
Noncredit.
Informal biweekly meeting of students and faculty at which recent papers are discussed. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 212b Genetic Counseling Internship II
Students complete a 25-30 contact day clinical genetic internship under the supervision of a genetic counselor or other qualified clinician. Students increase their knowledge of clinical genetics and master genetic counseling skills by offering genetic counseling services in a prenatal, pediatric, cancer, general, adult, or specialty clinic setting. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Lichten

BIOL 213b Genetic Counseling Research II
Prerequisite: BIOL 213a.
Students are introduced to the principles and basic techniques of social science research in a series of seminars while they implement their thesis research projects. Usually offered fall and spring.
Ms. Buck

BIOL 214c Genetic Counseling Process Group
Students share and learn from their collective experiences in their internships, courses, and individual lives and have the opportunity to process and integrate the experience of becoming a genetic counselor. Usually offered every semester.
Mr. Cunningham

BIOL 216b Professional Development Seminar Series
This is a noncredit seminar required for all genetic counseling students.
Students meet once a week for a series of lectures, presentations and mock sessions that explore issues related to advanced practice in genetic counseling. Topics include advanced genetic counseling case management, Baysian analysis, and the use of the NSGC code of ethics. Usually offered every year.
Ms. Schneider

BIOL 235b American Health Policy & Practice and the Delivery of Genomic Health Care
Enrollment limited to Genetic Counseling or Health Policy graduate students or with permission of the instructor.
The continuous discovery of genetic markers for common diseases is leading to an increasing demand for genetic services, and for the integration of traditional medical genetics with mainstream medicine and public health care. In addition, the American healthcare system is evolving and huge changes in how is accessed, financed and delivered can be expected in the coming years. Those providing genetic services will therefore need a strong background in the structure of the American health care system and how public policy is influencing the field of medical genetics. This course is specifically designed to meet this objective using a mixture of readings from the literature, writing assignments, lecture, class discussion, guest speakers and student presentations. Usually offered every second year.
Staff

BIOL 236b Genetics, Law, and Social Policy
Explores legal doctrines, developing skills in analyzing legal and policy issues arising in professional practice and preparing students to actively participate in the development of institutional and public policies. Topics covered include confidentiality, patient autonomy, regulation of genetic, reproductive rights, and genetic discrimination. Usually offered every second year.
Ms. Noble