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MS in Genetics Counseling Curriculum

The curriculum for the Master’s degree program in genetics counseling includes didactic instruction in principles of human, clinical, biochemical and molecular genetics; embryology and dysmorphology; laboratory and clinical research skills; and cytogenetics and cancer genetics among other subjects. Classroom instruction and special topic seminars provide exploration of social, legal and public health aspects of genetics. Students learn psychosocial theories and skills through a combination of didactic work and interactive role plays as well as through practical application in numerous clinical rotations in a variety of hospital and clinical settings. Laboratory experience includes classroom and hands-on instruction in diagnostic molecular and cytogenetics procedures with practice in in silico analysis of variants and results interpretation.  Throughout the program, students gain extensive teaching experience via presentations required for the graduate research project, departmental seminar and journal club among other educational activities.

Program Progression

Beginning in the first spring semester, all students in the genetics counseling master’s degree program at IU School of Medicine complete clinical rotations in general pediatric and adult genetics; biochemical genetics; neurogenetics; and prenatal, oncology and cardiovascular clinics. Departmental faculty teach courses encompassing molecular and biochemical genetics, laboratory methods and research, psychology and counseling techniques, ethics and professional issues. The professional development/research project and an assortment of fieldwork electives along with journal clubs, seminars and tumor boards round out the 21-month program. Successful completion of the program leads to a Master of Science degree in medical genetics.

The program’s curriculum prepares students for a career in genetic counseling and fulfills the requirements of the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling. After completing this program, students are eligible to take the American Board of Genetic Counseling certification examination.

Program Requirements

To complete the Genetic Counseling graduate program and obtain a Master of Science in Medical Genetics, a student must successfully: complete a minimum of 45 hours of specified coursework and clinical rotations, complete a graduate research project, present a departmental seminar, present at journal club, and pass a comprehensive examination. Students must achieve a minimum of a B (3.0) grade in all departmental courses and clinical rotations and a minimum of a C (2.0) in all non-departmental courses, with an overall GPA minimum of 3.0.

Typical Schedule

The order in which courses are taken may vary from student to student. Some courses are taught every other year and taken by both first- and second-year students at the same time. Courses specific to the genetic counseling program are typically taken only by genetic counseling students, while courses in various topics of human genetics may be taken with other medical and graduate students within IU School of Medicine.

Year 1Fall SemesterQ580 Basic Human Genetics (3 credits)
Q604 Communication Techniques in Genetic Counseling (4 credits)
Q606 Foundations in Genetic Counseling (4 credits)
Q608 Introduction to Genetic Counseling Research (1 credit)
Q623 Dysmorphology for Genetic Clinicians1 (1 credit)
Q624 Clinical Genetics & Management of Metabolic Disease1 (1 credit)
Spring SemesterQ609 Practical Cancer Genetic Counseling (2 credits)
Q610 Medical Genetics Practicum (3 credits)
Q614 Psychological Aspects of Genetic Counseling2 (3 credits)
Q618 Practical Cardiovascular Genetic Counseling (1 credit)
Q620 Human Cytogenetics2 (3 credits)
Summer SemesterQ615 Prenatal Diagnosis Practicum3 (3 credits)
Year 2Fall SemesterQ613 Laboratory Techniques (2 credits)
Q616 Specialty Clinics and Services Practicum3 (2 credits)
Q617 Genetic Counseling Clinic Practicum3 (1 credit)
Q629 Embryology for Genetics Clinicians2 (2 credits)
Q633 Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling (1 credit)
Spring SemesterQ610 Medical Genetics Practicum3 (3 credits)
Q612 Molecular and Biochemical Genetics1 (3 credits)
Q630 Population Genetics1 (3 credits)
Q800 Medical Genetics Research (1 credit)
Elective OptionsQ621 Human Cytogenetics Laboratory (3 credits)
Q622 Cytogenetics of Malignancies (2-3 credits)
Q660 Seminar (2 credits)
G504 Introduction to Research Ethics (2 credits)
W520 Research Methodology in Allied Health (3 credits)
1 offered in odd years, 2 offered in even years, 3order of clinical rotations varies by student.

This program is located within a large genetics department at IU School of Medicine, and the expertise of a wide variety of genetics specialists is immediately available. Consequently, most required program courses are taught by IU School of Medicine faculty and genetic counselors.

Graduate Research Project

To facilitate professional growth and broaden the scope of genetic counseling expertise, this genetic counseling graduate program requires students to complete a graduate research project. The student’s advisory committee and the research project coordinator provide guidance with project development and ultimately approve the project completion. The advisory committee, selected by the student, consists of two department faculty members, a faculty member from an affiliated department or institution and a genetic counselor. This same advisory committee meets with the student periodically regarding the progress of his or her graduate training.

During the student’s first meeting with the advisory committee, timelines and specific requirements for the selected project option are determined. Students enroll in Q800 Medical Genetics Research for one credit during the final semester. The grade for this course reflects the culmination of the project and seminar and is determined by each student’s advisory committee and the research project coordinator.

Students’ graduate research projects result in both a manuscript-style paper to be submitted to a relevant peer-reviewed journal and a departmental seminar delivered by the student to the faculty and staff of the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics during the student’s final spring semester. Students are encouraged to submit their final research project product as an abstract to the National Society of Genetic Counselors’ Annual Education Conference or other national genetics meeting. Options for completion of the project requirement:

Students choosing this option identify a topic during the first year of the program. The project topic should contribute to the body of genetic counseling or clinical genetics knowledge.

As part of this option, students write a paper describing a unique or interesting case that includes a comprehensive literature/topic review.

Laboratory Experience

During the second year of study, students enroll in Q613: Laboratory Techniques. Through this interactive class, students gain hands-on experience performing laboratory procedures and receive instruction in various molecular and cytogenetics techniques and their utilization, as well as practice with in silico analysis of variants and results interpretation. The course is primarily taught by pharmacogeneticist Dr. Victoria Pratt who, as the former chief director of Molecular Genetics for a large commercial clinical testing laboratory, contributes her expertise in industrial and laboratory genetics. Several departmental research faculty provide guest lectures in their specialty areas. Via selected fieldwork experiences and choice of graduate research project, students also have the option to pursue additional laboratory-related skills and experiences.

Practicum

Students take this practicum twice for a total of two semesters of experience with pediatric and general genetics. Students see 40 or more patients with an extraordinary variety of genetic conditions and work with three board-certified medical geneticists and three board-certified genetic counselors. The Medical Genetics Clinic is held every Friday morning at Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health (Indianapolis). Students see one to two patients per week in this clinic and discuss their cases with the medical genetics faculty in pre-clinic conferences. Also during this practicum, students see patients in the Bone Dysplasia Clinic and several outreach clinics located in Bloomington, Madison and Terre Haute. During five weeks of the second semester of this rotation, students work with the school’s neurogeneticist and neurogenetics counselor to focus on neurogenetics referrals; this sub-rotation provides students the opportunity to counsel patients in the Neurogenetics Clinic, Muscular Dystrophy Clinic and Neurofibromatosis Clinic. During another five week portion of the practicum, students also rotate through Biochemical Genetics to gain experience working with patients with a variety of inborn errors of metabolism.

Students spend five weeks in IU Health’s University Hospital Prenatal Diagnosis Clinic and an additional five weeks at one of the following sites: Center for Prenatal Diagnosis, St. Vincent Maternal Fetal Medicine and Genetics Center, or Community Hospital Maternal Fetal Medicine. During the University Hospital rotation, students attend a prenatal clinic with a large Hispanic population where they participate in bilingual provision of services; participate in the evaluation of a case through the KateCares Stillbirth Assessment Program, and present to maternal fetal medicine specialists, residents and prenatal staff about a prenatal genetics-related topic. Students participate in the care of an average of 50 patients during the prenatal practicum. Referral indications include advanced maternal age, abnormal maternal serum screening or cell free fetal DNA screening results, teratogenic exposures, abnormal ultrasound findings, and a variety of other issues. Students observe prenatal procedures, including amniocentesis, chorionic villus sampling, ultrasound, and others when available. Nine genetic counselors provide supervision at these four centers.

This rotation provides students with exposure to a variety of specialty clinic services and multidisciplinary clinics in cancer genetics, cardiovascular genetics and biochemical/metabolic genetics.  During this rotation, students spend five weeks in each of two cancer genetic counseling clinics from among the Indiana Familial Cancer Clinic at IU Health and three other local cancer risk assessment clinics.  Seven board-certified counselors provide supervision at these sites where students will counsel about a variety of familial cancers and genetic testing options and attend tumor board and other oncology meetings. During the five-week cardiovascular genetics rotation, students work with medical geneticists, cardiologists and two cardiovascular genetic counselors to provide genetic counseling and offer genetic testing to individuals and families affected by cardiomyopathies, arrhythmias, aortopathies and congenital heart defects in both adult and pediatric settings.

During this five-week advanced rotation, students are the primary genetic counselors, responsible for all aspects of patient counseling and care. Supervision is provided by two genetic counselors and two clinical geneticists. Students focus on refining their genetic counseling skills and further developing their competency with psychosocial assessment and counseling. Students see approximately 10 patients with indications that may include abnormal chromosomal microarray or whole exome sequencing results, a recent diagnosis or family history of a genetic condition, consenting for whole exome sequencing, and pregnancy loss among others.

Fieldwork

Over the course of the MS in genetics counseling program, students are responsible for identifying and completing a series of fieldwork experiences designed to broaden their exposure to a variety of health care providers, educators and other individuals who are important in the lives of their patients.

Students observe in a variety of multidisciplinary clinics staffed by developmental pediatricians, neurologists, plastic surgeons, nurses, therapists and social workers to appreciate the expertise that diverse specialists contribute to their patients’ care. These clinics include the Down Syndrome Clinic, Myelomeningocele Clinic, Developmental Pediatrics Clinic, Huntington Disease Clinic, and Assisted Reproductive Technology/Infertility Clinic.

To further their experience with non-clinical genetic counseling roles, students meet with genetic counselors employed in a variety of industry and non-clinical settings and have the opportunity to shadow such counselors to gain an understanding of their day-to-day responsibilities. In addition to exploring these specialty clinics and non-clinical genetic counselor roles, students tailor their fieldwork to their own interests by participating in related activities, including attending support groups; speaking to high school, undergraduate or community groups about genetic counseling; writing articles to contribute to Perspectives in Genetic Counseling and other NSGC or other professional publications; observing in a special education class or physical, occupational or speech therapy session; shadowing an inpatient perinatal bereavement nurse; or visiting a group home, assisted living facility or vocational training organization that provides services to individuals with special needs.

Teaching Activities

A weekly educational seminar is sponsored by the Department of Medical and Molecular Genetics. Presenters include invited guest speakers, departmental faculty, fellows and students. Genetic counseling students are required to present a seminar related to their graduate research project during the second year of training.

A monthly journal club is sponsored by the Division of Clinical Genetics. Participants discuss genetic counseling and clinical genetics topics of interest. Genetic counseling students are required to select, present and lead discussion about one current journal article at a journal club during their second year.

Once or twice each month, students attend review lectures on various genetic syndromes. During each meeting, two students provide slide presentations on assigned syndromes.

Students attend and participate in these conferences during their prenatal rotations. At both University Hospital sites, students deliver a presentation on a topic of interest in prenatal genetics.

Students have the opportunity to participate in invited talks to local schools and community groups.

Genetics Conferences

Indiana Network of Genetic Counselors

Students may participate in a variety of activities sponsored by the INGC including the annual INGC Update4: Genetics education conference, Celebrate Science Day and semiannual INGC meetings.

National NSGC Annual Education Conference

This conference provides outstanding continuing education, networking and employment-related opportunities in genetic counseling. Students typically receive financial assistance with meeting registration and travel expenses for the national meeting during their second year.