Genetics

Genetic Counseling Curriculum

The curriculum for the genetic counseling program 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 and molecular 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 and Molecular Genetics, a student must successfully: complete a minimum of 47 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- grade in all departmental courses and clinical rotations, 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)
Q600 Practical Prenatal Genetic Counseling (2 credits)
Q604 Communication Techniques in Genetic Counseling (4 credits)Q606 Foundations in Genetic Counseling (2 credits)
Q608 Introduction to Genetic Counseling Research (1 credit)
Q623 Dysmorphology for Genetic Clinicians (1 credit)
Q624 Clinical Genetics & Management of Metabolic Disease (1 credit)
Spring SemesterQ609 Practical Cancer Genetic Counseling (2 credits)
Q610 Medical Genetics Practicum (3 credits)
Q612 Molecular and Biochemical Genetics (3 credits)
Q618 Practical Cardiovascular Genetic Counseling (2 credits)
Q620 Human Cytogenetics (2 credits)Q630 Population Genetics (1 credit)
Summer SemesterQ7XX Clinical Rotations* (3 credits)
Year 2Fall SemesterQ613 Laboratory Techniques (2 credits)
Q629 Embryology for Genetics Clinicians (2 credits)
Q633 Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling (1 credit)
Q7XX Clinical Rotations* (3 credits)
Q810 Genetic Counseling Research I (1 credit)
Spring SemesterQ614 Psychological Aspects of Genetic Counseling (3 credits)
Q634 Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling II (1 credit)
Q7XX Clinical Rotations (3 credits)
Q811 Genetic Counseling Research II (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)
* Order of 700-level clinical rotations vary 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.

Professional Development Project

To facilitate professional growth and broaden the scope of genetic counseling expertise, the 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 Q810 Genetic Counseling Research I for one credit during the final fall semester and Q811 Genetic Counseling Research II during the final spring semester. The grades for the courses reflect the development and implementation of the project and a manuscript and seminar presentation.

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.

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 Victoria Pratt, PhD, 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.

Clinical Practicum

Methods for obtaining medical and family histories, approaches to evaluation of individuals and families with genetic disorders, and techniques for providing genetic counseling.

Hands-on training in clinical genetics diagnostic and counseling clinics.  Students participate in providing genetic evaluation, risk assessment and counseling to patients with indications including dysmorphic features; abnormal growth; difficulties with neurological, psychological and /or intellectual functioning; family history of genetic disorders; and abnormal genetic test results.

Hands-on training in metabolic genetics outpatient clinics and inpatient settings with introduction to the roles of the multidisciplinary biochemical genetics team.  Students gain experience with the newborn screening program and conditions including PKU, galactosemia, organic acid disorders, and lysosomal storage diseases.

Covers presentation, long-term management and screening recommendations, risk assessment, genetic testing options and psychosocial issues associated with inherited cardiovascular conditions including cardiomyopathy, familial hypercholesterolemia, aortopathies and congenital heart defects.  Students provide genetic counseling and follow-up in a supervised setting.

Practicum includes presentation, long-term comprehensive management, risk assessment, genetic testing options and psychosocial issues associated with inherited oncology conditions.  Students provide genetic counseling and follow-up in a supervised setting and become familiar with the genetic counselor’s role in multidisciplinary tumor board meetings.

This clinical practicum strengthens students’ understanding of the presentation, risk assessment, genetic testing options and psychosocial issues associated with inherited oncology conditions and builds upon their basic genetic counseling skills.  Students provide genetic counseling, and follow-up in a supervised setting and attend multidisciplinary tumor board meetings.

Hands-on training in clinical neurogenetics diagnostic and counseling clinics.  Students will participate in providing genetic evaluation, risk assessment and counseling to patients with indications including inherited structural brain anomalies, epilepsy syndromes, muscular dystrophies, developmental delays, autism, mitochondrial disorders, and adult onset neurodegenerative conditions.

Hands-on training in prenatal genetic counseling for cell-free fetal DNA and maternal serum screenings, abnormal screening results, ultrasound anomalies, teratogens, family history of genetic conditions, recurrent miscarriage and advanced maternal age. Students provide genetic counseling, case management and follow up in a supervised setting.

Hands-on training in prenatal genetic counseling for a variety of prenatal and preconception indications.  Students provide genetic counseling, case management and follow up in a supervised setting.  Includes working with interpreters in an Hispanic genetic counseling clinic and case assessment in a stillbirth assessment program.

Supplemental Fieldwork Experiences

Over the course of the genetic counseling program, students are responsible for identifying and completing a series of supplemental 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, and Huntington Disease 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 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 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. 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

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

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.