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UArizona Health Sciences Expanding Roles for Genetic Counselors in the Era of Precision Medicine

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UArizona Health Sciences Expanding Roles for Genetic Counselors in the Era of Precision Medicine

Genetic counseling is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States. To meet this growing demand, the University of Arizona Health Sciences opened a graduate program in genetic counseling.

Precision medicine quickly is becoming a central piece of modern health care — and a standard tool in the providers’ toolbox. Consumers can have their saliva analyzed by private companies and gain access to a wealth of information about their own genetics. Physicians are ordering an increasing number of genetic tests, but haven’t necessarily been trained to interpret the results. It raises the question: Who can help patients, and even providers, interpret genetic information?

The inaugural class of UArizona Health Sciences' genetic counseling graduate program is poised to join a growing workforce to meet the high demand for professionals able to interpret complicated genetic data. (Photo: Kris Hanning, UArizona Health Sciences)Genetic counseling is one of the fastest growing professions in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. However, many still are unaware of this field of health care. Genetic counselors are trained medical professionals who are well versed in both medical genetics and patient counseling. This unique combination of skills affords genetic counselors a clear understanding of complex genetic health information, and the skill sets to translate that information for patients and untrained health-care providers.

The primary role of genetic counselors in the clinic is to help patients and their families interpret, understand and make decision about their genetic health. In many ways, genetic counselors can serve as patient advocates, teachers, counselors and providers. Genetic counselors often sit down with patients and their families to collect detailed family histories, review options for genetic testing, and discuss the potential implications of genetic testing on both the patient and other family members. Genetic counselors interpret the results of genetic testing and, together with the patient, family and members of the health-care team, help determine the most appropriate path for patients.

“Our students will train with genetic counselors and serve the diverse populations in southern and central Arizona.”
Dee Quinn, MS, CGC, director of the Genetic Counseling Graduate Program.

Although genetic counselors traditionally have worked alongside doctors, nurses, and other health-care providers in a hospital or clinic, their roles now are expanding into other areas. Genetic counselors are moving into private practices, working in telemedicine, and playing important roles in commercial laboratories and companies. As the field of precision medicine grows, the career options for genetic counselors will continue to expand.

To meet this growing demand, the University of Arizona opened a graduate program in genetic counseling in fall 2019. The UArizona Health Sciences Center for Applied Genetics and Genomic Medicine and the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine at the UArizona College of Medicine – Tucson teamed up to offer this new master’s degree program.

The 22-month program will immerse students into the field of genetic counseling, using a combination of classroom-based coursework and practical clinical experiences.

“Our students will have the opportunity to train with genetic counselors and medical genetics professionals working throughout Tucson and Phoenix and will be able to serve the diverse populations in southern and central Arizona,” says Dee Quinn MS, CGC, director of the UArizona Genetic Counseling Graduate Program. “These unique experiences will allow our students to enter the genetic counseling workforce with a strong foundation, preparing them for a wide array of careers in this field.”

The program is accepting applications for the upcoming year and they are due Jan. 1, 2020. Individuals interested in the program are encouraged to visit the Genetic Counseling Graduate Program website to learn more.