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Genetic counselors are specialized health professionals who counsel individuals and families about genetic conditions and birth defects. Counselors have initial contact with families and act as case managers and liaisons to the health care team throughout the evaluation process. Genetic counselors work with patients from varied sociocultural and educational backgrounds to obtain family history, assess psychosocial status, explain the ramifications of disorders, and provide support to assist in adjustment to the physical and emotional challenges of genetic diagnosis. Additionally, genetic counselors provide education to practicing professionals, health care students, and lay groups. Program administration, the development of new services, teaching, and research activities are often encompassed within the career.
The USC genetic counseling program began in 1985. One of 32 programs in the United States, it was the first program in the southeastern region. In 1991 the program received a rare Commendation for Excellence during the South Carolina Commission of Higher Education’s review, citing program strengths that include: an enthusiastic faculty, Master of Science thesis research, and students who have proven to be professionally active after graduation. In the 1998 state review of graduate health degrees, the site visit team recommended another Commendation for Excellence. The Program was accredited by the American Board of Genetic Counseling in 2000 and reaccredited in 2006.
Six to eight students are accepted each year from an applicant pool of approximately 125. Since 1985, more than 150 genetic counselors have graduated from the program. Over half of the practicing graduates are serving in the Southeast.
- Students will be able to establish a mutually agreed upon genetic counseling agenda with the client.
- Students will be able to elicit an appropriate and inclusive family history, social and psychosocial history.
- Students will be able to convey genetic, medical, and technical information including, but not limited to, diagnosis, etiology, natural history, prognosis, and treatment/management of genetic conditions and/or birth defects to clients with a variety of educational, socioeconomic, and ethnocultural backgrounds. Can explain the technical and medical aspects of diagnostic and screening methods and reproductive options including associated risks, benefits, and limitations.
- Students will be able to understand, listen, communicate, and manage a genetic counseling case in a culturally responsive manner.
- Students will be able to document and present case information clearly and concisely, both orally and in writing, as appropriate to the audience.
- Students will be able to plan, organize, and conduct public and professional education programs on human genetics, patient care, and genetic counseling issues.
- Students will be able to assess and calculate genetic and teratogenic risks.
- Students will be able to identify, synthesize, organize and summarize pertinent medical and genetic information for use in genetic counseling.
- Students will be able to demonstrate successful case management skills. Can assess client understanding and response to information and its implications to modify a counseling session as needed.
- Students will be able to identify and access local, regional, and national resources and services.
- Students will be able to identify and access information resources pertinent to clinical genetics and counseling.
- Students will be able to: Establish rapport, identify major concerns, and respond to emerging issues of a client or family; Elicit and interpret individual and family experiences, behaviors, emotions, perceptions, and attitudes that clarify beliefs and values; Use a range of interviewing techniques, Provide short-term, client-centered counseling and psychological support; promote client decision-making in an unbiased, non-coercive manner; Establish and maintain inter- and interdisciplinary professional relationships to function as part of a health-care delivery team.
- Students will be able to act in accordance with the ethical, legal, and philosophical principles and values of the profession.
- Students will be able to serve as an advocate for clients.
- Students will be able to introduce research options and issues to clients and families.
- Students will be able to recognize his or her own limitations in knowledge and capabilities regarding medical, psychosocial, and ethnocultural issues and seek consultation or refer clients when needed. Students will be able to demonstrate initiative for continued professional growth.
Clinical Rotation Facilities
The clinical rotation portion of the genetic counseling program provides a range of prenatal, pediatric, adult, and specialty clinical experiences required for the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) certification examination. The student begins the transition from theory to practice during a summer clinical placement. During the senior year, each student has the opportunity to rotate through four of the following sites:
- USC School of Medicine, Columbia, S.C.
- Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, S.C.
- Greenwood Genetic Center, Greenwood, Greenville, and Columbia, S.C.
- Medical College of Georgia, Augusta, Ga.
- Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, N.C.
- Savannah Perinatology, Savannah, Ga.
- Duke University Medical Center, Durham, N.C.
- University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, N.C.
- Fullerton Genetics Center, Asheville, N.C.
- Emory University, Atlanta, Ga.
The field of genetic counseling has developed into a professional discipline of its own. As such, the capabilities of genetic counselors should include scientific evaluation of the tenets of genetic counseling and professional reporting of these studies. The student in genetic counseling is required to write a thesis based on original research. The resulting work is of publishable quality and is often presented at a national genetics society meeting.
Comprehensive Assessment Description
The Master of Science Genetic Counseling Program supports the development of practice based competencies as defined by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. These competencies are required of an entry level genetic counselor and define the Learning Objectives of the Genetic Counseling Program.
The Genetic Counseling Program Comprehensive Assessment evaluates the Program Learning Objectives through assessments of the following three curricular areas that require the student to synthesize and integrate knowledge acquired in coursework and other learning experiences and to apply theory and principles to their professional development.
- First Year Learning Portfolio: in the first year of graduate study, students maintain an electronic portfolio of clinical observation and reflection papers, first year annotated open reading assignment, family interview paper, service learning activities, extra-curricular education opportunities, etc. Each Portfolio is reviewed with application of a rubric that documents first year progress toward Learning Objectives.
- Clinical Rotation Evaluation: second year students are assigned five clinical rotations in prenatal, pediatric and adult settings. Clinical rotation evaluation is performed by certified genetic professionals centered on the Learning Objectives. Students meet with the Program Director(s) at the close of each rotation at which time the clinical rotation evaluations and case logbooks are reviewed, documenting progress/attainment of the learning objectives.
- Master of Science Thesis: students develop an original research project on a current aspect of genetic counseling/medical genetics and conduct, analyze and report on the findings, guided by their thesis committee. The thesis is presented at the final academic meeting to the full Program faculty. The student’s Thesis Advisor and Readers, the Program Director(s) and full faculty provide data on student achievement of Learning Objectives applicable to thesis research.
Applicants for the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling Program must have earned a baccalaureate degree at an accredited institution. Prerequisite course work includes: one year of general biology, one year of general chemistry, one semester of biochemistry, one semester of genetics, and one semester of statistics. Scores from the general aptitude test of the GRE are required. Subtest scores are invited but optional. Supporting material must include: undergraduate transcripts, three letters of recommendation, and a statement reflecting the student’s interest and experience in the field. A personal interview with the admissions committee is required.
Degree Requirements (56 Hours)
This is a two-year program that includes course work, clinical rotations, and a research-based thesis. The program is one of several health professional degrees offered by the School of Medicine. The curriculum includes 56 credit hours. Of these, 42 hours are devoted to classroom study, the majority of which are designed specifically for the genetic counseling program. Clinical rotations in regional genetic centers provide 8 credit hours, while 6 hours of credit are awarded for Master of Science thesis research.