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Master of Genetic Counseling degree program to begin in fall

Feb. 7, 2019, 9:40 AM


by Nancy Humphrey

Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine is in the process of selecting its first class of students seeking a Master of Genetic Counseling (MGC) degree, one of the fastest growing health professions in the country.

Demand for genetic counselors is far outpacing the number of trained specialists, prompting VUSM to offer the degree, the first in the state. The first class of six students is expected to begin this fall.

“There is a surplus of well-qualified, motivated students who desire to enter the field. All our students complete their courses and clinicals at Vanderbilt,” said Martha Dudek, MS, CGC, assistant professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and program director for the MGC program at VUSM.

“We are in the process of building the faculty of genetic counselors across campus, adding genetic counselors in reproductive genetics, cardiology and translational research. Unfortunately, we will only be accepting one student for every 15 outstanding applications received. As the field grows and clinical sites increase we can train more genetic counselors to meet the growing needs of health care.”

The new program, developed by genetic counselors and to be taught by genetic counselors in collaboration with the interprofessional faculty at Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center, will be housed in the Vanderbilt Genetics Institute, directed by Nancy Cox, PhD, professor of Medicine, who holds the Mary Phillips Edmonds Gray Chair. The 60-credit hour degree is expected to take 21 months to complete.

“VUSM is well positioned academically and geographically to invest in training future generations of genetic counselors,” Dudek said. “VUSM has extensive experience in training medical students and other health care professionals including audiologists, speech-language pathologists and medical physicists. The genetic counseling program would directly contribute to Vanderbilt’s initiative to be a leader in genomic medicine and to serve as a hub for cutting-edge clinical research in genetics and genomic medicine,” she said.

There are more than 4,800 certified genetic counselors in the U.S. and Canada, 50 of them in Tennessee and 13 at VUMC in various departments.

Currently, there are fewer than 50 accredited training programs. About 400 individuals graduate from an accreditation program each year and are eligible to sit for the national board exam.

Dudek said the career outlook for genetic counselors is bright, with positions available nationally in more specialties including psychiatry, neurology and ophthalmology, as well as industry positions.

“With 10 genetic tests entering the clinical marketplace daily, there is an increasing need for experts who have the ability to help patients with decision making, results review and discussion,” Dudek said.

“We currently have five open faculty positions for genetics counselors at VUMC. The job market is robust. A recent survey of graduates indicated 100 percent employment rate with a majority (70 percent) accepting positions one to three months prior to graduation.”

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