Coursework will cover the following topics:
This course is designed to build a foundation to help students formulate and execute their research thesis topics. Students will learn about a variety of research methodologies, including quantitative and qualitative approaches. As part of this course, students will gain experience identifying and critically reviewing scientific literature and get exposure to the use of informatics tools. They will learn to evaluate research hypotheses and identify various aspects of the research process, including study design, data management and analysis. Throughout this course there will be an emphasis on conducting research responsibly, ethically, and with integrity. We will highlight various opportunities that genetic counselors have for research involvement. This introductory course aims to instill the value of research as it applies to the practice of genetic counseling, and its implications for the community.
This course promotes lifelong education for the profession of genetic counselling through exposure to interdisciplinary events and engagement in community activities. Students will give effective presentations tailored to a variety of audiences. Students will identify community engagement opportunities to promote a deeper understanding of patient experience.
Molecules to Cells
This course is designed to provide students with necessary background knowledge in cell biology, molecular genetics, biochemistry, and embryology as it pertains to clinical genetics. There will be emphasis on the clinical relevance of these topics and how abnormalities in these cellular processes can lead to human disease. In addition, students will be introduced to different genetic and biochemical testing and screening options that are commonly used to diagnose genetic disorders.
Genetic Counseling 1: Skills and Practice
Students will be introduced to the history and evolution of the genetic counseling profession. Students will be oriented to fundamental genetic counseling skills including pedigree construction, pedigree analysis, case preparation, contracting, documentation and risk assessment. Students will begin to consider legal, ethical, social and cultural issues related to genetic counseling and be encouraged to explore their own values and biases. Development and adaptation of oral and written communication skills to various audiences will be applied through course assignments and case-based learning. Students will be introduced to professional issues such as credentialing, professional development and lifelong learning.
Human Development and Prenatal Genetics
Students will be introduced to the various aspects of prenatal genetics including normal and abnormal pregnancy and fetal development. Students will become familiar with genetic testing and screening options that are used to investigate risk for genetic conditions in pregnancy and appropriate clinical applications of these tests. Using maternal, familial, and fetal factors, population data, and genetic screening and testing results, students will formulate personalized risk assessments. Topics such as infertility, pregnancy loss, termination, and other pregnancy management options will be explored. Students will appreciate the psychosocial elements specific to prenatal genetic counseling and continue to develop skills in presenting information in a balanced manner.
The primary goal of this course is to teach students how to develop a research program to ask relevant genetic questions in the clinical setting utilizing the molecular genetics toolbox. To this end, students will be provided with background in molecular genetics strategies and study designs as well as an understanding of common genetics questions emanating from the clinic so that they will be better able to make connections between bench and bedside. In addition, they will be challenged to think creatively and through a translational focus during course-long case studies and group projects.
This course will familiarize students with hereditary cancer syndromes and the underlying causes of cancer. The interdisciplinary care of cancer patients will also be explored through case-based study. Students will gain knowledge of various cancer risk assessment models and genetic testing options. Students will incorporate genetic test results with personal and family history information to create a personalized risk assessment for a variety of indications. Students will learn to appreciate different psycho-social considerations affecting families with cancer.
Genetic Counseling 2: Theory and Practice
This course prepares students to conduct a full genetic counseling session including case preparation, facilitation of session components and follow-up. Students will expand upon their interviewing skills develop case conceptualization ability and hone their patient education skills. Through standardized patients and in class role play, students will learn to recognize psychosocial aspects of the genetic counseling session and apply their counseling skills. Students will engage in course activities to further develop their communication abilities (oral and written), apply advanced risk assessment and examine professional boundaries. Students will have the opportunity to enhance personal skill development through the giving and receiving of feedback with peers and supervisors.
Thesis credits are required for program completion. The culminating experience for students in the MCW MS Genetic Counseling Program is a formal thesis research project focused on the practice of genetic counseling in which she or he participated in the design, execution, data analysis, and write-up. Working on the research thesis allows students to develop skills that enhance intellectual development and critical, flexible thinking. Our research program is driven by the interests of the individual student and takes advantage of the wide variety of genomics initiatives across our MCW community and the state of Wisconsin. The timeline for the thesis project begins in the Fall of the first year in the Research Methodologies & Informatics Course when students identify a research question they are interested in studying, complete a comprehensive literature review on the subject, and identify a thesis advisor(s). Continuation of the research process happens within this Research Thesis Course throughout the rest of the Program. Students will secure a Thesis Committee comprised of their primary thesis advisor (Committee Chair) and two additional faculty members. The Committee will approve the project in advance, will provide guidance and supervision of the project, and will critique and, approve the final thesis. Students present their results in local and regional forums, including the Genetic Counseling Colloquium in the final semester of the Program near graduation, and are strongly encouraged to submit their findings as abstracts to regional or national conferences, and for publication.
This course aims to familiarize students with a medical genetics evaluation typical to what would be seen in the pediatric or adult genetics clinic. Students will appreciate the interprofessional collaboration required for the diagnosis and management of children and adults with complex disease. Students will be introduced to a plethora of genetic conditions spanning multiple disease categories. A differential diagnosis and genomic testing plan will be formulated using information gathered from thorough chart review, birth, family, and developmental histories, and the physical exam. Students will be able to determine the clinical significance of genetic testing results.
Bioethics in Precision Medicine
The development of a “new” paradigm of precision medicine built around emerging genetic/genomic knowledge and technologies raises a host of important ethical, legal, and social issues. This course will overview these issues as they manifest in a variety of biomedical and health policy contexts. The first part of the course explores the historical, philosophical, rhetorical, and ethical foundations of precision medicine. The second part focuses on a host of ethical issues that arise at the individual and family level of precision medicine, including obligations related to informed consent, non-directive genetic counseling, disclosure of genetic information, privacy and confidentiality, warning or rescuing those in danger, and preserving autonomy for children. The third part transitions to ethical issues that arise at the institutional, community, and societal level of precision medicine, including the social contract between precision medicine research and practice and its stakeholders, the governance and use of biobanks, data repositories, artificial intelligence, and big data in precision medicine, the proliferation of direct-to-consumer genetic testing and non-medical uses of genetic/genomic information, and the ethical implications of health disparities that might be facilitated by precision medicine. Finally, the fourth part of the course concludes with consideration of the competing futures for precision medicine and their ethical implications.
Genetic Counseling 3: Psychosocial Issues
This course builds on Genetic Counseling 2: Theory and Practice by further exploring psychological aspects of the genetic counseling process. Students will learn to apply counseling theories in the development of their clinical communication skills. Students will learn to integrate client factors including cultural, socioeconomic, emotional, behavioral, gender, and educational status into the genetic counseling session. Students will develop more advanced techniques to address the psychosocial impact of a genetic condition on the family, complex family dynamics and unique issues that may occur in genetic counseling. Continued professional development will be emphasized by exploration of personal strengths, limitations, values and biases as they relate to genetic counseling.
Genetic Counseling 4: Advanced Topics
This course will prepare students for life beyond the classroom with a focus on honing skills needed to become an independent successful genetic counselor. Students will develop an appreciation for the growth of the genetic counselling field and for life-long learning inherent in the profession. Discussion of current and emerging topics will put students in a position to become leaders in the field. As future practitioners in their communities, students will appreciate the scope and complex nature of health disparities and embrace cultural humility. In addition, students will also develop habits to build resilience necessary for personal growth and self-care.
The purpose of the laboratory practicum is to introduce students to the many different types of tests involved in clinical as well as research genetics, to start to develop the skills necessary to understand and communicate genetic testing strategies and results, and to encourage students to think about the roles genetic counselors can play in the testing process. This practicum will function as a “rotation” with students moving through different experiences in small groups. The practicum will expose students to different molecular, cytogenic, and biochemical tests and help them develop an understanding for how these tests are performed and when they are appropriate. Students will have the opportunity to see how an individual sample moves from the point of collection through the laboratory and ultimately into a research or clinical report for several specific testing modalities, helping them to think about how to explain the testing process to patients, providers, and other audiences. Students will also learn about how genetic testing has changed over time and how genetics professionals adapt to those changes. Finally, students will be encouraged to explore the different ways genetic counselors are involved in the testing process through interviews, field trips, and other experiences.
Clinical practicums are required for graduation and program completion. The overall goal of clinical practicums is to prepare students to enter the workforce and be able to operate successfully in a variety of different roles and specialties. Throughout the MCW MSGC, students will participate in five total practicums which are each 8-weeks in length. Students will be required to be in clinic for at least 16 total days for each 8-week practicum. Each student will participate in a prenatal, cancer, pediatrics, and “other adult specialties” rotation. The fifth practicum may focus on a different specialty of the student’s choosing or a repeat more advanced practice of one of their previous rotations. Through the practicums, students will apply their knowledge in a supervised clinical setting and will participate in a minimum of 50 cases where students demonstrate their continued growth in the practice-based competencies for genetic counselors.
Students will be evaluated extensively throughout their practicums by their supervisors as well as program leadership. They will be responsible for setting practicum rotation goals and expectations alongside their clinical supervisor. Students will be responsible for keeping a timely logbook of cases. Supervisors will monitor throughout the rotation to ensure that they are getting the necessary variety of cases regarding referral indications and ways in which the student actively participated in the case.
In addition to their participatory cases with a certified genetic counselor, students will also participate in supplemental fieldwork experiences throughout the duration of the program.