Program offers postgrad research training for genetic counselors

When training for a master’s degree in genetic counseling, students are primarily focused on clinical care. But a new program at Baylor College of Medicine will offer genetic counselors the opportunity to receive postgraduate training focused on research.

The training is part of a continuing education certificate program at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and is funded by a grant from the Warren Alpert Foundation (WAF).

“When we start thinking about how genetic counseling and genetic technology is being implemented and disseminated, one of the things that has been lacking is research by genetic counselors into effectiveness, utility and outcomes,” said Daniel Riconda, associate professor of molecular and human genetics and program director of the Genetic Counseling Program in Baylor’s School of Health Professions.

As part of the program, five consortium institutions, including the University of Pennsylvania, Baylor, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and the University of Washington School of Medicine, each will host two genetic counselors per year for a four-year period. In total, 40 counselors will complete training.

Participants will take online education courses in genomics and genetic counseling research, as well as receive training to develop research projects and identify opportunities to serve as principal investigators (PIs) and/or co-PIs.  At the end of the program, they will receive a certificate from the University of Pennsylvania.

Baylor’s Genetic Counseling program gathered for a faculty retreat in 2019.

“While many genetic counselors engage in research experiences as part of their training programs, they do not typically have opportunities to dive deep into specific areas of genetic disease research, healthcare delivery services needs or social, ethical, legal and policy issues that impact genomics in healthcare,” said Dr. Sarah Elsea, professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor. “Research training programs, such as this large effort sponsored by the WAF, provide opportunities to learn key aspects of research and data analysis in an area of focused interest in genetics that will also lead to improvements in the delivery of genomic information in the healthcare setting.”

Over the course of the program, consortium institutions will gather for a retreat to explore pathways to, and the feasibility of, developing a postgraduate doctoral degree in genetic counseling.

“We have been working toward a stronger postgraduate program for genetic counselors, and this certificate program will be a first step in building more education opportunities for genetic counseling researchers,” said Dr. Kim Worley, professor and vice chair for research affairs – basic and translational in the Department of Molecular and Human Genetics and chair-elect of Baylor’s Faculty Senate.

The Baylor program will connect participants with faculty mentors from across the College who have an interest in engaging genetic counselors in their research.

“Baylor is one of the leading research institutes, and we have the No. 1 NIH-funded genetics department in the country,” Riconda said. “Given that strength, this program is a natural opportunity for us to provide cutting-edge research opportunities for genetic counselors.”

The new program will begin in July with classes starting in August. Genetic counselors interested in learning more or applying to the program can contact Riconda at Daniel.Riconda@bcm.edu. Applications are expected to open in March.

By Molly Chiu