For many years, the Florida higher education system has been unable to offer degrees in the rapidly expanding field of genetic counseling, leaving it the largest state in the nation without such programs. This will change in August 2017, when the University of Central Florida will open its new Master of Science in Genetic Counseling program with an anticipated inaugural class of 8 candidates. This is an important step, since according to a survey conducted by the National Society of Genetic Counselors, Orlando has one of the worst counselor-per-resident ratios in the country. Given an anticipated 52 percent increase in population over the next fifteen years, the need for well-trained genetic counselors will only increase.
The Role of Genetic Counseling
Genetic counseling has been available for quite some time; with the advances in technology, screening, and medicine it is allowing for ever more personalized approaches to care and treatment. Genetic testing has allowed for specialized prenatal and newborn testing as well as tailored cancer treatments designed specifically for the individual’s genome. The role of the counselor is one of patient advocacy and education, helping patients interpret family and medical history in order to make well-informed decisions about their health care.
Genetic counselors are often employed to advise couples who may be at risk for passing on genetic diseases to their children, who may be struggling with infertility or pregnancy loss and who may have received prenatal testing results that indicate possible abnormalities. Individuals with certain conditions including psychiatric disorders, seizures, suspected chromosomal disorders and some varieties of cancer can also benefit from the support of a genetic counselor. Genetic counselors have even been employed to support families by advising on postmortem genetic testing, in cases of unknown cause of death.
Consumer genetic testing is facing increasing public demand for sound information and advice regarding testing results. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this field will experience a 29 percent increase in positions, much faster than the average job outlook. Hospitals, laboratories and pharmaceutical companies are all seeking qualified genetic counselors to provide patients with the information they need to make the best decisions on their healthcare needs.
In order to gain admission to a genetic counseling program, a successful applicant must have a Bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry or social sciences, take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), provide letters of recommendation and a personal statement, as well as submit transcripts from previous education. Added experience which will strengthen your application will include: research and / or laboratory experience, job shadowing experience with a genetic counselor and advocacy experience in crisis or bereavement counseling. According to the National Society of Genetic counselors, their most successful members possess six core skills: comprehensive understanding of genetics, adaptable communication skills, strong interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence, able to dissect and analyze complex problems, knowledge of health care delivery, and excellent research abilities
The UCF program, administered by the College of Medicine, will cost approximately $62,000, and take 21 months to complete. With six unfilled positions in Orlando alone, job prospects are extremely bright.