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U School of Medicine to Offer Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling

Sept. 24, 2004 — As research on human genes advances, awareness of genetic diseases and the need for highly qualified genetic counselors increase. In anticipation of this demand, the University of Utah School of Medicine is offering the Graduate Program in Genetic Counseling beginning next fall.

“This is an important step in translating the knowledge of human genetics to clinical practice,” said David H. Viskochil, M.D., Ph.D., professor, medical director of the new program, and chief of the Division of Medical Genetics at the U medical school’s pediatrics department. He said it’s logical for the University to offer this program because of the presence of the George and Dolores Eccles Institute of Human Genetics, which is world renowned for its research and other programs. Viskochil noted that Mark F. Leppert, professor and co-chair of the Department of Human Genetics, has been instrumental in initiating the program and supporting program development.

Genetic counselors are allied health professionals who undertake rigorous training in human genetics and counseling techniques. They convey complex information to families and practitioners to help them better understand genetic disorders and implications and make important personal and family decisions.

“Genetic counselors are increasingly becoming an important part of the health-care team,” said Bonnie Jeanne Baty, M.S., C.G.C., the program’s interim director and associate professor in the Division of Medical Genetics. “They help patients and families by interpreting tests and other life-altering information about certain diseases.”

Utah is a leader in the field of genetic counseling, being the first state in the country to require licensure for counselors, said Baty. There are about 20 genetic counselors in the state today.

The new program, which entailed a rigorous credentialing process to ensure competence in graduates, will take 21 months (or five semesters) of study to complete. National experts in cancer genetics, perinatal genetics, pediatric genetics, laboratory genetics, and genetic research will teach in the program. It will integrate coursework, clinical rotations, community placements, supplementary activities, and independent projects, and will also prepare students for the national certification examination. Graduates will receive a Master’s Degree in Genetic Counseling from the Department of Human Genetics.

Based in the medical school, the program is a product of the collaboration of the medical school’s departments of Human Genetics, Pediatrics, Obstetrics and Gynecology with the Huntsman Cancer Institute, ARUP Laboratories, Intermountain Health Care, Myriad Genetics Laboratories, and the Utah Department of Health.

Five students will be accepted beginning in the fall 2005 semester. An applicant must have a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and have completed courses in general chemistry, biology, biochemistry, genetics, psychology, and statistics. Applications are now being accepted. For more information, contact Bonnie Baty, (801) 581-6914.