(Boston) — On this year’s Genetic Counselor Awareness Day, Boston University School of Medicine’s MS Genetic Counseling Program (BUGCP) is announcing two new initiatives to continue enhancing the training and expertise within the field of genetic counseling.
For the 2021-2022 admissions cycle, BUGCP will offer enrollment in a dual degree MS MPH program with BU’s School of Public Health, and will join the Alliance to Increase Diversity in Genetic Counseling – a scholarship and fellowship program for underrepresented students in the field.
The Alliance to Increase Diversity in Genetic Counseling
A lack of diversity in multiple dimensions is a major issue in most fields of medicine, including the field of genetic counseling. Ninety-four percent of genetic counselors are female, and 90 percent are white, according to the National Society of Genetic Counselors.
To combat this issue and educate a genetic counseling workforce that improves support for patients from underrepresented backgrounds, BUGCP has joined the Alliance to Increase Diversity in Genetic Counseling, an initiative made possible due to a grant from the Warren Alpert Foundation (WAF).
BUGCP is partnering with four accredited genetic counseling programs: the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, Rutgers University, Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
The $9.5 million grant from WAF will cover full tuition and living expenses for 10 students annually across the five participating genetic counseling programs, and provide funding to hire faculty to further support this experience.
The aim of this innovative alliance is to recruit and retain qualified trainees from diverse backgrounds, including racial and ethnic minorities, individuals with disabilities, first-generation college graduates and individuals from low-income backgrounds.
“There has never been funding of this magnitude to support trainee scholarships in this field,” said BUGCP Director Kathleen Berentsen Swenson, MS, MPH, CGC. “This support will allow the field to expand perspectives, and provide additional support for trainees receiving this award.”
MS/MPH Dual Degree Program
BUGCP and the BUSPH recently joined forces to create a dual degree program, allowing students to earn a Master of Science in Genetic Counseling and a Master of Public Health degree in two-and-a-half total years of study.
This newly created program is a result of a needs assessment and candidates’ interest in obtaining both a genetic counseling and public health degree. Program leaders at BU interviewed candidates to gauge their interest, and most applicants said they were either personally interested in the dual degree option or found it important.
“Understanding the intersectionality between genetic counseling and public health, as well as a desire to provide students with additional training in research, evaluation, program development and other ways to contribute more broadly to the genetic counseling field also were key factors in establishing this program,” said Swenson, who also is an assistant professor of medical sciences & education.
Many genetic counselors working today are in patient-facing capacities, and therefore need to be able to navigate the complex health care system.
“They have to be mindful of health literacy, access of care, statistics, epidemiology, research skills and more,” Swenson said. “I think the public health degree gives people a more in-depth experience in that regard and can be beneficial not only for providing care to patients but broadening genetic counselors’ scope in the field.”
Swenson said that her public health education has given her more comfort and awareness in the two overlapping fields, especially in terms of advocacy. Phil Connors, a member of the program leadership team, recently completed his MPH degree at Boston University. “The training provided by the BU School of Public Health has allowed me with a new set of skills to support patient care at Boston Medical Center,” said Connors.
“We are one of only a few genetic counseling programs to offer this formal dual degree in public heath,” Swenson noted.
As the program operates on a national match system, applicants must first obtain admission to the Genetic Counseling program, and admission to the School of Public health will be coordinated afterward.
Visit MS/MPH Dual Degree Program for more information.