Florida’s first master’s degree program in genetic counseling earns accreditation

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The University of South Florida College of Public Health is the first in Florida to offer a graduate degree in genetic counseling. Last week, the college’s graduate program in genetic counseling earned a crucial accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling. Accreditation as a new program by this national organization is essential for graduating students to be eligible to take the American Board of Genetic Counseling examination and become certified genetic counselors.

DNA

With that milestone met, the program leading to a master of science degree in public health and genetic counseling (MSPH) is now recruiting and expects to admit its first group of students in Fall 2017.

While more people with genetic predispositions for certain cancers or other conditions are seeking out testing, there is a critical shortage of certified genetic counselors to help guide patients and their families through the process.

Laura Barton, a genetic counselor at Moffitt Cancer Center and president of the Florida Association of Genetic Counselors, said the need for a genetic counseling training program has been long overdue. “It’s very exciting because now students won’t have to leave Florida to become a genetic counselor like I had to.”

Michael White, PhD, a professor in the College of Public Health who was instrumental in initiating this program pointed out, “We’re the third most populous state, but until now we didn’t have any genetic counseling training programs.”

The USF Genetic Counseling program is a 42 credit graduate degree (21 months) with estimated total tuition costs for Florida state residents of $19,000. The program is open to students with a bachelor’s degree; however, a few key undergraduate courses including molecular biology and genetics will be required to apply.

“We’re not restricting what their undergraduate major is, they just need to make sure they have certain prerequisites,” said Deborah Cragun, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Global Health, and director for the new program.

Deborah Cragun

Assistant Professor Deborah Cragun, PhD, MS, CGC, is director of the genetic counseling concentration. (Photo courtesy of Dr. Cragun)

COPH and the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, Department of Pediatrics, teamed up with faculty across the university and throughout the Tampa Bay area to create the genetic counseling program. USF’s Division of Genetics & Metabolism, Moffitt Cancer Center, Orlando Health and other community partners will provide students with the hands-on counseling experience required for graduation.

Cragun said students of the program will be prepared to practice in multiple areas including cancer genetic counseling, prenatal counseling, pediatric counseling and newer specialties that are arising due to advances in genomics and precision medicine.

“Students go out and work with practicing genetic counselors so they can gain the experience they need,” Cragun said. “They will work with counselors who are certified themselves and who see patients in a variety of clinical settings. Currently we have partnered with all 10 clinical genetic counselors in Tampa and six clinical genetic counselors in Orlando. In addition, our students will gain experience shadowing and learning from several other counselors who work in industry or laboratory settings.”

“This program will help the state and the profession,” Cragun said. “It will be critical, because as we start doing more genetic tests, it’s really important that we have the expertise out there to help families accurately understand those results and make decisions that are right for them.”

Genetic counseling degree

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of genetic counselors is projected to grow 29 percent from 2014 to 2024, which is much faster than the average for other occupations.

“Admissions across the country are actually highly competitive for genetic counseling training programs,” Cragun said. “To date, no other public or private academic genetic counseling program exists in Florida, and ours is one of only 35 accredited programs in the U.S.”

The COPH will host an open house for anyone interested in learning more about the field of genetic counseling and the new MSPH program. The open house will be 6 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 9, in room 302 of the IDR Building on the main USF campus located at 3720 Spectrum Blvd, Tampa, FL 33612. Please contact Miki Pomeroy at mpomeroy1@health.usf.edu for more information and to obtain a parking permit for the event.

To learn more about the graduate program in genetic counseling, contact (813) 974-6505, preadmissions@health.usf.edu or visit http://health.usf.edu/publichealth/genetic-counseling.htm.

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