USF offers first Florida programs in genetic counseling and nutrition

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The College of Public Health is the first in Florida to offer MSPH concentration in genetic counseling and MPH concentration in nutrition and dietetics

The USF College of Public Health continues to step up its academic game by offering two master of public health concentrations in genetic counseling and nutrition and dietetics.

Deborah Cragun, assistant professor in the Department of Global Health, said the need for a genetic counseling training program has been long overdue.

“It’s very exciting,” she said. “Florida has needed a genetic counseling training program for a long time. We’re the third most populous state now, but we don’t have any genetic counseling training programs.”

Cragun said the University approved the genetic counseling program’s curriculum in January and they are currently working on submitting an application for national accreditation.

“We should be on track to start recruiting students in the fall,” she said.

She anticipates the program to begin, pending accreditation, with its first cohort in the fall 2017 semester.


“Admissions across the country are actually quite highly competitive for genetic counseling training programs,” she said. “Ours looks like it may be the 33rd accredited program in the U.S. and the first in the state of Florida to open.”

The program will be open to any student interested, however, a few key undergraduate courses including molecular biology and genetics will be required.

“We’re not restricting what their major is, they just need to make sure they have certain prerequisites,” Cragun said.

COPH has partnered with the USF Morsani College of Medicine to implement the program and has established relations with counselors at H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute and Integrative Genetics LabCorp Specialty Testing Group to provide students with the hands-on counseling experience required for graduation.

Cragun said students of the program will have the opportunity to practice in multiple areas including cancer genetic counseling, pregnancy and pre-conception counseling, and pediatric counseling.

“Students go out and work with practicing genetic counselors so they can gain the counseling skills that they need,” Cragun said. “They have to work with counselors who are certified themselves, and currently, in the Tampa Bay area we will partner with about 10 genetic counselors who work in different clinical settings.”

To date, there is no other public or private genetic counseling program that exists in Florida.

“I think it will help the state and the profession,” Cragun said. “I think 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 understand what that means and help them interpret those results and make decisions that are right for them.”

green and red healthy food

Also first of its kind is the COPH’s MPH in dietetics and nutrition.

Dr. Lauri Wright, assistant professor in the Department of Community and Family Health, said the MPH degree has received full university approval and she anticipates accreditation of the dietetic internship portion to be approved by July.

Students will gain hands-on experience in the supervised practice, internship program. The profession of dietetics will soon require a graduate degree to sit for the registration exam. As such, other hospital-based dietetic internships in the Tampa Bay area, including interns from the Bay Pines VA Healthcare System and Pasco County Health Department, will join the USF dietetic interns in the MPH courses.

She said the COPH’s nutrition and dietetics program is unique in that not many other universities offer an MPH in this topic area, with a majority of programs only offering an MS.

“We’re really looking toward the future of health and prevention,” she said. “Being engaged in the community and stopping disease before it ever starts. We’re one of the first and on the cutting edge in terms of where health is moving in the future.”

Wright also said students will experience a two-week international internship experience as part of the program, with one potential location being India and the international hubs that currently have agreements with USF.

The program will accept six students for the internship program and about 32 students for the master’s program, according to Wright.

Where students participate in field experience will depend on their emphasis area of interest, which is either population health or leadership and service, Wright said.

“About half of our field experience will be in the community with places like Feeding America, Meals on Wheels, and Publix Supermarket,” she said.

Wright said the dietetic field continues to grow in popularity and she anticipates many applications for the program’s first cohort.

“I’ve been a dietitian in Tampa for over 20 years and it has always been my dream to have a dietetics program here at USF. So, this is really one of my big professional dreams come true,” Wright said. “I really appreciate the support of the Dean Petersen and Dr. Lockwood in supporting the development of this program.”


Story by Anna Mayor, USF College of Public Health