The Baylor College of Medicine Board of Trustees, Academic Council and Faculty Senate have approved a new Genetic Counseling Program, which will award a Master of Science degree through the School of Allied Health Sciences.

The two-year program prepares graduates to engage individuals and families who are at risk for, or affected by, conditions that may have a genetic cause. Genetic counselors provide information, facilitate understanding, identify support resources and explain genetic testing options for individuals in whom a genetic condition may be present. Genetic counselors educate families about the pros and cons of genetic testing, the possible outcomes, and when testing is desired, arrange testing and help interpret results.    

“In many stressful, complex and scary situations involving an individual’s health and well-being, there is a discomfort in knowing what healthcare decisions to make,” said Daniel Riconda, program director and associate professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. “Genetic counselors often engage with families under moments of stress, duress and uncertainty. They respond to the patient’s needs in a sensitive and empathic manner. Genetic counselors foster families’ adjustment to the circumstances and allow them to adapt in the best way they can.”  

The Master’s degree program is well positioned to leverage Baylor’s extraordinary strengths in genetics to train students in a dynamic clinical and research intensive environment. Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Molecular and Human Genetics is ranked No. 1 in the country in National Institutes of Health funding.   

“As a health sciences university, Baylor College of Medicine values the role that each member of a patient’s healthcare team plays in providing care.  It is an opportune time to add this important program to our portfolio of excellent training opportunities for the next generation of healthcare professionals,” said Dr. Alicia Monroe, provost and senior vice president of academic and faculty affairs at Baylor College of Medicine.

The program will include foundational courses as well as clinical rotations throughout the Texas Medical Center and will allow students to sit for the American Board of Genetic Counseling Certification Exam upon completion of the program. The inaugural cohort for the program will consist of eight students.

“Genetic Counseling is natural fit to our growing School of Allied Health Sciences at Baylor College of Medicine, which also includes a Physician Assistant Program, Doctor of Nursing Practice Program in Nurse Anesthesia and an Orthotics and Prosthetics Program,” said Dr. Robert McLaughlin, dean of the School of Allied Health Sciences at Baylor. “The new program builds on the national reputation our programs have earned for excellence and innovation.”

Graduate programs in genetic counseling must be accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC) before students enroll so that their graduates are eligible to take the American Board of Genetic Counseling certification exam. The Baylor College of Medicine Genetic Counseling Program is not yet accredited, but the required letter of intent to apply for accreditation to the ACGC was submitted in June 2017. An accreditation decision must be obtained before the March 15, 2018, deadline for programs to be eligible to enroll in the 2018 match that pairs each applicant to a program that student wishes to attend.