Genetics track now offered for medical students

Jan. 1, 2012

With advances in genomic medicine and personalized health care, it is becoming increasingly clear that physicians of all specialties will be challenged with questions regarding genetic disorders and testing as it relates to their patients. Recognizing that physicians entering medical practice in the 21st century will require more than a basic understanding of human genetics, a genetics track curriculum has been introduced for medical students at BCM.

Integrating genetics training

"Several studies have shown that most physicians are unable to interpret simple genetic tests, much less use the complex genomic information generated by high throughput sequencing," said Dr. Shweta Dhar, assistant professor of molecular and human genetics and medical director of the adult genetics services at BCM. "Integrating genetics training throughout the medical school curriculum will better equip tomorrow's physicians to use genetic information for optimal patient care."

Medical students have the option to join the track during their first year, but are not required to commit to the track until their second year. The track is designed not only for those students interested in a career in medical genetics, but also provides an opportunity for all medical students to get extra training in genetics that is bound to help them in whichever specialty they choose.

This fall was the first opportunity for students to sign up for the track, and so far 21 students have enrolled.

Track components

The track consists of both required and optional components. During the first and second years of medical school, students in the track take required core courses and are also required to participate in eight case-based conferences throughout the year, which include genetics grand rounds and clinical conferences. They are required to take six weeks of clinical genetics electives during the third and fourth years of medical school.

Students also select a faculty mentor who will guide them through the four years of their medical career, especially in developing and presenting a scholarly project that is part of the requirement of the track.

A unique aspect of the track is the opportunity for the students to follow a genetics patient for the four years that they are doing their medical training at BCM. This helps students better understand the patient's perspective of a genetic disease.

"Common misconceptions that people have about medical genetics are that it is solely research based or that it focuses primarily on pediatric or prenatal patients, and neither of these is the case. Through this track we aim to enhance the breadth and depth of genomic education for medical students," said Dhar.

This track is designed and directed by Drs. Raye Alford, Shweta Dhar and Lorraine Potocki at BCM and is the first genetics track curriculum of its kind in the country.