The new Master of Science in Genetic Counseling program, set to start its first class in September 2021, has just received accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC).
With advances in genomics and genetic testing, there has been a growing demand for genetic counselors who can help translate genetic data into more effective patient care.
Genetic counseling is a rapidly-growing healthcare profession that is facing a shortage of providers. The anticipated national annual growth rate for jobs in genetic counseling is 29 percent.
“There’s growing demand for genetic counselors nationally, and a lot of unmet patient needs here in Washington, with long wait times to get an appointment,” said Karin Borgerson, program manager.
According to the State Coordinator for Genetics Services at the Washington State Department of Health, typical wait times in Washington to be seen in a genetics clinic range from six months to a year for non-emergent referrals.
“Right now, every genetic counselor practicing in the state of Washington had to go out of state for training," said Borgerson. "This program is the first in Washington, and the second in the WWAMI region. There are also no programs in Oregon, so the Northwest has had a shortage of training opportunities.”
In 2019 there were 1569 applicants for 468 positions in programs in the United States and Canada (3.4 applicants per training slot).
“Most genetic counseling programs take a full two academic years,” said Borgerson. “Our program is intensive, designed to help student attain all of the Practice-Based Competencies for Genetic Counselors in just 18 months. This allows graduates to enter the workforce sooner.”
Many genetic counselors work in direct patient care. Others work in laboratory settings (diagnostic or commercial). Some work in public health, research, public policy, education, and consulting. According to the National Society of Genetic Counselors, the average starting salary for a full-time genetic counselor who graduated from a genetic counseling program in 2019 was $75,319.
Workforce for precision medicine and family-centered care
This program will train genetic counselors to provide guidance to patients and their families in the expanding arena of precision medicine, an important and vital medical need for the WWAMI region and beyond.
The program also includes a required laboratory-based practicum for all students, where they can gain hands-on experience in laboratory genetic counseling, an important practice area.
Students will train in a variety of settings specializing in areas such as cancer, neurogenetics, biochemical genetics, muscular dystrophy, cystic fibrosis, pediatric and adult genetics, prenatal genetics, and laboratory genetics. They will also complete a capstone project to prepare for critical review and participation in research.
"We have gathered a team of innovative and compassionate genetics providers and creative educators, to offer a premier training experience to prepare our graduates for the many rewarding and expanding roles of genetic counselors,” said Robin Bennett, acting program director. “We value a diverse community of students, educators, scientists, healthcare providers, patients and families in our program."
The Masters in Genetic Counseling is an 18-month program that includes didactic coursework, clinical and laboratory preceptorships, and a capstone project. MS is the terminal degree.
Graduates will be eligible to seek the Certified Genetic Counselor national credential from the American Board of Genetic Counseling, and will be eligible for licensure in states that license genetic counselors. The program will enroll 14 students in year 1, 16 in year 2 and 18 in year 3 and subsequent years.
Applications for 2021 admission will open later this year. All genetic counseling programs in the United States and Canada admit students via a match process, with match results announced in the spring for matriculation in the fall.