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Masters Degrees (Cytogenetic)

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Genetic counsellors are health care professionals with specialized graduate training in the areas of medical genetics and counselling. Read more

Masters in Genetic Counselling

What is a Genetic Counsellor?

Genetic counsellors are health care professionals with specialized graduate training in the areas of medical genetics and counselling. Genetic counsellors usually work as members of a healthcare team, providing information and support to families who have members with birth defects or genetic disorders and to families who may be at risk for a variety of inherited conditions. Genetic counsellors work in a wide variety of settings, these include: general genetics, prenatal care and family planning, pediatrics, oncology, cardiology, neurology, laboratories, research, education, public health settings, and corporate environments. (NSGC website, accessed Oct 7, 2012).


The Department of Medical Genetics, through Graduate and Postdoctoral Studies (G+PS) at the University of British Columbia, offers a unique two year graduate program leading to an MSc degree in Genetic Counselling. The program has full accreditation status by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Students, upon graduating, will be eligible to apply for “Active Candidate” status for both the ABGC and the Canadian Association of Genetic Counsellors (CAGC) certification exams.

Six students are accepted into the Program each year to begin their studies in September. Genetic counsellors, geneticists, other healthcare professionals and UBC faculty members instruct and supervise students during their course of study.

The program balances strong academic grounding, direct clinical experiences and independent research to prepare graduates for the dynamic field of genetic counselling.

Academic coursework provides a comprehensive overview of:
- Molecular genetics and genomics
- Clinical genetics
- Counselling techniques and psychology
- Bioethics

Clinical experiences cover a broad range of specialties, preparing graduates for the expanding professional role. These include both private and public settings in the areas of:
- Prenatal genetics
- Pediatric and adult genetics
- Reproductive medicine
- Cancer
- Psychiatric genetics
- Focused practical rotations in embryofetopathology, fetal ultrasound and prenatal procedures, prenatal biochemistry laboratory, molecular biochemical and cytogenetic laboratories.

Interprofessional health education prepares graduates for a patient centred, team-based approach to healthcare delivery. Collaborating with the College of Health Disciplines, unique experiences include:
- Health Mentorship Program
- The Interprofessional Education (IPE) Passport
- Rounds and educational seminars held by the Department of Medical Genetics, Hereditary Cancer Program, Child and Family
Research Institute, BC Clinical Genomics Network and other departments within the hospital and university network.

While this is not a thesis program, all graduates complete an independent research project. The program provides mentorship, research skills development and encouragement towards contributing to the published literature in genetic counselling outcomes.

Quick Facts

- Degree: Master of Science
- Specialization: Genetic Counselling
- Subject: Health and Medicine
- Mode of delivery: On campus
- Program components: Coursework only
- Faculty: Faculty of Medicine

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Genetic counsellors work in a multidisciplinary team with clinical geneticists, nurses, social workers, dietitians, communicating complex genetic information to individuals and families to facilitate decision making. Read more

Genetic counsellors work in a multidisciplinary team with clinical geneticists, nurses, social workers, dietitians, communicating complex genetic information to individuals and families to facilitate decision making. Genetic counsellors are employed in clinical genetics units and work in many areas including: cancer genetics, predictive testing, paediatric genetics, prenatal genetics, adult genetics. Genetic counsellors increasingly are involved in qualitative and quantitative clinical genetic research.

The Master of Genetic Counselling constitutes the professional qualification for entry into employment as an associate genetic counsellor, and for Board Eligible certification, awarded through the Board of Censors in Genetic Counselling (Human Genetics Society of Australasia).

The 2 year Master of Genetic Counselling is designed to build and increase skills and breadth in clinical practice and research, utilising the expertise of tutors who are clinicians, genetic counsellors, scientists, people with a disability and community members. The Masters is taught within the Victorian Clinical Genetics Services at the Royal Childrens Hospital Parkville Victoria. Students are encouraged to attend educational activities within Genetic Health including seminars, clinic meetings and journal club.

The Graduate Diploma is an exit point after 1 year of study in the Masters.

Internationally, genetic counselling is taught within a 2 year clinical Masters. The Masters program aims to increase research and employment opportunities for graduates through developing reciprocity with other countries. With well established links to overseas training programs there are international opportunities for students, through an active exchange program for clinical placements and research collaborations. Past graduates are employed throughout the world -including in Singapore, Malaysia, New Zealand. It is expected that graduates of the Melbourne Masters will be eligible to register to practise as genetic counsellors in the UK and Canada, further increasing employment opportunities.

The Master of Genetic Counselling will fulfil the requirements for certification and employment as a genetic counsellor in Australia and reciprocity with training overseas. The program teaches counselling skills, research skills and clinical genetics knowledge in small interactive student groups. Problem Based Learning is one mode of teaching in the genetics tutorials. This mode of teaching facilitates independent learning which equips the student to continue to develop professionally throughout their career. Students will complete a minor thesis with supervision, and have extensive counselling skills practice in varied clinical genetics and community settings. Assessment tasks mirror the skills needed in genetic counselling practice and for professional certification by the HGSA(Part 2)

Teaching staff are primarily practicing genetic counsellors, scientists and clinicians within the clinical genetics service.

Research and Evaluation Skills:

  • Understand the ethics committee process and develop an ethics proposal;
  • Undertake a critical literature review relevant to a particular topic of research;
  • Develop original research arising from clinical practice;
  • Present findings from an original research project at a professional forum;
  • Understand the principles of qualitative research, including research design and process in an ethical framework OR
  • Understand biostatistical concepts and methods and their application in the assessment and management of health conditions OR
  • Develop an understanding of the nature and purposes of health program evaluation.

Critical Reflection and Cognition Skills:

  • Develop counselling skills through application of models of practice, in supervised clinical placements;
  • Critically evaluate different models of practice through theory, observation and participation in genetic counselling interviews;
  • Respect differences in cultural, religious and socioeconomic beliefs in clients, through developing a critical understanding of difference through the literature and personal contact with clients;
  • Develop self-awareness through reflection and active participation in the process of supervision.

Communication Skills:

  • Analyse the genetic counselling process and the impact on families from a cultural, ethical and psychosocial perspective;
  • Understand and critically analyse the process of transference and countertransference in an interview;
  • Critically analyse the process of communication.

Ethical Skills:

  • Understand the ethical principles that guide and inform genetic counselling practice;
  • Consider personal, cultural and moral values which may impact on the individual practice of genetic counselling;
  • Recognise the ethical challenges that may confront clients;
  • Understand and identify the potential for ethical challenges in emerging genetic technologies;
  • Identify possible challenges to facilitating informed consent and maintaining patient confidentiality.

Genetics Knowledge:

  • Understand the principles of inheritance;
  • Understand chromosomal disorders and the genetic basis of disease;
  • Understand clinical genetic risk assessments for patients and families;
  • Elicit and document a family history and family pedigree, convey genetic information and discuss risk;
  • Understand the normal stages of human embryo development and have an awareness of how this can be disrupted;
  • Understand the role of genetics as the underlying cause of various disorders of the human body;
  • Understand the role of genetics in cancer;
  • Have an appreciation for the range of molecular, cytogenetic and biochemical laboratory tests utilised in clinical genetic practice;
  • Understand the genetic testing approach taken for specific genetic disorders;
  • Understand the treatment approach taken for specific genetic disorders;
  • Understand the issues relating to population based screening;
  • Understand the role of prenatal screening and testing in pregnancy management and care, and the options available when fetal abnormality is detected;
  • Understand the organisational and economic aspects of health care in Australia;
  • Understand the role of the genetic counsellor in the context of the multidisciplinary approach to clinical genetic health care;
  • Understand the principles of the legal and professional duties and the responsibilities of genetic counsellors as health professionals and members of a health care team.

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