MS in Genetic Counseling

This program is provided through the Division of Graduate Medical Sciences and has received full accreditation from the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC). Applications are available at the BU Graduate Medical Sciences site. For additional information on the genetic counseling profession, please visit the website for the National Society of Genetic Counselors. For questions regarding the Genetic Counseling Program, please contact Maryann W. Campion at 617-638-7170 or email gcprog@bu.edu. If you live in New England or will be in the area, you are welcome to schedule a date/time to visit and learn more about the campus and program.

Program Overview

The primary objective of the Master of Science Program in Genetic Counseling is to educate graduate students in the core concepts of human genetics and counseling. Our focus is to provide students with the appropriate knowledge, experience, and mentoring to become competent, sensitive, and motivated genetic counselors. This is accomplished through a variety of educational experiences including coursework, clinical training, research project preparation, and supplementary activities such as case conferences, grand rounds, journal clubs, and seminars.

Boston University’s medical school and teaching hospital offer access to tremendous resources for clinical experience and laboratory genetic services, making this the first program of its kind to be located within an academic medical center in New England. This program also has the unique appeal of including courses in the Mental Health & Behavioral Medicine Program and the Medical Sciences Program. In addition, elective courses are available through several other BU schools and departments, including the Mental Health Counseling & Behavioral Medicine Program and the School of Public Health.

Program Requirements

First Year Curriculum

The first year of study focuses primarily on coursework in general genetics and counseling skills. Clinical observations and laboratory rotations complement the didactic curriculum. In addition, students will select a Capstone Project topic and begin their research during the second semester.

* Courses that are taught every other year

Semester 1
  • GMS GC 601  Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling (3 cr)
  • GMS GC 603 Embryology, Teratology, and Prenatal Genetics (3 cr)
  • GMS GC 605 Clinical Applications in Human Genetics (4 cr)
  • GMS GC 700 Genetic Counseling Clinical Rotation I (2 cr)
  • GMS MH 703 Counseling Techniques and Helping Relationships (3 cr)
Semester 2
  • GMS GC 600 Genetic Diagnosis and Laboratory Methods (3 cr)
  • GMS GC 601 Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling, cont.
  • GMS GC 602 Clinical Genetics (3 cr)
  • GMS GC 716 Social, Cultural, and Ethical Issues in Genetics (3 cr)*
Summer
  • GMS GC 702S Genetic Counseling Clinical Rotation II (2 cr)

Second Year Curriculum

The second year of study focuses on clinical experience and research project development. In addition, the coursework covers more advanced topics in medical genetics, professional issues, and genetic counseling sub-specialties. The number of required credits is decreased during Semester 4, so as to allow students adequate time to complete their research projects, acquire a sufficient number of logbook cases, and begin interviews for job placement.

Semester 3
  • GMS GC 604 Cancer Genetic Counseling (3 cr)
  • GMS GC 703 Genetic Counseling Clinical Rotation III (2 cr)
  • GMS GC 711 Advanced Genetic Counseling (4 cr)
  • GMS MH 708 Human Growth & Development (3 cr)
Semester 4
  • GMS GC 704 Genetic Counseling Clinical Rotation IV (2 cr)
  • GMS GC 711 Advanced Genetic Counseling, cont.
  • GMS GC 712 Metabolic Genetics/Advanced Risk Assessment (3 cr)*
  • GMS GC 714 Advanced Topics in Medical Genetics (3 cr)

In addition, each student will take a BU graduate-level course in research design, research methodology, and/or statistical analysis. Students are also encouraged to take elective courses throughout BUMC that align with their personal interests and professional goals.

Clinical Rotations and Observations

The clinical rotations and observations provide students with opportunities to develop their counseling skills in a broad range of clinical settings. These first-hand experiences familiarize students with individuals and families affected by a variety of genetic disorders. The following list includes a few of the settings available for student observations and rotations: Boston University (Antenatal Testing Unit, Pediatric Genetics, Cancer Genetics, Breast Health Program, Huntington Disease Center, Autism Research Center of Excellence, Alzheimer’s Disease Center, Amyloid Treatment Program, and Development Assessment Clinic), Children’s Hospital Boston (Metabolism Clinic, Program in Genomics, Congenital Myopathies Clinic, and Comprehensive Brain Malformations Program), Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Massachusetts General Hospital, Baystate Medical Center, UMass Memorial Medical Center, Lahey Clinic, Rhode Island Hospital, Women & Infants Hospital, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, Brigham & Women’s Hospital, Tufts Medical Center, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Vanguard, South Shore Hospital, and the Feingold Center for Children.

During the first year, students observe in a genetic counseling (or related) clinic for one half-day or full day per week. The observations include several core clinics at Boston Medical Center (BMC), including prenatal, pediatric, and cancer genetics, as well as several specialty clinics within and outside of BMC. During the second semester, students continue to observe in the specialty clinics, but they begin active participation in the core genetics clinics at BMC. Student participation in counseling sessions includes case preparation, contracting with patients, obtaining prenatal, medical, and family history information, and explaining basic genetic concepts to patients. Students are also involved in reviewing patient charts and online medical records, collecting patient literature and testing information, and writing follow-up letters.

During the intervening summer, each student spends six weeks full-time (or 30 days total) at an external rotation site. Students are encouraged to brainstorm early about potential cities and/or clinics of interest. To date, we have arranged clinical rotations in a wide variety of sub-specialties and cities, including San Francisco, Miami, New York, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Houston, Providence, Washington DC, San Diego, Anchorage, and Madrid.

During the second year, each student completes 4 seven-week rotations at both Boston Medical Center and throughout New England. Each rotation is approximately two full-days per week, or 14 days total. Students typically require access to a car for one or two of these rotations. For students who prefer not to own a car, we encourage them to inquire about Zipcar, a popular car sharing service here in Boston that offers a discount to BU students (www.zipcar.com).

Capstone Project

Each student completes their graduate training with the presentation of a Capstone Project. The purpose of the Capstone Project is to equip students with the knowledge and skills required to contribute to the field of genetic counseling. This individualized scholarly work may consist of a detailed case study and literature review, a clinical or laboratory research project, or a clinical application (such as developing clinical practice tools or professional educational programs or creating informational material to benefit individuals and families with genetic disorders). Students should pick a project that will pique their interests and passions, as well as contribute to the knowledge and/or practice of genetic counseling.

During the Spring Semester of their first year, each student selects a topic for study that is approved by the Executive Capstone Committee. Students submit their proposals for Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval during the intervening summer, and then the projects are executed during the second year of study. Genetic Counseling Research Seminars are provided throughout GMS GC 601 Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling and GMS GC 711 Advanced Genetic Counseling. Each Capstone Project is completed under the guidance of a Capstone Project Committee, which consists of a project advisor and a project reader, both of whom may be chosen from the primary or adjunct faculty. Each project culminates in a formal paper and an oral presentation to the department and invited guests. The paper should be of publishable quality and may be submitted for presentation at a national genetics meeting.

Degree Requirements

Qualifications for Completion of the Master’s Degree

The Genetic Counseling Program is a full-time program (two academic years and the intervening summer). Candidates for the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling will be expected to perform at high academic and professional standards, defined as follows:

  1. Successful completion of 48 credit hours of coursework, research project development, and clinical rotations.
  2. Satisfactory grades, requiring a B– grade or better in all courses of credit. A grade of C in 8 credit hours or more is not permissible and will result in termination or temporary exclusion from the program.
  3. A minimum of 10 hours of genetic education through avenues such as: lectures to high school or college classes, resident groups, teachers’ courses, or community forums; peer educational activities; and class projects to develop patient, professional, or community educational materials.
  4. Students will also be required to attend and participate in a number of other activities, including: a weekly Genetic Counseling Seminar and Journal Club; a minimum of 4 grand rounds/seminars (i.e. pediatric, OB/GYN, etc.) per semester; and a minimum of 20–30 hours of advocacy experience (including local support groups) during the first year.

In addition, students are encouraged to attend local, regional, and national genetics conferences, as funds and time allow.