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Genetic Counselor Forum - An Exploration of a PhD in Genetic Counseling: Why it Matters for the Profession (closed session for Genetic Counselors)

13 Mar 2024
Venue: Metro Toronto Convention Center
Meeting Room: 714/16
Health Services & Implementation
  • Accredited:
    • Accredited
  • Primary Categories:
    • Genetic Counseling
  • Secondary Categories:
    • Genetic Counseling
  • Level of Learner:
    • Basic
Genetic counselors are key members of research teams with a wealth of clinical expertise that can serve as a foundation for research activities particularly in the social and behavioral aspects of precision medicine. Expertise in genomic science is necessary for genetic counseling practice; thus, genetic counselors are well-positioned to become independent researchers in the social and behavioral aspects of genetic medicine. Many genetic counselors have acquired a basic skill set in these areas, but the ability to lead a research team will require additional expertise and refinement. As the genetic counseling profession has evolved, the possibility of advanced degrees has been raised periodically. A recent survey suggests that there is great interest among current genetic counselors in developing a PhD in genetic counseling specifically, although there are concerns about the benefits and potential harms as well as confusion about different advanced degree options. Approximately 10 years ago, genetic counselors considered and rejected the idea of developing an entry-level clinical doctorate but did not reach a decision on other options such as the PhD (Nagy et al., 2014). Since that time, the field has grown tremendously, from approximately 230 students graduating in 2012 to approximately 500 students graduating in 2022. In recent professional status surveys, genetic counselors have indicated that research was the second most important aspect considered for advancement in a defined career ladder, while 50% are involved in research and 61% had published in the last two years (NSGC, 2018; NSGC, 2022). In spite of this interest in research, the percentage of genetic counselors reporting having a doctoral degree does not appear to have changed: 2% reported having a PhD in 2006, and 2% reporting a PhD in 2022 (Parrott & Del Vecchio, 2007; NSGC, 2022).
The experience obtained while earning a doctorate is foundational to the faculty role in academic institutions, particularly in designing and leading research, acquiring research funding through grant proposals, and engaging in evidence-based teaching. This session will: 1) illustrate the history of the advanced degree discussion in the genetic counseling profession, 2) report on how training in a PhD influences genetic counselors’ abilities to obtain grant funding from the NIH as well as private foundations, 3) describe the benefit of research training beyond the master’s degree, and 4) investigate the value of working with genetic counselors who are able to lead research teams.

Learning Objectives

  1. Describe the context for a discussion of advanced degrees in genetic counseling
  2. Differentiate research training in a masters program from that of a PhD program
  3. Recognize the role a PhD can play in promoting funding for genetic counseling research
  4. Appraise the value of genetic counseling research being carried out by genetic counselors
  5. Evaluate the benefits of working in a research team led by genetic counselors