The dual degree in Genetic Counseling and Public Health Genetics bridges the focus on individuals and on populations so that graduates are poised to bring the patient perspective to the development of legislative policies, guidelines and screening programs.
Programs like newborn screening and cancer screening are public health programs, and as genetics becomes more ubiquitous in medicine, these types of population level programs are likely to become more plentiful and genetic counselors (GCs) can play a big role in their design and implementation.
The dual degree program at Pitt can be completed in 2 years of full time study with a couple summer classes or in 3 years when a student starts in the Public Health Genetics program rather than the Genetic Counseling Program. There is a great deal of flexibility in how the program is organized, and there is room to take some electives as well. Even if completed in 2 years, the courses are spread out in a way that the extra workload is very manageable. In fact, it can be a nice change of pace to attend lectures on subjects outside of the genetic counseling field.
In addition to a thesis project for the Master’s degree in Genetic Counseling, an essay must be completed on a practicum in Public Health Genetics for the MPH. Often the thesis and practicum can be combined into the same project. Almost any project relevant for a genetic counseling master’s thesis could be extrapolated to the population level so doing the dual degree shouldn't limit the choice of project. Many people can even add a chapter to their thesis to discuss public health applications rather than writing a separate essay. An MPH is not necessarily required to work in public health genetics, but it may make graduates more competitive and create exciting, new opportunities for genetic counselors.
-Bess Wayburn, class of 2016