Friday, August 21, 2015

A Dual Degree with an MPH in Public Health Genetics

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

Friday, August 7, 2015

My Thesis Experience

Recent studies have examined the feasibility and psychosocial implications of a population screening approach to test for mutations in genes associated with hereditary cancer syndromes.  I have a personal interest in the field of cancer genetics, and wanted to have a thesis project that related to recent research in this field.   For my thesis project, I worked with my committee to develop a survey to elicit the interest of people in the general population in accessing a genetic test that analyzes genes related to hereditary cancer syndromes.  The survey also asks questions related to the psychosocial implications of this type of genetic testing, and how people would react to possible results. 

Prior to conducting my research, I needed approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB).  I had never written an application for the IRB before, and it was a great learning experience to see how it is necessary to have the logistics of the study thought through before IRB approval will be granted. Designing a research study and submitting an IRB application can be quite challenging, but also rewarding.  I now have the knowledge of setting up a research project and can use this experience in my future career as a genetic counselor.

One of my favorite parts of my thesis project so far has been submitting an abstract for the American Society of Human Genetics (ASHG) conference in October.  Using the preliminary results of 240 responses to the survey, I wrote an abstract, which was accepted for a poster presentation at the ASHG conference.  Throughout the process, I had the support and assistance of my research mentor, Dr. Dietrich Stephan, and our program directors, Dr. Robin Grubs and Dr. Andrea Durst.   I look forward to the opportunity to present the results of my thesis at the conference in Baltimore!

-Laura Cross, class of 2016