Curriculum

The Master of Science in Genetic Counseling is a full-time, on-campus program. Each student is expected to complete his or her course work in four semesters. The university requires that master’s degrees be completed in a maximum of five years. As part of their course work, students begin clinical rotations in the spring semester of the first year and continue through both semesters of the second year. Students are required to engage in clinical experiences during the intervening summer as well. To be considered full-time, the student must register for 15 credit hours in the fall and spring semesters. In order to be considered in good academic standing, a student must achieve a 2.5 GPA after the first semester and maintain a 3.0 GPA in the subsequent semesters. Students who fail to maintain a 3.0 average are permitted one semester to bring their average up to the required level.

The typical course schedule is as given below (please keep in mind that curriculum review is continuous) in the M.S. in Genetic Counseling program, therefore, this is represents an example, however individual courses may change to meet the increasing changes and developments in the field of Human genetics.

Sample Course Work

Semester 1

Course ScheduleCredit Hours
HGEN 501 Introduction to Human Genetics 3
HGEN 525 Practice of Genetic Counseling 3
CLED 601 Theories of Counseling 3
HGEN 691 Classic papers in Human Genetics 1
HGEN 690 Special Topics in Genetics, Research Seminar 1
IDDS 691 Leadership 3

Semester 2

Course ScheduleCredit Hours
HGEN 526 Practice of Genetic Counseling 3
HGEN 502 Intro to Human Genetics 3
HGEN 600 Clinical Placement (Prenatal) 3
MICRO 510 Scientific Integrity 1
HGEN 690 Special Topics in Genetics, Research Seminar 1
 SLWK 609 Social Research Methods 3

Elective or Research 1 - 3

Summer

Course ScheduleCredit Hours
HGEN 520 Molecular and Cytogenetics Practicum 2
HGEN 690 Clinical Placement 1 - 3

Semester 3

Course ScheduleCredit Hours
HGEN 527 Medical Genetics 3
HGEN 622 Cancer Genetics 3
HGEN 600 Clinical Placement 3
HGEN 697 Clinical Project (directed research) 1 - 3
HGEN 690 Special Topics in Genetics, Research Seminar 3
Elective 1 - 3

Semester 4

Course ScheduleCredit Hours
HGEN 527 Medical Genetics 3
ANAT 691 Embryology 2
HGEN 600 Clinical Placement 3
HGEN 697 Clinical Project (directed research) 3

Clinical training

The VCU Medical Center is a tertiary care medical center that provides trainees with ample opportunity to gain experience in a variety of clinical settings. Exposure to genetic conditions and different clinical training opportunities support the development of the practice-based competencies established by the American Board of Genetic Counseling. The Department of Human and Molecular Genetics has a longstanding history of providing clinical genetic services ranging from preconception to postmortem indications in the greater-Richmond area.

Design of clinical training allows the trainee to acquire more than the required number of cases to be eligible to take the American Board of Genetic Counseling certification examination.  Clinical training provides the trainee with an increasingly complex and independent case management and critical thinking experience.  The trainee’s clinical role begins as observation in the first semester, progresses to a participatory role in the second and third semesters and culminates in a fully supervised independent case management role by completion of the degree requirements.  The format of clinical training allows and encourages the trainee to participate in a wide variety of case service types as well as to work with a number of medical professionals including genetic counselors, physician geneticists, genetic fellows, other physicians, medical residents and students.

Seminar

All students are required to attend a research seminar each week in addition to any departmental seminars scheduled. First-year students present their lab module work and/or an organized review of a genetic counseling topic. Second-year students present a seminar on their research project.

All genetic counseling students are required to attend weekly Wednesday conferences at 11:00 a.m. and 12:00 p.m. that are attended by the faculty and other students working towards a degree in other health-related fields.

Every Wednesday, 11:00 a.m.
Clinical conference

First Wednesday of the month, 12:00 p.m.
Genetic counseling case conference

Second Wednesday of the month, 12:00 p.m.
Pizza rounds on a clinical genetics topic (usually a guest speaker)

Third Wednesday of the month, 12:00 p.m.
Journal club

Fourth Wednesday of the month, 12:00 p.m.
Cytogenetic/Metabolic case conference

Occasional fifth Wednesday, 12:00 p.m.
Review information from national meetings (NSGC, ASHG, ACMG, etc.)

Students in rotation will be responsible for leading discussion at the genetic counseling case conference and reporting at journal club. A wide variety of departmental rounds, seminars and conferences take place on both of VCU’s two campuses. Students are strongly encouraged to look at bulletin boards on at least a weekly basis and attend relevant meetings.

Research project

Students are required to complete a research project during their course of study. The purpose of the research project is to give the student hands-on experience in developing a research question or exploring a professional or program problem, reviewing the literature and attempting to answer the question or problem. Projects will enhance the student’s professional development and represent a strong component of the “portfolio” of experience brought to the job interview process. Projects can range from laboratory to clinical and may include development of educational materials, videotapes or patient protocols. All projects are required to have defined goals and/or hypotheses to be tested. Institutional review board application and review is often required for student research. Publication and professional presentation are strongly encouraged.

Students are strongly encouraged to consider possible projects in the first semester and choose a project topic by the second semester. The faculty member with whom the project will be performed and the program director approves all project proposals. Meetings are encouraged on a regular basis with the research adviser to monitor the progress. Some projects will require review by the Office of Research Subjects Protections and some projects may require that the student seek grant funding or participate on an existing faculty grant. The student is responsible for preparing documents and meeting these requirements in a timely fashion.

By the beginning of the second year, the student must have selected the members of his or her research committee. The research committee must include at least three faculty members with a rank of assistant professor or above. Additional members may be added if needed for optimal project advising.