Coursework

Students engage in coursework throughout both years in the program. Year 1 represents foundational work that both strengthens understanding and broadens exposure to topics relevant to genetic counseling. Year 2 supports integration to allow for the application of knowledge to a variety of settings and clients, and a deepening of perspective about the individual, the family, the community, and society at large.

Course Descriptions

Year 1 - Fall

Foundations of Human Genetics

This course is an in-depth study of the mechanism of Mendelian and non-Mendelian inheritance of diseases and disorders. Topics include gene structure and function, cellular processes, single-gene and complex inheritance, molecular defects that lead to various classes of genetic disease, and how theories of human genetics can be applied to populations. As part of the course, students will rotate through clinical laboratories at Columbia in order to understand various diagnostic genetic tests and how they are used.

Foundations of Counseling Skills

This course is designed to teach students the basic and specialized skills necessary for effective counseling in a professional helping relationship. Through didactic training the course will build students’ knowledge and understanding of fundamental counseling skills, and through experiential learning the course will develop students' facility with applying these skills in helping relationships.

The Human Body: Structure and Function 1

In this course, students examine the normal development and physiological function of organ systems, the mechanisms for the maintenance of health, and the pathophysiological alterations in body function that lead to disease. Each class will focus on a specific physiologic process or organ system. This course will focus on diseases with genetic contributions that occur across the life span, examining common genetic mutations, pathogenic mechanisms, clinical manifestations, and common treatments of each.

Introduction to Genetic Counseling

This course provides an introduction to foundational genetic counseling skills including contracting, communication techniques, pedigree construction and analysis, and risk calculation. Students will learn about sociopolitical issues relevant to the practice of genetic counseling and explore the provision of services grounded in the framework of social justice.

Clinical Encounters 1

This course uses a small-group format to process the clinical experiences in the first year and will provide a backbone of clinical supervision for casework. Each small group will be led by a genetic counselor faculty member who will facilitate discussion and provide support. Students will bring case material to the group to process together.

Reproductive Genetics (half-term course)

This course provides students with medical and counseling information unique to the provision of reproductive genetic counseling services. This will include the technical information regarding screening and diagnostic testing modalities, the sociological perspectives of the geneticization/medicalization of pregnancy, and the specific counseling issues facing the perinatal client and genetic counselor.

Neurogenetics (half-term course)

This course will provide students with medical and counseling information unique to the provision of neurogenetic counseling services. This will include the technical information regarding screening and diagnostic testing modalities, the sociological perspectives of the geneticization/medicalization of neurological disease, and the specific counseling issues facing individuals living with neurological disease. 

Year 1 - Spring

Foundations of Clinical Genetics

This course explores typical components of a clinical genetics/genetic counseling session and provides students with a practical approach to case management. Topics include history-taking, medical-record review, components of a physical exam, understanding of dysmorphology and syndromology, creation of a differential diagnosis, identification of referrals and resources, and writing both medical and counseling notes. Students will become familiar with available genetic and genomic tests, the process of identifying appropriate testing and selecting a reputable lab, coordinating and ordering testing, receiving and interpreting results, communicating these results to clients, and integrating test results into clinical care.

The Human Body: Structure and Function 2

In this course, students examine the normal development and physiological function of organ systems, the mechanisms for the maintenance of health, and the pathophysiological alterations in body function that lead to disease. Each class will focus on a specific physiologic process or organ system. This course will focus on diseases with genetic contributions that occur across the life span, examining common genetic mutations, pathogenic mechanisms, clinical manifestations, and common treatments of each.

Foundations of Research 1

This course provides an introduction to clinical study design, including development of a study question, types of studies, and types of variables. Lab learning workshops provide students with the tools to apply the knowledge learned in lectures as well as provide them the foundation to collect, manage, and analyze data. Students will apply knowledge learned in the course to develop their scholarly project, such as conducting a literature review and producing an annotated bibliography.

Clinical Encounters 2

This course uses a small-group format to process the clinical experiences in the first year and will provide a backbone of clinical supervision for casework. Each small group will be led by a genetic counselor faculty member who will facilitate discussion and provide support. Students will bring case material to the group to process together.

Cancer Genetics (half-term course)

This course will provide students with medical and counseling information unique to the provision of cancer genetic counseling services. This will include information regarding cancer screening and diagnostic testing, the utility of genetic testing in the setting of cancer, and specific counseling issues facing the cancer genetics client and genetic counselor. Students will become familiar with a broad range of inherited cancer syndromes and will learn how to identify appropriate resources/support for clients and families.

Biochemical Genetics (half-term course)

Knowledge of the genetic and biochemical basis of inherited disease is expanding rapidly. As new genes are identified and biochemical functions are unraveled, increased information will be available to clinicians who care for individuals with inborn errors of metabolism (IEMs). This course will provide an overview of the basic principles of the pathophysiology, diagnosis, and management of IEMs, as well as prepare students to keep pace with new discoveries as they apply to clinical management.

Clinical Ethics for Genetic Counselors (half-term course)

Beginning with the basic principles of bioethics, this course will explore ethical dilemmas that may emerge in genetic counseling settings. Readings and class discussions will concentrate on case histories that demonstrate issues that can arise during preconception, prenatal, pediatric, and adult sessions, including wrongful life and wrongful death, unequal access to care, resource allocation, duty to warn, communication of genetic information, predictive testing, testing children for adult-onset diseases, conflict of interest, genetic discrimination, and many others.

Foundations of Human Development (half-term course)

As a basis for working with clients across the life span, this course addresses the physical, cognitive, and psychological changes human beings encounter as we pass through life, from infancy to death. Students taking this course will explore, discuss, and learn about important developmental psychological principles and how to apply them in understanding their work with clients of various ages and life stages.

Summer

Genetics, Genomics, and Society

This course explores the basic principles of genetics and their application to public health practice and research. Students will explore the history of genetics and public health, learn to apply principles of effective written and oral communication to public health genetics topics, incorporate genetic information into assessment and policy development, and assess the ethical, legal, social, and financial implications of the use of genetic principles and technologies in public health

Advanced Counseling Skills

This course will build upon developing counseling skills as students learn to perform psychosocial assessment during the genetic counseling session and determine when additional intervention is warranted. Students will work with giving bad news and providing support, as well as managing client guilt, shame, anger, and blame. This course will also assist students in learning to identify and address transference and countertransference in the genetic counseling setting and to understand various client coping and defense mechanisms.

Process Group 1

This course is conducted as small-group work, providing space for processing clinical case work within the model of leader-led peer supervision. Students will have increasing clinical responsibilities in their internships and can utilize this course to further process and develop their professional self. Each small group will be led by a genetic counselor faculty member who will facilitate discussion and provide support for the students’ ongoing professional development and increasing counseling skills.

 

Year 2 - Fall

ELSI Issues in Human Genomics

This course will present the pertinent ethical, legal, and social issues raised by the use of genetics and genomics in the clinic and in research. Topics will include the shrinking distinction between clinical and research testing, return of results across an individual’s life span, models—and challenges—of consent and return of incidental findings, race and ethnic issues, equal access, privacy, public health and allocation of resources, use and storage of biological materials and genomics data, commercialization of genomic testing and research, and the use of genetic testing in legal settings.

Applied Genetic Counseling 1

This case-based course integrates the genetic/genomic, medical, and counseling topics that students have been exposed to thus far in their training through application to clinical genetic counseling scenarios. Students will work through a variety of cases, including cancer, neurogenetics, cardiogenetics, prenatal genetics, renal genetics, and dermatology genetics. Practicing genetic counselors will bring case material from their clinics for students to work with. All aspects of case management and roles that genetic counselors might play based on the specifics of the case will be discussed.

Professional Formation 1

This course will provide support to students as they prepare to transition into the professional community of genetic counselors in regard to board exam preparation, supervision of students, education of other healthcare providers, and the importance of self-care. Students will identify and review the key aspects to establishing and optimizing genetic services for any type of setting. Beyond employment, genetic counselors have a professional responsibility to stay actively engaged in the community, contribute to advancing the field, and maintain their own education beyond graduate training.

Therapeutic Genetic Counseling 1

This course provides a theoretical foundation for understanding the therapeutic potential of genetic counseling in various clinical settings. Students will further develop and practice skills to create an ongoing therapeutic/working alliance with clients and to capitalize on this relationship to provide support and education that can positively impact clients. Both theory and practice will be addressed, as well as an understanding of models stemming directly from the genetic counseling profession. Students will deepen their understanding of various topics relevant to the practice of genetic counseling, including grief/loss, family systems, nondirective and directive counseling, disability, meaning making, adaptation, adult education, decision-making, and working with uncertainty.

Foundations of Research 2

This course provides an introduction to clinical study design, including development of a study question, types of studies, and types of variables. Lab learning workshops provide students with the tools to apply the knowledge learned in lectures as well as provide them the foundation to collect, manage, and analyze data. Students will apply knowledge learned in the course to develop their scholarly project, such as conducting a literature review and producing an annotated bibliography.

Process Group 2

This course is conducted as small-group work, providing space for processing clinical case work within the model of leader-led peer supervision. Students will have increasing clinical responsibilities in their internships and can utilize this course to further process and develop their professional self. Each small group will be led by a genetic counselor faculty member who will facilitate discussion and provide support for the students’ ongoing professional development and increasing counseling skills.

Year 2 - Spring

Introduction to Precision Medicine

This course provides an overview of precision medicine with an emphasis on genomic health. Students will receive detailed instruction on how to interpret genomic variation and how to effectively communicate this information to patients in ways that are effective, efficient, and scalable. The course will cover big-data initiatives in systems biology and quantitative data analysis and how machine learning is being applied to individual patient care. Students will also explore questions of clinical implementation, including measuring cost effectiveness, and will address the ethical, legal, and social issues presented by precision medicine.

Applied Genetic Counseling 2

This case-based course integrates the genetic/genomic, medical, and counseling topics that students have been exposed to thus far in their training through application to clinical genetic counseling scenarios. Students will work through a variety of cases, including cancer, neurogenetics, cardiogenetics, prenatal genetics, renal genetics, and dermatology genetics. Practicing genetic counselors will bring case material from their clinics for students to work with. All aspects of case management and roles that genetic counselors might play based on the specifics of the case will be discussed.

Professional Formation 2

This course will provide support to students as they prepare to transition into the professional community of genetic counselors in regard to board exam preparation, supervision of students, education of other healthcare providers, and the importance of self-care. Students will identify and review the key aspects to establishing and optimizing genetic services for any type of setting. Beyond employment, genetic counselors have a professional responsibility to stay actively engaged in the community, contribute to advancing the field, and maintain their own education beyond graduate training.

Therapeutic Genetic Counseling 2

This course provides a theoretical foundation for understanding the therapeutic potential of genetic counseling in various clinical settings. Students will further develop and practice skills to create an ongoing therapeutic/working alliance with clients and to capitalize on this relationship to provide support and education that can positively impact clients. Both theory and practice will be addressed, as well as an understanding of models stemming directly from the genetic counseling profession. Students will deepen their understanding of various topics relevant to the practice of genetic counseling, including grief/loss, family systems, nondirective and directive counseling, disability, meaning making, adaptation, adult education, decision-making, and working with uncertainty.

Process Group 3

This course is conducted as small-group work, providing space for processing clinical case work within the model of leader-led peer supervision. Students will have increasing clinical responsibilities in their internships and can utilize this course to further process and develop their professional self. Each small group will be led by a genetic counselor faculty member who will facilitate discussion and provide support for the students’ ongoing professional development and increasing counseling skills.