Course Descriptions

Students complete each of the following courses and at least one elective or independent study. 80 total points is required to complete the Master of Science degree. 

Year 1 - Fall (17.5 points)

Introduction to Genetic Counseling (3 points)

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.

Foundations of Human Genetics (3 points)

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.

Foundations of Counseling Skills (3 points)

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. Race, culture, and other aspects of identity are a part of every aspect of the coursework, as they are fundamental to the counseling process.

The Human Body: Structure and Function 1 (3 points)

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. As part of the course, students rotate through clinical laboratories at Columbia in order to understand various diagnostic genetic tests and how they are used.

Reproductive Genetics (half-term course, 2 points)

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.

Cancer Genetics (half-term course, 2 points)

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.

Community, Identity, and Engagement (0.5 points)

This course is taken throughout the length of the program and is a combined course for all first and second year students. We explore the overarching concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within our society with an emphasis on the system of healthcare and the profession of genetic counseling in the US. Students explore how structural factors (racism, segregation, gender hierarchies, dominant cultural norms within health systems and organizations, and their intersections) contribute to health disparities, and how policies and practices inside and outside of the healthcare system are advancing health equity. Student self-awareness, introspection, and humility are critical components of this course. This course is grounded in sustained dialogue as a process for transforming deep-rooted human conflicts.

Clinical Encounters (1 point)

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.

Year 1 - Spring (17.5 points)

Foundations of Clinical Genetics (3 points)

This course explores typical components of a clinical 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 (3 points)

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. As part of the course, students rotate through clinical laboratories at Columbia in order to understand various diagnostic genetic tests and how they are used.

Foundations of Research 1 (2 points)

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.

Foundations of Human Development (half-term course, 1.5 points)

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.

Advanced Counseling Skills (half-term course, 1.5 points)

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.

Neurogenetics (half-term course, 2 points)

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. 

Biochemical Genetics (half-term course, 2 points)

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.

Community, Identity, and Engagement (0.5 points)

This course is taken throughout the length of the program and is a combined course for all first and second year students. We explore the overarching concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within our society with an emphasis on the system of healthcare and the profession of genetic counseling in the US. Students explore how structural factors (racism, segregation, gender hierarchies, dominant cultural norms within health systems and organizations, and their intersections) contribute to health disparities, and how policies and practices inside and outside of the healthcare system are advancing health equity. Student self-awareness, introspection, and humility are critical components of this course. This course is grounded in sustained dialogue as a process for transforming deep-rooted human conflicts.

Clinical Encounters (2 points)

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.

Summer (10 points)

Clinical Ethics for Genetic Counselors (2 points)

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.

Genetics, Genomics, and Society (2 points)

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.

Process Group (1 point)

This course is conducted as small-group work and is a continuation of Clinical Encouters, 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.

 

Internship (3 points)

Students engage in fieldwork at various settings approximately 3 full days per week.

Scholarly Project (2 points)

Students engage in independent mentored research.

Year 2 - Fall (18 points)

Therapeutic Genetic Counseling 1 (3 points)

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.

ELSI Issues in Human Genomics (3 points)

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.

Translational Genomics (2 points)

Students are immersed in the science of variant interpretation, learning the analysis pipeline within the Institute for Genomic Medicine and other tools/databases used to interpret genomic variants. Students work with example variants and apply this experience to critically analyze a clinical whole exome sequencing report, including appreciating the limitations of sequencing technology and variant interpretation. Students also engage in the process of informed consent with research participants enrolling in genomic sequencing, exploring the similarities and differences of clinical and research genomic testing.

Foundations of Research 2 (2 points)

This course iprovides 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 creating tables and figures as well as writing the components of a scientific manuscript.

Community, Identity, and Engagement (0.5 points)

This course is taken throughout the length of the program and is a combined course for all first and second year students. We explore the overarching concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within our society with an emphasis on the system of healthcare and the profession of genetic counseling in the US. Students explore how structural factors (racism, segregation, gender hierarchies, dominant cultural norms within health systems and organizations, and their intersections) contribute to health disparities, and how policies and practices inside and outside of the healthcare system are advancing health equity. Student self-awareness, introspection, and humility are critical components of this course. This course is grounded in sustained dialogue as a process for transforming deep-rooted human conflicts.

Process Group (1 point)

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.

Internship (4.5 points)

Students engage in fieldwork at various settings approximately 3 full days per week.

Scholarly Project (2 points)

Students engage in independent mentored research.

Year 2 - Spring (15 points)

Therapeutic Genetic Counseling 2 (3 points)

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.

Precision Medicine for Genetic Counselors (2 points)

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.

Professional Formation (2 points)

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, job search, supervision of students, leadership, 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.

Community, Identity, and Engagement (0.5 points)

This course is taken throughout the length of the program and is a combined course for all first and second year students. We explore the overarching concepts of diversity, equity, inclusion, and justice within our society with an emphasis on the system of healthcare and the profession of genetic counseling in the US. Students explore how structural factors (racism, segregation, gender hierarchies, dominant cultural norms within health systems and organizations, and their intersections) contribute to health disparities, and how policies and practices inside and outside of the healthcare system are advancing health equity. Student self-awareness, introspection, and humility are critical components of this course. This course is grounded in sustained dialogue as a process for transforming deep-rooted human conflicts.

Process Group (1 point)

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.

Internship (4.5 points)

Students engage in fieldwork at various settings approximately 3 full days per week.

Scholarly Project (2 points)

Students engage in independent mentored research.