With the rapid growth in genetic research and its expanding role in disease diagnosis and future treatments, the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute at Christiana Care is partnering with Thomas Jefferson University’s Jefferson College of Biomedical Sciences in a Human Genetics & Genetic Counseling master’s degree program to prepare people to become genetic counselors.

Zohra Ali-Khan Catts, MS, LCGC

“Genetic counseling is one of the fastest growing professions in the medical field,” said Zohra Ali-Khan Catts, MS, LCGC, director of Genetic Counseling and Gene Testing at the Graham Cancer Center and co-director of the new program, along with Rachael Brandt, Ph.D., MS, LCGC. The demand for these professionals is growing in almost every medical specialty, including cardiovascular, neurology, pediatrics, prenatal, reproductive and psychology.

The master’s degree program earned accreditation in January 2017 from the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling. Students will do academic work primarily at Jefferson and then rotate into Christiana Hospital and Wilmington Hospital and various outpatient settings to gain hands-on experience with patients.

The medical director of the program is Louis Bartoshesky, M.D., MPH, senior pediatric clinical geneticist at the Graham Cancer Center, professor of pediatrics at Jefferson and a member of the medical staff at Nemours Children’s Health System.

Only 37 genetic counseling degree programs exist in the United States, and four in Canada.

“The role of genetic counselors is critical as we move forward in advancing medicine through genomics,” said Nicholas J. Petrelli, M.D., Bank of America endowed medical director of the Helen F. Graham Cancer Center & Research Institute. “We have only experienced the tip of the iceberg as to what this science will allow us to accomplish in our effort to improve the health of our patients.”

Genetic counselors specialize in assisting families to understand the risk of genetic disorders. These clinical professionals are skilled at eliciting a detailed family history that includes personal, family and medical histories. They work in collaboration with clinical geneticists and other physicians, providers and families. Genetic counselors also may collaborate with others in health care research around genetic issues.

In addition to working in hospital settings and cancer centers, genetic counselors are integrated into health care management and laboratory settings where they can help decide what tests are appropriate so that health care dollars are used wisely.

Louis Bartoshesky, M.D., MPH

“Jefferson has widely respected academic programs in the biomedical sciences, as well as in its medical and health science colleges,” Dr. Bartoshesky said. “Students will have the opportunity to work inter-professionally with other students in other health care professions and in other master’s and doctoral programs.” He cited such complementary programs as molecular diagnosis and cancer genetics.

Applications for the new program are being accepted for September 2017.