Masters in Genetic Counseling Curriculum
Our program's curriculum integrates the science of genetics and genomics with the knowledge, counseling, research and communication skills needed to ethically and effectively deliver genetic counseling services in diverse clinical settings. The first year is comprised primarily of didactic coursework and clinical observations. The second year is comprised primarily of fieldwork experiences and the capstone master’s research project. There is a required fieldwork experience during the summer between Year 1 and Year 2 of the program. Opportunities for learning about individual and family experiences with genetic conditions through first-hand accounts are incorporated throughout the curriculum via patient guest speakers, shadowing support groups and families, and fieldwork experiences.
Furthermore, because UCLA is situated in one of the most culturally rich regions in the country, our training program provides a unique opportunity for the students to gain experience in understanding the dynamics of multiculturalism and diversity. In class sessions we use case vignettes which highlight and value diverse perspectives and backgrounds. Students also benefit from simulations and role-playing which enable them to apply theories through work with virtual patients, and cross-cultural scenarios are incorporated into these practical exercises.
Training in ethical, legal, and social issues of genetic information is also integral to the program. Students are exposed to larger societal issues involved in genetic counseling in a variety of ways, including through readings and discussion, potential teaching apprenticeships, and opportunities available at UCLA such as the UCLA Ethics Center lectures.
Students will have access to a variety of supplemental activities to enrich their training, such as UCLA Genetics Case Conference, Genome Data Board, Departmental Grand Rounds/Seminar Series, UCLA Undiagnosed Diseases Network Clinical Site, Southern California Genetic Counseling Group, the UCLA Department of Human Genetics academic retreat, laboratory tours, special topics workshops, activities involving spending time with individuals or families with a genetic condition, participation in local support and bereavement groups, and venues for public speaking.
MS in Genetic Counseling Program Requirements
All students are required to take the core curriculum, consisting of didactic courses in medical genetics/genomics content, counseling skills, laboratory applications, and ethical, legal, and social issues in genetic counseling; fieldwork; a master's research (capstone) project; and supplementary activities. Students take a minimum of 12 units per quarter for a total of 75 units, including 16 required courses, independent research, and 5 fieldwork courses. 63 units must be graduate courses (200/400 series), 12 units are 596 courses. Together, these provide a foundation for an entry-level genetic counselor. Successful completion of the program fulfills the curricular and clinical training requirements for eligibility to sit for examination by the American Board of Genetic Counseling.
Official, approved course descriptions are updated and maintained by the Registrar's Office.
Genetic Counseling First-Year Required Courses
HUM GEN 400A: Principles and Practice in Medical Genetics 1 (Fall)
This is the first course in a three quarter series course. Lectures focus on the medical approaches to clinical genetics. Topics include molecular basis of genetic disease, modes of inheritance, principles of cytogenetics and molecular technologies, disorders of chromosomes, and fundamentals of prenatal diagnosis and screening. The application of medical and genetic information to genetic counseling is addressed. The course utilizes lectures, problem based learning scenarios and examinations. Grand Rounds/Seminar series attendance is a required component of this course.
HUM GEN 401: Fundamental Genetic Counseling Skills (Fall)
This course introduces students to the profession of genetic counseling and addresses basic genetic counseling skills and the structure of a genetic counseling session using didactic and active learning techniques, including role-plays, supplemented by activities in clinical settings. Topics include: history of the profession, theories of psychosocial counseling and its principles including the Reciprocal-Engagement Model of Genetic Counseling, active listening, verbal and non-verbal communication, empathy, how to ask questions, self-disclosure and self-involving skills, and structure of a genetic counseling session. Practical exercises and supplementary activities address constructing a genetic counseling session, contracting, obtaining family history, drawing and interpreting pedigrees, interviewing techniques, assessing level of patient and family understanding, case preparation, risk communication, development of educational materials, and referrals. General Genetics Case Conference attendance and clinic observations are required component of course.
HUM GEN 406: Foundations of Genomic Medicine (Fall)
This course focuses on fundamental concepts in modern biology, with emphasis on implications and relevance to human genetic disease and integration of biology with mechanisms underlying disease development.
HUM GEN 430: Clinical Applications of Cytogenetics and Molecular Techniques (Fall)
This course will provide exposure to cytogenetics and molecular laboratory techniques to diagnose human genetic disorders. Topics include types of abnormalities seen in human genetic disorders, phenotypic consequences associated with these abnormalities, recurrence risk, uses and limitations of common cytogenetic and molecular technologies in clinical testing, current nomenclature, and written components of laboratory reports. Laboratory tours are included.
BIOMATH/MED M261: Responsible Conduct of Research Involving Humans (Fall)
Discussion of current issues in responsible conduct of clinical research, including reporting of research, rigor and reproducibility, basis for authorship, issues in genetic research, principles and practice of research on humans, conflicts of interest, Institutional Review Board (IRB), and related topics.
HUM GEN 400B: Principles and Practice in Medical Genetics 2 (Winter)
This is the second course in a three quarter series course. Lectures focus on the medical approaches to clinical genetics. Topics include cancer genetics, principles of mathematical and population genetics, multifactorial inheritance, risk assessment, teratology and dysmorphology. The application of medical and genetic information to genetic counseling is addressed. The course utilizes lectures, problem based learning scenarios and examinations. Grand Rounds/Seminar series attendance is a required component of this course.
HUM GEN 402: Reproductive Genetics in Practice (Winter)
Focus of the course is on reproductive genetic counseling. Reproductive topics include prenatal screening and prenatal diagnosis, invasive and non-invasive procedures, teratogens, ultrasound findings, carrier screening, infertility assessment, preimplantation genetic diagnosis, and in vitro fertilization, reproductive options. Practical exercises to include: case preparation, medical and family history analysis, risk assessment and counseling, differential diagnosis development, diagnostic testing selection (including analytic validity, clinical validity, and clinical utility of screening and diagnostic tests), results interpretation, patient education, and psychosocial counseling specific to the perinatal setting. Patients as guest speakers will provide patient perspective and experience. General Genetics Case Conference attendance and clinic observations are required component of course.
HUM GEN 410: Translational Genomics (Winter)
This course introduces students to the next generation sequencing (NGS) technologies, bioinformatics pipeline for analyzing NGS data, clinical interpretation of the variants using the ACMG guidelines, various databases used for variant interpretation, interpretation of exome clinical report, the process of communicating the results to patients and the ethical, legal and social implications (ELSI) of personal genomics. This course is intended to provide hands-on laboratory-style experience to interpreting human exome/genome variants for genetics professionals and trainees. At the end of the course, trainees will have acquired the necessary background to understand the technical and analytical aspects of exome/genome test, make an informed decision about clinically relevant variants and communicate the results to the patient or patient's family. Attendance at the weekly Genome Data Board meeting is required.
HUM GEN 411: Foundations in Genetic Counseling Research (Winter)
This is the first of a two-course series and includes an overview of the research process, including the literature review, research design, measurement methods, qualitative methods, and quantitative methods. This will include the theory and elements of a statistical analysis, data coding, data analysis tools and interpretation of statistical results. The students are introduced to the necessary tools to understand published research in genetic counseling and the foundations necessary for the design, conduct and interpretation of their Master’s Research Project. Students will also understand how to conduct human subjects research responsibly and understand the informed consent process.
HUM GEN 400C: Principles and Practice Medical Genetics 3 (Spring)
This is the third course in a three quarter series course. Lectures focus on the medical approaches to clinical genetics. Topics include overview of various pediatrics, adult onset and biochemical genetic disorders, newborn screening, and current treatments of genetic disorders. The application of medical and genetic information to genetic counseling is addressed. The course utilizes lectures, problem based learning scenarios and examinations. Grand Rounds/Seminar series attendance is a required component of this course.
HUM GEN 403: Specialty Genetics in Practice (Spring)
Focus of the course is on cancer and adult genetics. Aspects of these disciplines in the context of genetic counseling will be explored. Practical exercises to include: case preparation, medical and family history analysis, risk assessment and counseling, differential diagnosis development, diagnostic testing selection, results interpretation, patient education, psychosocial counseling specific to cancer genetics and adult-onset genetics. Patients as guest speakers will provide patient perspective and experience.
HUM GEN 412: Research Applications in Genetic Counseling (Spring)
This is the second of a two-course series that will provide a practical hands-on approach to conducting research. This course will provide a more focused discussion on the specific aspects of study design and sampling, the elements of developing and using instruments to measure variables of interest, the criteria for systematic review of the literature, appropriate univariate and multivariate analyses, and interpretation and report writing. The course focuses on the skills students will need to develop and conduct their Master's Research Projects and research in genetic counseling. Students will learn to conduct qualitative field research, including interviews and focus groups, design qualitative surveys, and apply their statistical skills to analyze data and interpret the results. In this course, students will brainstorm ideas for their Master's Research Project, develop a research question and submit a research proposal for their final project.
HUM GEN C413: Ethical, Legal, and Societal Topics in Genetic Counseling (Spring)
Social, cultural, ethical, and legal issues in genetics and genetic counseling are discussed and analyzed through ethical principles that guide the conduct of health professionals. Students learn to recognize the ethical issues commonly encountered in genetic counseling and outline the steps involved in addressing an ethical dilemma.
HUM GEN 431A: Fieldwork (Spring)
HUM GEN 431B: Fieldwork (Summer)
Genetic Counseling Second-Year Required Courses
HUM GEN 404: Advanced Genetic Counseling Skills (Fall)
This course focuses on advanced psychosocial topics in genetic counseling along with social and legal issues in genetics and genetic counseling. Topics to include family dynamics, the burden of disease, crisis intervention, dynamics of grief and bereavement, multicultural sensitivity, coping mechanisms, transference and countertransference, and disability organizations and advocacy. Practice exercises will include: role-playing in a range of advanced psychosocial situations, shadowing support groups and families, simulating patient full session under different scenarios including with interpreters and group presentations. Students required to have spent at least 4 hours visiting/observing/shadowing at least two resource clinics/centers and at least 4 hours observing bereavement group(s) in the year prior to course enrollment.
HUM GEN 414: Genetic Counseling Communication Seminar (Fall)
This seminar addresses topics in communicating genetic counseling-related subject matter to diverse audiences using various communication modalities, with emphasis on crafting presentations for healthcare, public, and advocacy audiences. Seminar includes critically reading, reviewing, and discussing literature in context of medical genetics, health care delivery, medical management, genetic counseling, and genetics laboratory testing.
HUM GEN 596: Directed Individual Study and Research (Fall)
HUM GEN 431C: Fieldwork (Fall)
HUM GEN 405: Professional Development in Genetic Counseling (Winter)
This course focuses on professional development as a genetic counselor. The purpose is to prepare students to make the transition to practicing professionals in the areas of the job search, billing/reimbursement/insurance coverage, service delivery, professional relationships and boundaries, clinical supervision, developing effective presentations for varied audiences, self-advocacy, and other relevant areas to help them develop their individualized plan for continuing professional development after graduate school. This will be accomplished through lectures, discussion, interactive activities, projects and oral presentations. A CV development workshop and clinical supervision workshop are required components of this course.
HUM GEN 596: Directed Individual Study and Research (Winter)
HUM GEN 431D: Fieldwork (Winter)
HUM GEN 596: Directed Individual Study and Research (Spring)
HUM GEN 431E: Fieldwork (Spring)
There is a concurrent fieldwork placement in each of the two years. Our graduate program will use fieldwork sites at UCLA and in the greater Los Angeles area. There will be flexibility to obtain a fieldwork placement outside of Los Angeles for the summer fieldwork experience. Because Los Angeles is a large metropolitan city, students will find it much easier to get to their fieldwork placements if they have access to a car; public transportation may be unavailable or impractical. Fieldwork experience earns course credit via enrollment in HUM GEN 431A-E.
The clinical training is based on a developmental progression from novice to intermediate then advanced skills. Clinical training begins in Year 1 in the fall and winter quarters with observations in a variety of genetic counseling and multi-specialty clinics that will expand students' knowledge of the various specialties in clinical practice. These observations help familiarize students with the range of approaches to providing genetic counseling services and, more broadly, to the varying approaches to health care. Students will also benefit from role-plays which enables them to apply theories through work with virtual patients. Clinical training continues with five fieldwork rotations beginning the spring of Year 1 and ending the spring of Year 2. Throughout fieldwork experience, student growth is promoted through a required one-hour discussion each week as part of their fieldwork courses offered during the regular academic year to serve as an opportunity to debrief, self-reflect, and normalize feelings.
All students will complete core rotations in prenatal, pediatric, cancer, and adult genetics. Opportunities for rotations or observations in other specialty areas such as neurogenetics, cardiogenetics, ocular genetics, and commercial genetic testing are also possible. Arrangements are also available for students interested in completing a specific rotation in another geographic area during the summer term of the program.
Master's Research (Capstone) Project
Each genetic counseling student in our program will be required to complete an individual Master's Research Project as a requirement of graduation from the program. The research project should demonstrate the student's ability to address a research question relevant to the discipline and practice of genetic counseling. The purpose of the Master's Research Project is for students to gain experience in research methods, institutional requirements for research, including the IRB approval process, evidence-based approaches to problem solving, professional writing, presenting research, and self-directed learning to increase their professional growth. It is expected that the Master's Research Project will add to the body of knowledge in the genetic counseling field.
Two research methods courses and a course on ethics in human research in the first year allow students to talk through ideas and study designs that conform to ethical research practice. Each student receives guidance by a Master's Research Project Committee in topic selection, research protocol development, data collection, data analysis, and manuscript writing. During the second year, Master's Research Project earns course credit via enrollment in HUM GEN 596.
Students are expected to:
- write up their Master's Research Project in a publishable paper format;
- develop an abstract of the project suitable for submission to a professional meeting, such as the annual meeting of the National Society for Genetic Counselors;
- create a poster presentation of the project suitable for presentation at a professional meeting; and
- present the project at a Graduate Research Colloquium that will occur shortly before graduation.
Students are encouraged to submit their papers for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.