PHILADELPHIA – The field of genomic medicine is experiencing a revolution, and genetic counselors play a central role. The genetic counseling profession has grown considerably in the past decade, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts this trend will continue, with an estimated 29 percent growth over the next eight years. To keep pace with this trajectory, the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Arcadia University are launching a Master of Science in Genetic Counseling program at Penn in 2019.
Established in 1995, Arcadia’s genetic counseling program is one of 45 accredited programs in North America and one of the largest in the country, with more than 250 graduates. The program has worked closely with Penn since its inception, with Arcadia students fulfilling clinical placements at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) and within the University of Pennsylvania Health System (UPHS). Penn faculty have been actively involved with the program as well, engaging with students through the affiliation for the past 24 years. Beginning in Fall 2019, Arcadia University will transfer sponsorship, accreditation, curriculum, and faculty of its Master of Science in Genetic Counseling program to the Perelman School of Medicine. At Penn, the class size will continue to grow over the next five years.
Daniel J. Rader, MD
The new training program complements Penn Medicine’s leadership in genomic and precision medicine by creating programs that incorporate genetic counseling services as a cornerstone of the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of those with suspected or known genetic mutations and conditions. In the Basser Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, for example, genetic counselors are an integral part of the team that works with individuals and families who carry BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations, which greatly increase the risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Counselors discuss the implications of genetic testing, review the results in detail, and guide patients as they plan for potentially lifesaving preventative surgeries and other interventions after learning they carry mutations. Similarly, at CHOP, genetic counselors play a critical role in the division of Human Genetics, where they work with physicians to make diagnoses of rare genetic conditions in pediatric patients and counsel families about the clinical implications.
“The transfer of Arcadia’s program to Penn offers a unique opportunity to advance training for genetic counselors and to develop the next generation of leaders, innovators, clinicians, and researchers in this rapidly growing field,” said Daniel J. Rader, MD, chair of the Department of Genetics in the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania. “The creation of a program at Penn will leverage the existing wealth of clinical specialties on campus as well as the diagnostic laboratories, research initiatives, and personalized medicine experts—while building off of Arcadia’s rich history in the space.”
Ajay Nair, PhD
Preparing the next generation of genetic counselors involves education across laboratory and clinical medicine, counseling, and research—foundations on which the Penn Masters of Science in Genetic Counseling program will be built. The integrated curriculum will utilize lectures, small group case-based learning, and self-directed learning through the completion of a master’s thesis, while paired with a mentor in the field. The five-semester program also allows for a flexible summer clinical internship between the first and second year of the program.
“Arcadia’s genetic counseling students have been interning, conducting research, and fulfilling clinical rotations with the University of Pennsylvania and CHOP for many years now, and this collaboration benefits everyone involved — Arcadia, Penn, our students and faculty, and most importantly, genetic counseling patients and the genetic counseling field,” said Ajay Nair, PhD, president of Arcadia University. “Arcadia’s health sciences programs and professional programs are among the best in the region, and we are proud to find such a close collaborator for the Master of Science in Genetic Counseling program as Penn.”
The current 32 genetic counseling students in the two-year program will complete their degree requirements without disruption to their schedule and will graduate from Arcadia in May 2019 and 2020. The students will be taught by the core Arcadia genetic counseling faculty to complete their coursework and masters’ thesis projects and be guaranteed clinical placements within the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
“Given the national genetic counseling workforce gap and the reputation of the clinical and research genetics programs at Penn, we are well positioned to develop a high-quality program that will become a leader in the nation,” said Kathleen Valverde,
current professor and chair of Genetic Counseling at Arcadia and incoming director of the University of Pennsylvania Masters in Genetic Counseling Program. “As a founding faculty member of the Arcadia masters of science in genetic counseling program, I am proud to see how this program has adapted and evolved over the past 24 years. I know that the program will continue to thrive at Penn.”
Penn Medicine is one of the world’s leading academic medical centers, dedicated to the related missions of medical education, biomedical research, and excellence in patient care. Penn Medicine consists of the Raymond and Ruth Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania (founded in 1765 as the nation’s first medical school) and the University of Pennsylvania Health System, which together form a $8.6 billion enterprise.
The Perelman School of Medicine has been ranked among the top medical schools in the United States for more than 20 years, according to U.S. News & World Report's survey of research-oriented medical schools. The School is consistently among the nation's top recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health, with $494 million awarded in the 2019 fiscal year.
The University of Pennsylvania Health System’s patient care facilities include: the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center—which are recognized as one of the nation’s top “Honor Roll” hospitals by U.S. News & World Report—Chester County Hospital; Lancaster General Health; Penn Medicine Princeton Health; and Pennsylvania Hospital, the nation’s first hospital, founded in 1751. Additional facilities and enterprises include Good Shepherd Penn Partners, Penn Medicine at Home, Lancaster Behavioral Health Hospital, and Princeton House Behavioral Health, among others.
Penn Medicine is powered by a talented and dedicated workforce of more than 43,900 people. The organization also has alliances with top community health systems across both Southeastern Pennsylvania and Southern New Jersey, creating more options for patients no matter where they live.
Penn Medicine is committed to improving lives and health through a variety of community-based programs and activities. In fiscal year 2019, Penn Medicine provided more than $583 million to benefit our community.