Starting in the fall semester of 2019, Boise State will become the first university in the nation to offer a fully online Master of Science degree program in Genetic Counseling. According to MedlinePlus, genetic counselors provide information and support people who may have genetic disorders. Additionally, the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) defines genetic counseling as “the process of helping people understand and adapt to to the medical, psychological and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease.”
Genetic counseling provides information and support to people who have, or may be at risk for, genetic disorders. A genetic counselor meets with an individual to discuss genetic risks.
Jennifer Eichmeyer, a clinical faculty member in the School of Allied Health Sciences at Boise State, and director of the new Genetic Counseling program, explained offering the program online will allow more people to access the profession. Additionally, people with diverse backgrounds will be able to access it.
“Traditional face-to-face programs require you to relocate for two years, often in a city that’s not close by, particularly not in Idaho. We are hoping an online program will allow other people to consider entering the profession who might not otherwise have,” Eichmeyer said.
Eichmeyer also said the department is thrilled to bring the innovative online program to Boise State.
“We have the advantage of having taught online programs, as instructors,” Eichmeyer said. “So we are able to be more creative and think outside the box, so I think that makes us unique.”
Eichmeyer said genetic counselors are master’s level professionals who have a balanced education of science and the translation of that science.
“With that translation is where the counseling comes in. It’s education, it’s framing information in a way that is acceptable to all different populations,” Eichmeyer said. “Much of the information we translate is somewhat difficult. It can be traumatic information, so to be able to do that in a sensitive and compassionate way is important.”
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of genetic counselors is expected to grow 28 percent from 2016 to 2026. This exponential growth is considerably faster than the average for all other medical fields.
“We have a chronic shortage of genetic counselors in the field,” said Stephanie Gandomi, assistant program director for Genetic Counseling. “So right now there are about four, maybe even more, jobs open per graduate that comes out of a current graduate program. Basically students are getting jobs before they even complete their master’s.”
According to Gandomi, one of the reasons they started the program at Boise State is because of the high demand for genetic counselors. Boise State will be the only program available in the northwest region and will help alleviate the shortage that is specifically concentrated in the area.
Gandomi explained since genetic counselors have such a unique expertise in genetic medicine, patient care and advocacy for patients, it’s important to follow the change and growth in genetics.
“Genetic counselors in the beginning of our field more or less started in the clinical field practice,” Gandomi said. “Although now we are actually branching out into industry and laboratory settings and pharmaceuticals, and all these different areas, because that is where genetics is going in the healthcare system, which is why I think the job market is only going to grow as well.”