Written by Barry Waldman
The Medical University of South Carolina’s College of Health Professions saw a need for more genetic counselors in its own institution and throughout the state. The U.S. Department of Labor estimates a 67% growth in job openings for genetic counselors in SC from 2018 to 2028.
Indeed, MUSC has been feeling the pinch itself. With the use of genetic testing increasing dramatically, the hospital itself has struggled to recruit and retain from the small pool of 5,000 nationwide.
The only other genetic counseling program in the state is at the University of South Carolina. USC’s program gets many more applicants than it can accept. Indeed, the nationwide ratio of applicants to seats available in any master’s program in genetic counseling is 3.5 to 1.
After careful review of the rising demand for genetic counselors and MUSCs own determination to become a center for excellence in the field of genetic and genomics, it decided to launch a new master’s degree program for genetic counselors.
The Role of the Lowcountry Graduate Center
Among the services provided by the Lowcountry Graduate Center to the people of the Charleston region is support for the development of graduate educational programs indicated by local workforce imperatives and independent employment projections.
The LGC offers monetary grants to its three-member institutions – the College of Charleston, the Medical University of South Carolina, and The Citadel – to subsidize the ramping up of credit-bearing, standalone graduate programs.
These “Opportunity Grants” of up to $25,000 are designed to provide the workforce necessary for three growing employment sectors in the local economy — 1) Advanced manufacturing, engineering services, and software development/IT support; 2) K-12 Teacher education and administrative leadership; and 3) Healthcare management and community wellness.
The funds provided by these grants are allocated for expenses directly related to the establishment of the new program, such as course development, equipment purchases, and marketing and advertising.
An Opportunity Grant for a Master’s in Genetic Counseling
The MUSC genetic counseling program fit exactly into the LGC criteria and earned an Opportunity Grant in April of 2021.
“The purpose of the LGC is to expand opportunities for affordable, public graduate education in the Lowcountry of South Carolina. New opportunities such as the MUSC genetic and genomic counseling program will address and help meet the economic, business development, and social needs of the Lowcountry,” said Dr. Nancy Muller, executive director of the Lowcountry Graduate Center.
Dr. Nancy Carson, Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs at MUSC’s College of Health Professions, says the Opportunity Grants will be used primarily “for course development, development and coordination of clinical training materials, and the development of a matrix for clinical internships, which will be strategically embedded within the curriculum to maximize resources for clinical training.”
She says the grant is a small but critical part of the program budget that helped ensure its development.
Jobs Await the First Genetic Counseling Students
The intensive science prerequisites for the program suggest that matriculating students will have bachelors’ degrees in biology, chemistry, genetics, and related fields. Although they will learn the fundamentals of genetic and genomic screening, most genetic counselors don’t actually work in labs performing the tests. Instead, they determine the appropriate genetic tests to administer and counsel families based on the results.
The five-semester genetic counseling program is scheduled to begin in the fall of 2023, pending various state and professional approvals, with the first cohort graduating in the spring of 2025. Carson expects 20 students to enter the inaugural class and 25 students thereafter.
Once the first few classes graduate, Carson expects they will quickly find employment at MUSC and other hospitals in the Lowcountry, and at facilities throughout the state. Steven Skinner, director of Greenwood Genetic Center, agrees.
“The current capacity of the genetic counseling programs is insufficient to meet the current demand for genetic services,” he said, in support of the Opportunity Grant application.
The application deadline for the next round of Opportunity Grants is November 1, 2021, for funds released in February. For more information, email Dr. Nancy Muller, director of the Lowcountry Graduate Center, at [email protected].