Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine is fully accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling and enrolls 20 students per year. The program is 18 months long. Students are enrolled for six 10-week quarters; three academic quarters their first year (fall, winter, spring), one summer quarter and two academic quarters their second year (fall, winter). Students graduate in mid-March, which is earlier than many other genetic counseling programs. Many of our students feel that this early graduation date gives them a jump-start on the job search and a competitive edge over other graduates.
The curriculum is designed to emphasize the scientific and medical aspects of the profession, along with the counseling and psychosocial aspects. Students begin their clinical rotations during the winter quarter of the first year. Early clinical placements allow the students to quickly apply and reinforce the concepts they learn in the classroom. In addition, Northwestern has a strong research component, requiring a written thesis and oral defense.
General information about our curriculum is listed below; for specifics, visit these pages:
We offer a wide variety of rotation opportunities; learn more.
- Thesis Project
Review past thesis projects and learn about the work that goes into them.
- Supplemental Activities
From conferences to field trips, see a list of "extra" activities that round out our curriculum.
The program will provide each student with the knowledge and experience to become a creative, independent and competent genetic counselor. Upon graduation, students will have:
- Mastery of genetic concepts, including the molecular basis of inheritance, quantitative genetics and principles of risk assessment
- Knowledge of the etiology and natural history of many genetic disorders
- Ability to conduct a genetic counseling session by assessing the patient's needs and concerns, performing a genetic risk assessment, communicating appropriate genetic and medical information, providing supportive counseling and assisting the family in obtaining necessary services and support
- Experience conducting a research project, from study design to oral defense
- Awareness of local, state and national resources designed to assist patients and professionals and knowledge of ethical and legal issues as related to genetic counseling
- Psychosocial and ethnocultural sensitivity to families or individuals with genetic disorders
- Familiarity with genetic literature, including the ability to perform library research, critically evaluate scientific publications and assist in clinical research
Our program also emphasizes the importance of exposing students to renowned medical experts, both through conferences and on-campus lectures. All second-year students at Northwestern attend the National Society of Genetic Counselors' Annual Education Conference, funded by the program. Locally, students are also encouraged to participate in available conferences, including the Genetic Task Force of Illinois' Annual Symposium. In addition to the formal conferences, the program's proximity to the medical school and affiliated hospitals and care sites allows students to attend grand rounds and many academic lectures on campus.
Classes are taught by faculty from the Graduate School, the Feinberg School of Medicine and guest lecturers from area institutions with expertise in specific topics. The curriculum is a balance of clinical and molecular genetics and psychosocial counseling topics. The program includes coursework in:
- Classical, medical, cyto-, biochemical and molecular genetics
- Cancer and adult genetics
- Psychosocial aspects of genetic counseling
- Disability studies
- Risk assessment and communication
- Decision making
- Research methodology
- Epidemiology and statistics
The Northwestern program is designed so that classroom and clinical experience are integrated, creating the most comprehensive learning approach. Students' cases and counseling issues are frequently discussed in class, as well as in the more formal setting of journal club. In addition, students see the application of classroom principles through attendance at grand rounds, lecture series and support groups.
Introduction to Genetic Counseling and Medical Communication
This course is designed to give students an introduction to the history and practice of genetic counseling. Genetic counseling skills, the genetic counseling process, family history elicitation and interpretation, contracting, communication, risk communication, adult learning, decision making, introductory cultural and ethical aspects will all be covered in this class. This class builds the foundation for developing the core genetic counseling skills used in all specialty areas. Focus is on the core skills and not specifically on each specialty.
This part of Introduction to Genetic Counseling offers an active-learning approach to the basic skills of communication. This is an opportunity to role play with standardized patients to practice basic communication skills. Interactions are videotaped, which allow the student to observe themselves in a clinical encounter and be more aware of their communication style including verbal and non-verbal cues. This section also incorporates small-group, patient-instructor, and peer-observation formats to encourage critical thinking and reflection. Introduction to Genetic Counseling and Medical Communication have been integrated in order to expand on concepts introduced in Introduction to Genetic Counseling and apply them in Medical Communication.
The first half of this course provides an overview of the basic principles of epidemiology, including population measures, study design and interpretation, and evaluation of the quantitative literature. In the second part of the course, the student learns basic research methodology including how to critically review the literature, develop a question/hypothesis, design a study (including quantitative and qualitative methods), identify variables, process and manage data, choose the correct statistical tests, design surveys, and present research data. There is also instruction in navigating the IRB process. This class serves as a foundation to help students develop their independent research project.
The first quarter of Clinical Practicum is an opportunity to observe the second year students practice advanced counseling skills. This will allow the students to become used to role plays and familiar with different counseling techniques. The focus of the role plays are on advanced psychosocial counseling skills.
Principles of Medical Genetics I
This course is the first of a three quarter series, and provides the foundation and background in medical genetics essential for effective genetic counseling, including basic and complex principles of human heredity. The course utilizes problem-based learning scenarios, supplemented by lectures, reviews, and examinations. The course will cover principles of cytogenetics, molecular technologies, modes of inheritance and principles of mathematical and population genetics.
This class will consider the various adult onset complex disorders, ways to obtain and interpret family history for complex adult conditions, and specific genetic risk assessment approaches. The first section of the course covers the scientific, medical and psychosocial aspects of cancer genetics with an emphasis on breast, ovarian, and colon cancer syndromes. Less common syndromes are covered through student initiated practice based learning modules. The second section of the course concentrates on the genetics of common chronic disorders such as cardiac disease, diabetes, and psychiatric disorders.
Principles of Medical Genetics II
The second in the three-quarter series, this course gives an overview of common genetic disorders and is primarily presented by experts in each area. Lectures focus on the medical approaches to clinical genetics, including embryology and dysmorphology, teratology and a variety of common genetic diseases. The application of medical and genetic information to genetic counseling of families is also addressed. As in the previous quarter, the course utilizes problem-based learning scenarios, supplemented by lectures, reviews, and examinations.
Psychosocial Aspects of Genetic Counseling I
This is an introductory course and the first in a sequence on the psychosocial elements of genetic counseling. The course explores from infancy to adulthood how people react to and cope with genetic testing, diagnosis and living with a genetic condition. Both patient reactions and counselors reactions are discussed. In the second half of the class, various counseling theories, and techniques and their uses in psychosocial counseling are discussed. Case materials and discussion are used to integrate human dynamics and counseling theory.
Clinical Rotation and Practicum
The genetic counseling practicum allows students to practice components of the genetic counseling session in a safe environment. During the winter quarter the genetic counseling practicum focuses on communicating basic genetic information, and throughout the year it moves towards higher level counseling skills. Role plays are conducted with fellow students and faculty members.
Psychosocial Aspects of Genetic Counseling II
This course focuses on the psychological and clinical aspects of genetic disease and illness presented in previous classes in more depth, as well as new topics including theories, ethics and practical issues of disability. The class includes discussions and lectures, analysis of the literature, presentations by experts in the field, and talks by individuals who have firsthand knowledge about living with a disability or illness, which allows students to integrate genetic counseling practice with theory.
Principles of Medical Genetics III
The goal of this course (the third in the series) is to educate the student on biochemical genetics, neurogenetics, and adult-onset genetic disorders, and the treatment of genetic disease. As with the previous two courses in the series, a combination of problem-based learning, lectures, reviews, and examinations are utilized.
Clinical Rotation and Practicum
The genetic counseling practicum allows students to practice components of the genetic counseling session in a safe environment. During the spring quarter the genetic counseling practicum focuses on basic psychosocial counseling skills such as empathy, attending skills, validation and reflection.
All students are required to attend the Laboratory Course the second five weeks of Spring Quarter at the University of Chicago. Concepts introduced in Principles of Medical Genetics I and II will be expanded and reinforced. Students will become more familiar with molecular and cytogenetic laboratory techniques, written components of a laboratory report and the role of the genetic counselor within the laboratory setting.
Advanced Genetic Counseling
This class enhances counseling skills through formal case presentations followed by class discussion. Through the use of tape recordings, process notes, selected readings, and verbal presentations, students share cases, which are critiqued by fellow students and faculty members. Emphasis is placed on specific genetic counseling issues selected by students and faculty members and alternative counseling strategies. In addition, emphasis is placed on application of theories and models learned in previous courses. Students will also observe community resources that may be utilized by genetic counseling clients and will prepare written reports. A final paper entails detailed exploration of a complex genetic counseling case not discussed in class from the perspective of the patient and counselor, raising related ethical, psychosocial, or ethnocultural issues.
Students continue to work on a research project according to a timeline determined by the Research Oversight Committee and thesis committee.
Clinical Rotation and Clinical Practicum
The genetic counseling practicum allows students to practice components of the genetic counseling session in a safe environment. During this quarter, students will practice more advanced counseling skills and the first year students will observe.
In this course, we cover current and future issues facing our profession, the genetics community as a whole and the public. Current social and ethical issues will be discussed. In addition, emphasis will be placed on public policy, alternate genetic service delivery models including direct to consumer testing, advances in molecular technology and testing, genomics and personalized medicine and professional issues such as billing and reimbursement, salary negotiations, networking, CV development and career development.
Students continue to work on a research project. The research project culminates with a written thesis approved by the thesis committee, an oral defense, and a formal research presentation at the student colloquium that precedes graduation.