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Genetic Counselling in the Genomic Era

                        
There are two general ways to get genetic counselling in Alberta. One is through genomic testing done by direct-to-consumer online testing companies; the other provider is Alberta Health Services. Note that in the former you are a consumer, while in the latter you are receiving health services.

I received an invitation to enrol in a six-week online course provided by the Wellcome Genome Campus introducing genetic counselling. In Canada, there are two major pathways to become a qualified genetic counsellor:
  • Medical doctors can specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of genetic disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell disease, and hemophilia.
  • Genetic counsellors with graduate degrees and experience in the areas of medical genetics and counselling can provide additional education and support to families with members who have birth defects or genetic conditions.
A six-week online course did not qualify me to be a genetic counsellor, but it did give me an in-depth understanding of some of the issues involved.

Are you thinking of becoming a genetic counsellor? Do you have a background in nursing, psychology, public health, or social work? If the answers are yes, you may wish to enrol in this online course to get a sense of what is involved. Follow the link of interest below.

In this age of genomics, there will be an increasing need for genetic counsellors. Almost weekly, we see studies published which are suggesting genetic risks associated with various diseases. Genetic counsellors are increasingly working in cancer genetics. We now know of several inherited heart conditions as well. Families with a history of psychiatric conditions also seek genetic counselling. Families with a child diagnosed with a genetic condition are in special need of support offered by genetic counsellors. Patients hope to understand their prognosis and the risks to their families. They may also wish to be guided through the ethics of who they tell, and when. Genetic counselling is important.

Direct-to-consumer online testing seems like fun. In fact, I’ve been entertained various times by people exclaiming about their ancestry. In a previous blog I asked if you were ready to trade your lederhosen for a kilt. There has also been a dark side associated with direct-to-consumer testing when family secrets have been exposed or criminal behaviour by reproductive technology doctors revealed. However, it does not necessitate these extremes for genetic counselling to be required. Consumers can become patients when they become frightened by results that they don’t understand. The very small print at the bottom of the web page for these companies includes disclaimers that tell you the information provided is not a substitute for a healthcare professional. In fact, they suggest that adverse results be confirmed by additional screening in a clinical setting.

After I finished my six-week course, I was told I could post my certificate to my LinkedIn profile. While I learned a lot about genetic counselling, I think I will leave the posting of the credentials to the real professionals who are available out there to guide us through this genomic age.

Links of interest:
    What is Genetic Counselling?
    Genetic Testing – Would you trade your lederhosen for a kilt?
    My Health Alberta – Genetic Counselling
    You can also follow me @GWardis on Twitter


Genetic Counselling in the Genomic Era

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