By Indiana State University
Nov 6, 2019
The first year of Indiana State University’s genetic counseling program may be intense, but it is the path to a rewarding career.
The two-year master’s degree in genetic counseling program enrolls up to 16 students at a given time with no more than eight students in each cohort. In 2018, State’s genetic counseling program graduated its first class of seven students with 100 percent employment within 30 days of graduation. The following year, the program graduated another seven students.
“This means our program’s level of individual attention is great and allows our students to build close relationships and get to know the faculty,” Tucker said. “Students also get a large amount of hands-on experience before they do clinicals because they will have completed 30 simulations on-campus first. This means they get experience talking to a real people before they are in a real clinical setting.
“It is a nice way for students to practice their skills and get hands-on experience without fear of what their saying. They also spend time in a local clinic that’s primarily for cancer patients and students take a whole course dedicated to cancer genetics.”
Samantha Toy can attest to that. A May 2019 graduate and Fort Wayne native, Toy now serves as a pediatric genetic counselor at St. Louis Children’s Hospital.
“I first heard about the field while reading my biology textbook in middle school, and working towards genetic counseling since then,” she said. “In the genetic counseling program, our courses are entirely online for our second year which allows us to travel to different rotation sites and allowed me to have the flexibility to go to Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, Lexington, Cincinnati and Memphis for my clinical rotations. I feel like each site gave me a different perspective on how clinics were run.”
After the first year, the program shifts online to allow students to gain clinical skills at sites across the U.S. While doing clinicals, students in the second year of the program continue online coursework that includes classes in medical genetics, population genetics course and a research project selected by each student.
Past research has included topics such as an evaluation of primary care physicians and strategies for referring patients to genetic counseling and novel presentation of a rare hereditary cancer syndrome. Some student research has gone on to be published or presented at national conferences.
While they work on research, students complete two rotations in the summer – two in fall and two in the spring of their second year of the program. Each rotation is six weeks long and allows students to get over 800 hours of experience in clinical settings such as prenatal clinics, general genetic clinics working with children and adults and two rotations in a cancer setting.
Students may also swap one of those experiences for an experience in a specialty field, like working in a lab or doing an ophthalmology rotation or going to cardiac clinics.
Indiana State was the first genetic counseling program to do the entire second-year online and allow students to get clinical experiences anywhere in the nation.
“We did that out of necessity because there are no services like this in the area, but it’s also a unique experience for our students to be able to go to multiple cities to do clinicals,” Tucker said. “The flexibility can be both a challenge and a bonus for students because they can go live somewhere for short time and get the opportunity to see how six hospitals do things and work with unique populations in places they’ve never been before they graduate.”
Tucker, has been practicing genetic counseling for 13 years with the first 10 years in prenatal and pediatrics. At State, she started the cancer clinic at Union Hospital, where she has a one day a week clinic.
She earned a degree in education and taught high school science for two years before she decided to return to school and stumbled into genetic counseling.
“I love this field. I enjoy teaching students and getting to teach patients about their genetic conditions and provide support for families. It’s rewarding to see patients and families find out and get answers and help with treatment. It’s rewarding to be able to help people in their darkest moments,” Tucker said. “Then, there are times I have to tell parents their baby isn’t going to live or inform a patient that they have an increased risk to develop cancer but, even if the news is terrible, knowing the why behind it can be helpful.”