In 1969, Sarah Lawrence College established the first program in human genetics in the United States. It remains the largest program of its kind in the country and has trained half of the nation’s genetic counselors, including the directors of many other North American human genetics programs. Sarah Lawrence alumnae/i also serve as the sole genetic counselors in several nations of South and Central America, Europe, and the South Pacific. The program strives to identify and train future genetic counselors who diversify the professional community and represent minority populations.
The two-year program, which leads to a Master of Science, prepares students for careers as genetic counselors. Graduates readily fulfill the minimum clinical caseload required by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC) and, upon graduation, are eligible for board certification. Opportunities for cross-registration between Health Advocacy and Human Genetics can be explored by students interested in both curriculum areas.
Genetic counselors work as part of a health care team, providing information and support to families whose members have birth defects or genetic disorders, or who may be at risk for a variety of inherited conditions. They identify families at risk; interpret information about the disorder; analyze inheritance patterns and risks of recurrence; discuss the risks, benefits, and limitations of genetic testing; review available options with families; and provide supportive counseling. They also serve as patient advocates, educators, administrators, researchers, and resource people for health care professionals and the public.
The Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics gives students a comprehensive understanding of the medical, scientific, and counseling aspects of human genetics, placing equal emphasis on medical genetics and psychological approaches to working with patients. The interdisciplinary curriculum enables students to integrate both theoretical and practical knowledge while developing research, analytical, and communication skills. Course work is conducted in seminars, tutorials, and workshops, and practicums emphasize student participation and individualized evaluations. Extensive library work and carefully supervised fieldwork at ABGC-accredited training hospitals are required to complete the program.
Sarah Lawrence’s proximity to the New York medical community offers clear advantages for its students. New York has a range of outstanding urban, suburban, community, and research/teaching hospitals. Sarah Lawrence has established affiliations with 50 genetics centers in the New York metropolis, which has the greatest concentration of such centers in the world. It also makes available to its students clinical fieldwork under the supervision of the most concentrated population of ABGC-certified counselors. This guarantees trainees a rich network of settings in which to carry out fieldwork in a variety of specialties, including prenatal pediatric, working with the developmentally challenged, adult-onset disorders, and single-disease (e.g., cancer, craniofacial, neurogenetic, hematologic) genetic counseling. It also best prepares counselors for whomever they serve during their careers by assuring students exposure to ethnically and socioeconomically diverse populations. Sarah Lawrence recognizes that superb academic preparation can never supplant clinical training. It therefore offers its graduate students extensive clinical work.
Members of the Human Genetics faculty are drawn from Sarah Lawrence College and the New York metropolitan medical community. Guest lecturers supplement the program by introducing students to current topics in human genetics and by providing opportunities to work under leading researchers.
The Joan H. Marks Graduate Program in Human Genetics was named to honor its long-time director, Joan H. Marks, in 2006. Over the course of nearly three decades as director, Marks developed the Sarah Lawrence program into a national model for education in genetic counseling. In 1979, Marks founded the Graduate Program in Health Advocacy at Sarah Lawrence, the first graduate degree program to train advocates who work within the health care industry to ensure patients’ rights.