Human Genetics Courses

Home of the nation’s first—and still the largest—program in genetic counseling, Sarah Lawrence College has trained more genetic counselors than any other academic institution in the world. This celebrated program integrates education, health care, and humanism as it prepares genetic counselors to work in a growing, dynamic field.

Students learn that the field of genetics now includes genetic disorders ranging from rare diseases to prevalent conditions such as cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s, and diabetes. Each student is placed at a total of seven sites from a wealth of fieldwork options at nearly 50 centers in the New York City area. As the hub of international growth in the field, the College recruits to its faculty top scientists, physicians, and genetic counselors from the area’s genetic centers and brings leading researchers and speakers to campus weekly to discuss current topics. Each student also develops a community outreach project, targeting an audience to educate about a particular set of relevant genetic information.

MS Human Genetics 2021-2022 Courses

Special Topics in Genetic Counseling

Graduate Seminar—Fall and Spring

Students are offered the opportunity to explore an area of personal interest through this elective course. Content varies each year; previous topics included medical Spanish, advanced psychological counseling techniques, health humanities, multifaceted examination of direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and multicultural contexts of health.

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Advanced Human Genetics

Graduate Seminar—Fall

The Advanced Human Genetics course provides students with a foundation in human genetics in preparation for their clinical training and other course work in the genetic counseling program. The course is organized into lectures, self-study activities, and team-based learning. The team-based learning and other student-driven activities enable students to apply, in a clinically relevant way, information presented in the lectures and readings.

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Embryology

Graduate Seminar—Fall

The Embryology course considers the normal development of the human embryo from the earliest stages to birth. The course focuses on the stages, developmental mechanisms, and organ systems with the greatest potential for improving understanding of the pathophysiology of congenital abnormalities and malformation syndromes. Students learn from discussion and written analysis of clinical cases, as well as from didactic material.

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Pathophysiology

Graduate Seminar—Fall

The Pathophysiology course provides students with an understanding of human anatomy and the physiology of most of the major organ systems. Through course readings and oral presentations, students learn to identify, synthesize, and understand physiological mechanisms of the human body; explain a genetic condition from a physiological standpoint, using both technical terminology and lay language; and identify and access information resources pertinent to physiological diseases.

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Disability Studies

Graduate Seminar—Fall

The Disability Studies course broadly covers contemporary topics of disability. Through guest speakers, panels, and experiential activities, students gain an understanding of the impact of disability; improved communication skills with individuals, families, and service providers; and an increased awareness of the contributions that genetic counseling can make to persons with and without disabilities.

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Clinical Pediatric Genetics

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Clinical Pediatric Genetics provides students with an introduction to the basic vocabulary, case scenarios, and genetic counseling issues encountered in a pediatric genetics session. The emphasis is on understanding the previous medical records, symptoms, and physical signs needed to construct the targeted questioning and differential diagnosis. The course structure includes readings, lecture, and group discussion.

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Fundamentals of Genetic Counseling I

Graduate Seminar—Fall

Fundamentals of Genetic Counseling 1 introduces students to the skills necessary for genetic counseling. The course is structured around key components of a genetic-counseling encounter: contracting, family history, medical history, patient education, and documentation. Readings provide foundational knowledge of relevant concepts, and class discussions encourage comparison of different perspectives and applications. Course instructors demonstrate each skill; students then engage in skill development through role play, peer feedback, and self-assessment.

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Fundamentals of Genetic Counseling II

Graduate Seminar—Spring

Building on the skill set of Fundamentals of Genetic Counseling I, Fundamentals of Genetic Counseling II develops skills relevant to risk assessment and communication, psychosocial assessment and interventions, and culturally competent care. Focus is placed on first exploring patient characteristics and concerns, then utilizing appropriate counseling skills to respond in a patient-centered way. Course activities include discussion, small-group activities, demonstration, and role play with peer feedback.

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Clinical Genomics

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The Clinical Genomics course builds upon topics covered in Advanced Human Genetics. Early, current, and future uses of genomic technologies are covered, especially as they apply to clinical care. Students develop critical thinking skills related to testing strategies and genomic data interpretation, with a focus on whole-exome sequencing variant interpretation. The course also explores the psychosocial, ethical, and legal factors associated with genomic testing. Students apply their learning to various case examples.

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Reproductive Genetics

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The Reproductive Genetics course prepares students for clinical practice in reproductive genetic counseling. Using sample cases, students offer and interpret genetic testing and develop case-management skills. Students will be expected to read and present peer-reviewed journal articles and utilize core genetics databases. The course structure includes lecture, interactive learning activities, and case discussion.

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Cancer Genetics

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The Cancer Genetics course provides students with an understanding of cancer genetic counseling through case-based study of clinical services. Students are introduced to the anatomy and physiology of affected organs, screening modalities, and treatment options; become familiar with the pathology and with cancer genetic counseling; interpret pedigrees and utilize cancer risk models; understand testing criterion, options, and interpretation of results; and explore the psychosocial aspects of hereditary cancer syndromes.

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Research Methods

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The Research Methods course serves as an introduction to the research process, with multiple connections to the development of student thesis projects. Students are encouraged to become better consumers of the scientific literature—including the use of search engines, a reference program, and critical reading skills—in the construction of a literature review as a first step toward study design and publication. The course includes a review of qualitative and quantitative research models; development of surveys, focus groups and questionnaires; and the basics of data analysis.

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Ethics

Graduate Seminar—Fall

The Ethics course covers the principles of medical ethics and their application in the field of genetic counseling. The significance of current and historical examples of eugenics and how past abuses affect the clinical practices of genetic medicine today are explored. Through a combination of lecture and discussion, the class reviews hot-button issues such as abortion, “designer babies,” and genetic engineering. The course also covers legal and ethical dilemmas with specific relevance to genetics, including genetic discrimination, the genetic testing of minors, and the extent of a genetic clinician’s responsibility to biological relatives.

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Medical Genetics seminar I, II

Graduate Seminar—Fall

The Medical Genetics seminar courses introduce students to topics relevant to clinical genetic counseling. Experts in the field lecture on topics ranging from significant genetic conditions and syndromes to current testing options. Students learn from and interact with authorities in their respective fields, gaining an in-depth understanding of the genetic conditions covered in the course and related issues that the students will encounter in their careers.

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Case Management Practicum

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The Case Management Practicum utilizes a standardized patient model to provide students with the opportunity to demonstrate and assess their skill levels and competencies necessary for the practice of genetic counseling. Students participate in prepared role-playing exercises, followed by class discussion and feedback. The course structure allows students to demonstrate competence in key skills; assess their own strengths and weaknesses and those of their peers; and formulate a plan for addressing areas needing improvement.

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Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling

Graduate Seminar—Fall

The Professional Issues in Genetic Counseling course covers topics relevant to professional development and career management, including resumé development, interviewing, membership in professional organizations, and billing and reimbursement. The course structure includes guest speakers, panel discussions, and small-group work.

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Public Health and Genomics

Graduate Seminar—Spring

The Public Health Genomics course introduces students to the public-health approach to genetic disease, counseling, and testing. The course examines the applications of genetic information and genetic counseling in both public health and international contexts. Students learn to identify various types of study design, including their strengths and weaknesses. By working through case studies and course exercises, students learn key genetic epidemiologic and public-health concepts and consider the application of those to the development and implementation of new initiatives.

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Leadership in Genetic Counseling

Graduate Seminar—Spring

As a genetic counselor, you will likely encounter multiple occasions for which you will need to serve as a leader. Some of these occasions may include standing up for others (patient or advocacy groups, disadvantaged or disenfranchised populations) and pushing issues that you support into the timeline (gene patents, congressional issues). You may have interest in taking an active role in professional societies, joining an advisory board, or launching your own company. Integrations between health care and technology will likely pose further opportunities for genetic counselors to take active roles in the development of genetic/genomic products. To prepare you for taking on these important roles, this class will feature guest speakers who have assumed leadership roles within their genetic-counseling careers and who will share insights on navigating the different stages of their career trajectories.

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