Are Masters Degrees Going Extinct?

How often do you find yourself explaining what genetic counselors do?  Do you ever feel like no one knows how to categorize your career?  The reality is that we are a little bit of everything and accordingly there isn’t a single label that fits us neatly.  We are medical professionals, researchers, educators, advocators, and administrators.

As genetic counselors, we are constantly reminded that we don’t fit neatly in a single category which can make our exact role confusing.  Academic institutions, private clinics, and medical institution are unsure how to utilize our skills or determine our status.   Would an advanced degree focusing on the clinical care of patients allow us to be more clearly “labeled” by institutions so that our knowledge is more respected and sought out?

Genetics is a constantly evolving branch of science.  Exciting, game changing scientific discoveries are announced frequently, genetic counseling changes with those discoveries.  As part of this evolution, genetic counselors are specializing and seeking out different roles within their institutions.  How do we ensure that the genetic counseling profession stays at the cutting-edge of the genetics movement and don’t get left behind?

Many health professions focused on clinical care have acknowledged that their current training may not allow room for future growth of their profession.  Nursing, physical therapy, psychology, and pharmacology are a few fields that now offer clinical doctorate degrees.

A clinical doctorate (CD) is an advanced degree that focuses on the clinical care of patients.  Individuals with a CD serve in a clinical role in a variety of settings where they provide patient care and patient focused research.  Upon the completion of the 3-4 years of post-baccalaureate training, the title “Doctor” can be used in the same sense as a “PhD Doctor.”

There has been an excellent discussion begun among genetic counselors weighting the pros and cons of a clinical doctorate degree for genetic counseling.  Some feel there isn’t a need for a higher degree in our profession.  Others are concerned about the cost, both financially and time involved.   Still others believe a higher degree for our profession would open more doors of opportunities for us and allow us to grow as a profession.  A piece of this discussion is available for review and comment on the NSGC clinical doctorate listerv.

For those who haven’t heard much about the topic yet, here’s a brief introduction to the options.  If  the decision is made to offer a higher degree for our profession there are two different approaches that can be taken:  Clinical Doctorate as Terminal Degree or Clinical Doctorate as Entry Level Degree.

Clinical Doctorate as Terminal Degree:  All genetic counselors would continue to be trained in a Masters level program with the Masters degree being the entry level degree.  Genetic counselors would then be given the option to pursue a clinical doctorate degree in genetic counseling if one desires to do so (a CD would not be mandatory).  This would mean that some genetic counselors would have a Masters and some would have a Doctorate.

Clinical Doctorate as Entry Level Degree:  The long-term goal would be that over 20 years all genetic counselors would have Clinical Doctorates.  This would be a slow process allowing for a smooth, positive, and easy transition from the current Masters degree to Clinical Doctorate degree for our profession.

Thoughts?  Concerns?  Pros?  Cons?  We want to hear from you!  We will continue this discussion with a follow-up blog post and we want to make this a two-way street exchange between all genetic counselors.

There is great informational PowerPoint presentation available for review at the NSGC website and plenary scheduled at the NSGC Annual Educational Meeting in 2012.

Co-authored by Dawn Laney and Kelly Rogel.  Dawn Laney  is a genetic counselor, research coordinator, and instructor at Emory University in the Department of Human Genetics.  Although she is a child of the computer age and is all for innovation she secretly prefers to use pen and paper to write rough drafts of anything creative.  Kelly Rogel is a graduate from Sarah Lawrence College’s Genetic Counseling program and is currently serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer Teacher for the Deaf  and HIV/AIDS Educator in Kenya but spends her free time learning more about how genetic services in Kenya can be expanded.

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One response to “Are Masters Degrees Going Extinct?

  1. Pingback: When Masters Degrees Roamed the Earth | The DNA Exchange

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