Can we learn from a public course on our own field?
Earlier this year the NIHGRI released their strategic plan, Charting a course for genomic medicine from base pairs to bedside (click here for pdf), which outlined a number of key strategies and priorities for the future of genomics in medicine. One of these priorities included increasing public engagement and education:
Realizing the benefits of genomics will require an educated public who can understand the implications of genomics for their healthcare and evaluate the relevant public policy issues… The development of effective education and training efforts will require that diverse communities be engaged, so that all can appropriately benefit.
I love learning about unique ways that the public can engage in discussion about genetics and genetic counseling issues. So naturally I was eager to learn more about the design of the DNA Ethical Dilemmas course that will be starting tomorrow (Thursday, Septemer 29) through the New York Times Knowledge Network. The 5-week course, taught by Pulitzer Prize winner Amy Harmon, covers a wide range of topics and seems tailor-made for anyone interested in a career in genetic counseling. I would have jumped on this opportunity had it been available when I was considering genetic counseling as a career. But who else signs up for this type of course? And how are the topics/curriculum chosen? I was able to get a bit more info, which might be of interest those of you with similar questions.
The topics are pulled primarily from Amy Harmon’s articles and work over the years. These range from: the ethics of PGD, living with a genetic lethal disorder, direct-to-consumer genetic testing and how to (or how not to) share your genetic results with your family members. There is also a subset of the course titled ‘toward a better informed public’ with case studies using the experiences of the Havasupai Indians and Texas parents. In reading through the material, I was struck by how most (if not all) of these topics are ones that are commonly included in a Masters-level genetic counseling curriculum.
As you may know, NSGC president Karin Dent will be helping out with the opening session. I also learned that Daniel Vorhaus, a lawyer who writes extensively about legal aspects of genomics, will be guest lecturing for one of the sessions as well.
As you might expect, the ‘students’ last year were made up of a large number of clinical and academic people, including doctors, biology graduate students and professors. But there were also others from the the non-academic world, which included those who were struggling with some of these issues themselves or within their families. It would be interesting to know how many of this subset have had formal genetic counseling previously, or sought it out after completing the course. If you have taken this course, or are planning to take it this time around, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this type of model.
Courses such as this (from the NYT no less) are a clear indication of how quickly our field is moving from the fringes toward the mainstream health discussion. Cultural signs clearly suggest that this trend will only strengthen. As a profession I think it raises some important questions with regards to the GC role in public engagement:
- What can the genetic counseling community learn from these sorts of public genetics education initiatives?
- How can we embrace creativity to make what we do more accessible?
- Could and/or should we be doing more to help engage the public about genetics/genomics?
For inspiration, I recently came across this video: A Brief Introduction to Genetics (below). I think it’s a great example of how genetics education can be made more accessible and digestible for the general public. If anyone has any ideas about new and unique ways for public engagement, please share here or send me a note (alliejanson[at]gmail.com).