Supporting health professionals to talk ‘genetics’ with patients

Date: 6 April 2017

Read about the how and whys of the ‘Counselling skills for genomics’ module, part of the new Mst in Genomic Medicine at the University of Cambridge.

How would you explain what a gene is to someone who has never heard the term before?

Overlay an emotionally-charged encounter, involving an unexpected diagnosis or fear about passing on a condition, and you have the ingredients for a challenging conversation.

We know that the majority of the British public have not heard of the term ‘genome’; we also know from our own research that people may draw on popular culture to inform their conversations about genetics (e.g. ‘DNA is to do with identifying bodies in police dramas’). So, when a person ends up being forced to embrace genetics, because they have a genetic test as part of their healthcare, there can be a real disconnect between what the person already knows, believes or understands and what the health professional needs to explain.

How to tackle these critical conversations is addressed in the module focussing on counselling skills for genomics in the new Masters programme in Genomic Medicine at the University of Cambridge.

The module is designed and co-led by two genetic counsellors, Dr Sue Kenwrick (Principal Genetic Counsellor, Clinical Genetics Department, Addenbrooke’s Hospital) and Dr Anna Middleton (Head of Wellcome Genome Campus Society and Ethics Research, Connecting Science), and the Masters course as a whole is delivered via a partnership between staff from Addenbrooke’s Hospital (Cambridge University Hospitals) and the Wellcome Genome Campus (Connecting Science, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and EMBL-EBI).

Madingley Hall, CambridgeThe first counselling skills course took place 3-7 April 2017 at the beautiful Madingley Hall in Cambridge.

The programme included an eclectic mix of lectures and practical sessions covering both the language to explain genetics, but also the communication skills required to deliver the language effectively.

Download pdf2017 schedule for Counselling Skills for Genomics module

17 students from a mixture of backgrounds – nursing, psychiatry, general practice, obstetrics, clinical science, clinical genetics and project leads from the 100k Genomes Project – attended from both the UK and overseas.

Next year’s course will take place on 16-20 April 2018, it can be taken as a stand-alone module for CCPD or as part of the full MSt in Genomic Medicine programme.

Anyone interested in applying for the course next year can find details here.

Video (2015): Some background to the need for genomic counselling

Read more about how genetic counselling can help parents navigate prenatal testing in this article from The Guardian.