Inspiring Future Leaders, Transforming Genetic Health Care
The Genetic Counseling Program
The MS in Genetic Counseling (MSGC) graduate program at the University of Pittsburgh is committed to providing cutting edge training in the complex science of genetics while fostering a strong foundation in counseling. This unique program is constantly evolving to ensure the continued success of graduates entering a dynamic workforce. Each year between 10 and 12 students are welcomed into the incoming class to be trained by world-renowned faculty. The genetic counseling program is grounded in three important elements: scientific training in human genetics and genomics, comprehensive clinical experience, and understanding the psychological and social aspects of counseling—with an added focus on integrating up to the minute discoveries in genetics and genomics as well as valuable concepts from other academic disciplines.
The genetic counseling program at the University of Pittsburgh is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling, Inc., 7918 Jones Branch Drive, Suite 300, McLean, VA 22102; phone: 703-506-7667. Our comprehensive program helps students to achieve and often surpass the practice based competencies outlined by the ACGC.
Explore to learn more about what sets our program and our graduates apart! We hope you will consider joining our challenging and exciting program.
Our graduates will be leaders at the center of health care in a future where every health decision will be influenced by genomic information.
We deliver boundary-spanning education for future genetic counseling professionals in genomics, public health, business and policy and through immersion in diverse health care and research settings.
The University of Pittsburgh Genetic Counseling Program’s core values are:
- Speak with Integrity and Compassion: We are committed to honesty, transparency and respect in every interaction.
- Commit Everyday: We take personal responsibility to achieve excellence in everything we do.
- Reach Out: We embrace collaboration and partnership to enhance professional possibilities.
- Embrace the Unknown: We believe that curiosity leads to lifelong learning.
- Be Bold: We are inspired by innovation and change.
Program Quick Facts
- Established in 1971, as the 2nd oldest genetic counseling program, with 50 years of experience in training successful genetic counseling professionals
- Accredited by the Accreditation Council of Genetic Counseling, with most recent reaccreditation received in 2019
- Accepts 12 students each year
- Opportunity to customize your education (e.g., a dual degree with both an MS in Genetic Counseling and an MPH in public health genetics)
- Students have observational experiences in their first year and are immersed in clinical rotations during the second year, seeing approximately 150-200 cases in a variety of clinical settings.
- The program is designed to support students through peer-to-peer, and peer-to-faculty mentorship
- Strong board certification pass rate*:
- 3-year average first time pass rate of 87% (2020-2022)
- 3-year overall pass rate of 90% (2020-2022)
- Student retention rate of 100% in the past 3 years (2020-2022)
- Job placement rate of 100% in recent graduates (2020-2022)
*please note that ABGC requirements for timing of taking the board certification examination have changed and thus some graduates have not yet sat for the examination.
Visit Why Choose Pitt GC for more information
Genetic risks and conditions are not confined to the U.S. and Canada, and clearly every population has need of genetic services. Being in a School of Public Health is an advantage, as the global needs of populations are frequent topics for discussion, and our school and department faculty have well established collaborations throughout the world.
The GC program is active in working with local and international partners to provide students with opportunities for international work in genetic counseling and public health. Students in the program have multiple opportunities to gain international experience.
Programs of Study
Students entering the graduate program are able to choose one of multiple degree options based on their career interests and goals:
The two-year masters in genetic counseling program provides students with the knowledge and skills to successfully practice as genetic counselors in diverse settings and prepares them to be leaders within the profession.
A PhD in human genetics with a focus on genetic counseling is available for genetic counselors who wish to obtain an advanced degree and target their careers on pursuits that will be enhanced by a PhD degree.
Genetic counseling students can further customize their educational experience through one of multiple public health certificate programs available to master’s students through the School of Public Health.
Testimonials from Certificate Students
The Global Health certificate program allowed me to take my learnings from my genetic counseling and public health training to think about health issues that go beyond the US. I spent the three years of my graduate training working with the sickle cell community in Pittsburgh and in India. While there were similarities between the two communities there were a lot of differences as well. And I wanted to broaden my understanding of these differences and learn about what impacts them. The Global Health certificate was a wonderful way of thinking beyond my westernized learnings and allowed me to critically think about the complex health issues that we face today. I loved the opportunity to take classes in the other graduate schools at Pitt and work with students outside of the school of Public Health. The Global Health certificate along with my genetic counseling and public health training at the University of Pittsburgh have helped me throughout my career thus far in thinking about not only problems but the solutions from a more global perspective. -Aishwarya Arjunan
By the time I had applied to the University of Pittsburgh Genetic Counseling program, I had been following the field for more than 15 years. I had finally been encouraged to apply when I learned genetic counselors were taking on more leadership roles within clinics and academia, GC-led research was becoming more common, and the field had started to have more critical conversations about the lack of diversity within the workforce and client populations. Our understanding of genetics had soared in the last decade, but populations benefiting from this new knowledge and precision medicine did so within a healthcare system built on the exploitation and exclusion of many groups of people.
While there may not be a sexual orientation or gender “gene,” individuals identifying as being part of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) community participate in healthcare despite egregious examples of prejudice and exclusion. During the 2021 Gallup poll, 7.1% of those surveyed identified as being LGBTQ+, though this is thought to be an underestimate given the continued concerns around safety and discrimination. As a member of the Queer community, I was interested in exploring how gender identity and sexual orientation impact access to genetic information. The LGBT Health certificate allowed an opportunity to learn about past research around health disparities, as well as the evolution of resiliency research, all within the context of evidence-based practice and considerations for program evaluation.
The certificate requires 15 hours of course credit, along with the consideration of LGBTQ+ health within the thesis project. I was initially concerned about the added course work with the already-demanding genetic counseling schedule; however, I found the professors to be accommodating and the coursework to be directly applicable to my professional practice. Because I did not officially begin work on the certificate until my second semester, I graduated in June with the dual degree students. This extra time was needed to complete my thesis work after several semesters of classes on top of the genetic counseling curriculum. In addition to the classes centered on LGBTQ research, many courses within the program allowed for larger consideration of research within healthcare systems. These classes—taught by faculty in Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, Health Policy and Management, and Infectious Disease—provided a unique opportunity to learn more about community-empowered research practices and evaluation of health programs. I was able to learn about the phenomenal research being conducted by other departments within Pitt Public Health and make connections with students outside of our nuclear program.
I use the knowledge gained through this program daily in my practice as a genetic counselor and as a healthcare researcher. While some connections may seem obvious—I co-lead a presentation about sex and gender for second year GC students and co-chair the Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion committee within the Pennsylvania Association of Genetic Counselors—other applications are more subtle. Because of the discussions and discrepancies around the definition of sexual orientation, I deeply consider how I define and gather demographic information. I challenge students to consider non-traditional family structures and relationships as a clinic supervisor. After learning more about prevention science and implementation, I consider how we can better include communities in studies and then share the outcomes to ensure mutual benefit within the research process. Genetic counseling is based on the tenant of empowering families with the information to make their own healthcare decisions. The LGBT Health certificate expanded the focus to allow me to consider how we are collecting information to improve the access and experience of ALL patients within our healthcare system.
If a whole certificate is not feasible, consider taking a class or two out of the prescribed curriculum—or even asking to audit a class. I have no doubt it will enhance your experience at Pitt by widening your academic and networking circle, but will also expand your understanding of how genetic counselors can contribute to the health justice.
I am very pleased with my choice to obtain the public health genetics certificate during my genetic counseling training at Pitt. It allowed me the opportunity to delve deeper into important public health genetics topics with less of a cost and time burden than the dual degree option. As part of the certificate program, I took an exciting health communication class where I learned how to develop and analyze effective health communication campaigns. This turned out to be one of my favorite graduate courses, and it directly impacted both my own genetic counseling as well as my ability to evaluate genetic health communication resources. Overall, I developed a deeper appreciation for the intersection between genetics and population health which continues to be relevant as genetics becomes increasingly incorporated into health care.
Health disparities are preventable differences that exist among specific populations regarding attainment of optimal health. It is all too easy to become comfortable in your hometown and/or your educational institution. Stepping out to learn about people and communities other than your own and reflecting on how we can apply those lessons to improve health care is crucial. The health equity certificate provided me with an entirely new perspective on health disparities and cultural humility. Throughout this certificate program, students have opportunities to take classes within and outside the School of Public Health, facilitating conversation and collaboration among professionals of differing backgrounds. After many classes with only students from the School of Public Health, it was refreshing to hear students' perspectives from other disciplines. The certificate exposed me to a whole range of demographics (e.g. disability, economic, religion, native language), community structures and health disparities relevant today. Gaining a better understanding of how others work and think is the first step to cultural humility.
As a part of the health equity certificate, students must complete an applied experience. In 2021, I interned with the Council of Three Rivers American Indian Center Early Head Start (COTRAIC EHS) through Bridging the Gaps Pittsburgh. The program exposed me to families in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas who live below the federal poverty line and, therefore, sometimes lack accessibility to medical services. During my experience with COTRAIC EHS, direct interaction with the children and families helped me identify community needs, develop targeted interventions and advocate for these groups. Leadership, compassion and critical thinking are skills I strengthened during my time in the certificate program and will directly benefit patients with whom I interact in my career.