Public Health Genomics Certificate Program
In early April, a diverse group of 11 individuals participated in an exciting 3-day interactive seminar as part of the spring module Sarah Lawrence Public Health Genetics/Genomics (PHG) Certificate Program. The PHG certificate program, which kick-started three years ago in June 2006, is a professional development opportunity for individuals from all backgrounds to enhance understanding of the intersections of public health and genomics. It consists of three theme-based modules held in the spring, fall, and summer, and cover a variety of public health genomics issues, ranging from public health practice and policy, to genetic testing and screening.
This year’s spring module, entitled Genomic research: Issues and Informatics – was perhaps the most exciting and stimulating module to date. On the first day, Guest speaker Joe McInerney, M.S., CGC, led two interactive discussions: “Perspectives on Genetic Variation” and “Professional Education in Genetics.” As genetics and genomics become increasingly integrated into public health, it is important to realize the extent and contribution of individual genetic variation within populations. As Mr. McInerney said: “The inextricable relationship between evolution and genetics is evident in current genomics-based efforts such as the HapMap project, which catalogs DNA variants associated with disease, and in the recently announced Genes and Environment Initiative at NIH, which will investigate the interaction of genetic and environmental variations in common diseases.” For his second talk, Mr. McInerney discussed the importance of educating healthcare professionals about emerging issues in public health genetics/genomics, and the role that NCHPEG, the National Coalition for Health Professional Education in Genetics, has in this process. Mr. McInerney has been involved in genetics education for 30 years, developing educational programs for audiences, ranging from K-16 students and teachers, to health professionals. For the last 8 years, Mr. McInerney has been the director of NCHPEG. His engaging teaching methods are a testament to his passion for genetics education, and were a popular favorite amongst many participants in the session.
Day two of the module focused on unique issues and conflicts surrounding genetics/genomics research, proposing the framing questions: How is genetic research inherently different from other research? And, what ethical questions are raised in human research that generates genetic information? Karen J. Maschke, Phd, a research scholar specializing in IRB ethics and human research from the Hastings Center, led a didactic discussion focusing on implications of genetic research, including privacy, confidentiality, and ownership issues. Following Ms. Maschke’s talk, Maureen Smith, MS, CGC, Clinical Director from the NUGene Project at Northwestern University, introduced community-based research in genetics and it’s relationship to biobank processes and issues. In this forum, the ethical, legal, and social issues associated with biobanking and genetic research was discussed, along with current trends in genetic research involving communities and biobanking worldwide. Yael Ogniewitz, currently a second-year genetic counseling student at Sarah Lawrence and PHG certificate candidate, said: “Learning about biobanking is directly related to my career. As a genetics educator and counselor, it is essential that I am aware of all the issues surrounding biobanking and how this will affect my patients, community, and profession. This module has opened my eyes to how fast genomics research is evolving and how vital it is that I have a grasp of what’s going on.”
The final day of the module examined the many research strategies in community-based participatory research, led by Rebecca Johnson, MSCED, MFA, and Executive Director of Cooperative Economics for Women at Boston College Graduate School of Education. This discussion focused on the theoretical meaning of community-based participatory research, and the importance of considering cultural differences to maintain health equity. Students learned hands-on how to apply these tools in a workshop following the discussion. Breaking into groups, students were given a range of real-life research studies and learned how to identify different problems in the study methodology and practice.
Throughout the module, PHG faculty members Beth Balkite, Rachel Grob, Siobhan Dolan, and Caroline Lieber contributed their knowledge and expertise to various discussion forums, adding a diverse perspective. In addition to diverse faculty, the participants in this module encompassed a broad spectrum in experience, including genetic counseling students, practicing genetic counselors, genetics teachers and educators, CDC researchers, and industry laboratory scientists. Students also had the opportunity to discuss their Capstone Projects, a PHG program requirement, allowing for feedback from everyone.
For Lauren Thomas, this last module completed her certificate. She says: “One of the most beneficial aspects of the PHG program is not just the professional development, but the tremendous exposure to all the professions that deal with genetics research and practice with a public health framework. I now have so many connections that will aid me in my profession as a genetic counselor and health professional.” All in all, this module was a huge success, and many participants look forward to the next module in June.