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In the years after James Watson and Francis Crick cracked the structure of DNA in 1953, scientists made great breakthroughs in identifying diseases with genetic origins. The expansion in knowledge presented a new challenge to the medical profession: how should physicians impart this information to patients? And how would patients use these new data?
Melissa Richter, an SLC graduate who taught both psychology and biology before becoming director of SLC’s Center for Continuing Education, saw a great opportunity in this challenge.
Richter sensed the need for a new type of professional, one conversant with the manifestation of genetic diseases as well as techniques of psychological support. A trained caregiver, acting as an assistant to a physician, could "bridge the gap between the increasingly complex scientific knowledge on human genetics and the severely inadequate services provided by most hospitals to physicians and to the patients at risk for or affected by these diseases."
SLC’s Center for Continuing Education turned out to be a natural home for such a program. For as SLC President Esther Raushenbush later put it, genetic counseling is a "discipline that can affect the personal and family lives of women, and also provide a new career especially appropriate for women."