Public Health Genetics Education

Are you interested in pursuing a career in public health genetics? Public health genetics is an interdisciplinary field of public health and genetics professionals who work collaboratively to implement programs and activities that utilize the latest genetics and genomics information and clinical practices to improve public health and prevent disease.

The Mountain States Regional Genetics Network (MSRGN) developed a useful brochure that highlights the different opportunities the public health genetics field offers. Access the brochure here and view part of the brochure below.

To work within the field of public health genetics, there are multiple educational programs an individual can select that are beneficial skills for public health genetics. While there is no one path to follow to enter public health genetics, there are a few routes that are tailored to public health genetics. They include entering a public health program (at either the undergraduate or graduate level) or genetics program.

To provide some insights into these programs, explore some educational offerings that provide unique perspectives that are needed within public health genetics. Below you will find programs that are tailored to public health genetics.

Public Health Programs

Pursuing a degree in public health can occur at the undergraduate, graduate, or doctorate level. Public health professionals work in any number of fields ranging from policy to environmental health to health promotion and education and many, many more.

Public health professionals in genetics are no exceptions. To work as a public health professional in public health genetics, there is a need for individuals with backgrounds concentrating in epidemiology, maternal and child health, policy and management, health education;  just to name a few. Public health professionals often pursue a degree in one of the following areas: Masters of Public Health, Masters of Public Administration, or Masters of Public Policy. All of these degrees and concentrations can lend themselves to the field of public health genetics.

Beyond pursuing public health degrees in broad concentrations, there are two public health programs in the United States that allow public health students to concentrate specifically in genetics: the University of Washington and the University of Pittsburgh. Highlighted below are the degrees that these programs offer.

University of Washington

“Through its research and training programs the Institute for Public Health Genetics (IPHG) provides the context for these discoveries and also equips graduates to tackle the complex ethical, legal, policy and social issues that are required to fully realize the benefits of these advances on population health.” The University of Washington offers programs to obtain a PhD or MPH in Public Health Genetics or M.S. in Genetic Epidemiology.

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University of Pittsburgh

“Public health genetics applies advances in human genetics and genomics to improve public health and prevent disease in diverse populations.” The University of Pittsburgh offers the opportunity for students to pursue the following degrees: MS in Human Genetics, Genetic Counseling, or Genome Bioinformatics; MPH in Public Health Genetics; Dual MS in Genetic Counseling and MPH in Public Health Genetics; PhD in Human Genetics; and MD/PhD in Human Genetics.

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Interested in learning more about what types of study occur in public health and genetics? In collaboration with the APHA Genomics Education Workgroup, we have highlighted papers that offer a preview of public health genetics and demonstrate insight into areas of study an individual can pursue within the field of public health genetics.

Genetic Counseling Programs

“Genetic counselors are health professionals with specialized education in genetics and counseling. They use this knowledge to provide personalized information that helps individuals and families make informed decisions about health. Although the field of genetic counseling is now embedded in clinical practice, it has long contributed to public health, especially in areas such as newborn screening and maternal and child health.” Learn more about genetic counseling and public health by viewing this CDC blog post from 2019.

Highlighted below are programs that have a genetic counseling and public health focus.

University of South Florida

“In October 2016, [USF] program received accreditation by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling (ACGC). The Genetic Counseling degree is a comprehensive, 21-month, full-time program that consists of didactic and skill-based courses, multiple clinical rotations and field experiences beginning in the first semester, independent learning opportunities, and a thesis research requirement. Upon successful completion of the program, students will receive a Master’s of Science in Public Health with a concentration in Genetic Counseling (MSPH-GC) and will be eligible to sit for the national board certification exam that is administered by the American Board of Genetic Counseling (ABGC).

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University of Pittsburgh

As mentioned above, students can pursue a dual degree in Dual MS in Genetic Counseling and MPH in Public Health Genetics. Established in 2004, this program “the dual degree program enables students to build upon the clinical skills that they acquire through the Genetic Counseling Program to understand the importance of genetics, genomics, and genetic counseling in the field of public health.”

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University of Michigan

“This unique dual-degree program, founded in 2008, provides students with an innovative learning experience that includes academic training, research skill development, and clinical instruction. The goals of the program are to: 1. promote health, prevent disease, and manage chronic illness; 2. understand the genetic and genomic basis of common, complex diseases; 3. understand how our genome interacts with social, environmental, and structural factors to influence health outcomes; 4. help individuals, families, and communities understand and adapt to the medical, psychological, and familial implications of genetic contributions to disease; and 5. guide the evolving practice of genomic medicine and and public health genomics. ”

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