Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

MS Human Genetics


Human Genetics Graduate Program


Introduction: Exposure to genetic counseling is a strongly recommended prerequisite for entrance into genetic counseling programs. Shadowing a clinical genetic counselor is the most common method of fulfilling that requirement. Despite this, a survey of the literature revealed no studies documenting the benefits of this experience to either genetic counseling training programs or their trainees. Purpose and Methods: This study queried both program directors and genetic counseling students to determine the perceived value of shadowing and barriers to access, as well as identifying acceptable alternatives to shadowing. An online survey was distributed to 34 genetic counseling program directors using SurveyMonkey and completed by 20 for a response rate of 59%. A second survey was distributed to ~700 current genetic counseling students using SurveyMonkey and completed by 229 for a response rate of 33%.

Results: The majority of students (91%, n=208) reported shadowing a genetic counselor prior to acceptance, though many (19%, n=37) indicated that it was either "near to impossible" or "very difficult" to get this experience. Most described their experiences positively, with 94%, of students (n=187) reporting that shadowing "confirmed their desire to pursue a career in genetic counseling.” A substantial minority (47%, n=94) had alternate experiences they considered “as beneficial as shadowing.” Most training programs (80%, n=16) reported shadowing as a recommended, but not required, admissions criterion. All program directors (100%, n=20) felt that shadowing gives applicants a better understanding of the profession. Despite the difficulty in getting this experience, 85% of directors (n=17) did not feel that the recommendation limits the applicant pool. Most program directors (83% 3 SHADOWING OF CLINICAL GENETIC COUNSELORS AS AN ADMISSIONS CRITERIA n=15) considered interviewing a genetic counsellor an acceptable alternative; a minority (25%, n=5) looked unfavorably on shadowing done exclusively in a non-clinical setting.

Conclusion: Students and program directors both perceive value in shadowing a clinical genetic counselor. Given the level of difficulty in gaining this exposure, alternative experiences are also perceived to be of value to both populations. The perceived value of non-clinical shadowing in both populations is an area of further research as it will likely be more common as the field expands.