Welcome from the Directors
The field of genetic counseling is ever-changing, and VCU is at the forefront of training the next generation of skilled, dynamic and compassionate genetic counselors. Accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling, our M.S. program has doubled in size since 2010. As our impact continues to grow, we maintain a collaborative and supportive environment for all our students, with close-knit cohorts and learning opportunities across diverse multidisciplinary teams.
We believe in learning by doing. Clinical exposure begins early in the first year, and most students acquire at least 100 clinical cases throughout their time at VCU. Graduates of our program hold leadership positions throughout the field, and we are proud to prepare trainees for successful and fulfilling careers as genetic counselors.
Our mission is to develop and maintain a curriculum that effectively prepares students for successful careers in human genetics, a challenging task for a discipline that reinvents itself on a regular basis. We achieve our education and training objectives by offering undergraduate, graduate, professional and higher-level specialty courses, as well as mentored research and clinical training opportunities.
- Demonstrate knowledge of the principles of human, medical and public health genetics and genomics and their related sciences.
- Apply knowledge of genetic principles and understand how they contribute to etiology, pathophysiology, clinical features, disease expression, natural history recurrence risk, clinical management and disease prevention.
- Apply knowledge of genetic principles to understanding of differential diagnosis, genetic testing, genetic test report interpretation and population screening.
Diversity, Equity and Inclusion
The VCU School of Medicine’s genetic counseling M.S. program recognizes and embraces diverse backgrounds, identities and lived experiences. We strive to provide an inclusive, safe and equitable environment in which faculty and students are treated with dignity and respect. We are committed to exploring actions to promote diversity in our community and to engaging in ongoing learning.
Our program is full-time, and on campus, and spans 21 months. Students must complete a minimum of 60 credit hours, with courses that provide foundational knowledge in human and molecular genetics, genetic counseling, counseling techniques, and diversity. Students also have the opportunity to take an elective course to further enhance their training.
Upon graduation, our students are eligible for board certification through the American Board of Genetic Counseling. Our students perform well, scoring above the accreditation standard for pass rates in our last three cohorts (2018-2021)
- 89% passed on their first attempt
- 100% on their second attempt
Students gain clinical experience early on, with formal rotations across the Richmond metro area beginning during the spring semester of the first year. Our program is designed to provide each trainee with increasingly complex case management and critical thinking opportunities throughout their time at VCU.
As a tertiary care medical center serving a diverse population, VCU Health provides a broad range of opportunities and experiences, with a diverse patient population, for trainees. Students work in collaborative, multidisciplinary teams across many specialties and subspecialties that include genetic counselors, medical geneticists, genetics fellows, medical residents and other student learners.
Clinical rotations include the following:
- General genetics clinics (including pediatric and adult genetics), held at multiple locations in Richmond and Central Virginia:
- Cancer clinics, held at three locations in Richmond and Central Virginia:
- Prenatal clinics, held at multiple locations in the Richmond area:
- VCU Center for Coagulation Disorders
- Metabolic clinic
- VCU high-risk breast clinic
- VCU familial cardiomyopathy Clinic
- Genetic ophthalmology clinic
- VCU neuromuscular and ALS clinic
- Neurofibromatosis type 1 clinic
- Pediatric oncology clinic
- VCU Huntington disease program
Each student must complete an independent capstone project with the support of a faculty adviser and other committee members. Projects can range in topics and methods, and they may include quantitative and/or qualitative research, evaluation of a quality improvement process or development and evaluation of educational tools.
First year responsibilities
- Meet regularly with a department-assigned representative to begin culminating research interest areas within the field of genetic counseling
- Choose a faculty adviser to oversee the project, with regular meetings encouraged
- Begin developing the project
Second year responsibilities
- Obtain Institutional Review Board approval for the project, if necessary
- Select members of an advisory committee, which must contain:
- At least two clinical genetics professionals (at least one from VCU or VCU Health)
- One member who is not a clinical genetics professional
- Complete all research, data analysis and project development with the support of the research adviser and committee members
- Present the finalized project during the departmental research seminar
- Submit a formal written document that encompasses the project, then discuss and defend the document during the oral exam with the adviser, research committee and one department-appointed advocate
Examples of student publications
Yi Liu, Class of 2020: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis: The Lived Experience of Emerging Adults at Risk for Gastric Cancer Due to a CDH1 Variant in Medical Management Decision Making
Lindsey Sawyer, Class of 2018: Striving to Fulfill a Duty to Recontact - Efficacy of Mailed Letters
Rebecca Procopio, Class of 2018: Development and Creation of a Children's Book on 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome
Alumni Outcomes and Employment
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the field of genetic counseling is expected to grow at a rate of 18% between 2021 and 2031, well above the rate of growth in other professions. Over that decade, about 300 openings for genetic counselors are projected per year.
“I find that a lot of our patients feel like they’ve been dismissed by other health care providers, so I let them tell their story. In my own medical journey, I have known the impact of that humanness, and that connection is deeply needed in health care.” Ashlyn Stackhouse, Class of 2022
Life in Richmond
We encourage our students and trainees to maintain a healthy, balanced life, and Richmond is a wonderful place to engage in that well-rounded lifestyle. As a mid-sized city with a metropolitan population of 1.3 million, Richmond provides stimulating activities while maintaining its intimate feel and unique vibe.
How to Apply
Our program participates in the Genetic Counseling Admissions Match through the National Matching Services, or NMS. Students must first complete the NMS application before applying through the Graduate School at VCU. Admission criteria and degree requirements are available on the VCU Bulletin.
Admission requirements for the M.S. in genetic counseling can be found at the VCU Bulletin:
Each year, our program awards a scholarship to a qualified applicant who identifies as underrepresented in the field of genetic counseling. This scholarship provides either the equivalent of in-state tuition for a student who is not a Virginia resident, or a 50% reduction of in-state tuition for a student who is a Virginia resident.
This cycle, the scholarship is open to those who identify as Black, Latinx, Native American and Pacific Islander. Students can self-identify on the program application or via email correspondence with program leadership. Students who qualify for the diversity scholarship can use both tracks when ranking VCU via the NMS.
How are applications reviewed?
Applications are reviewed holistically. Consideration is given to academic ability, leadership experience, advocacy work, and insight into the profession. While there is no defined requirement, competitive applicants have varied experiences which often include shadowing with genetic counselors, working as a genetic counseling assistant, volunteering as a crisis counselor, advocating for an organization or individuals with disabilities, and performing clinical or laboratory research.
Where do most students live in Richmond?
Many students choose to live in Shockoe Bottom, a downtown neighborhood that is a short walk from VCU’s downtown medical campus. Explore Richmond’s diverse, distinctive neighborhoods here.
What is parking like at VCU?
VCU offers several parking lots for commuters. Many students and faculty members park in the A Lot, as a campus shuttle runs directly to Sanger Hall and the medical campus. Learn more about parking options for students.
Can I have a job while enrolled in the program?
The answer to this question likely depends on each individual, how they manage their time and balance tasks, and any job position they are accepting. Students begin clinical observations during the first semester and begin counseling patients in the second semester, and coursework is full-time for the entire duration of the program. Some students are able to hold part-time positions that are flexible with scheduling. Additionally, there may be options for work-study positions within VCU.
Is a car required as part of enrollment in the program?
No, a car is not a requirement for admission to the program but is strongly recommended. The program works to accommodate students’ needs when scheduling rotation sites based on their access to transportation.
What are the options for public transportation in Richmond?
The GRTC Transit System provides public transit throughout the city and surrounding counties, with a rapid-bus line called the Pulse.
What are some fun things to do in Richmond?
Richmond is perfectly located in Central Virginia, with convenient access to the mountains, the beach and Washington, D.C. Vibrant neighborhoods offer distinct, diverse experiences, with no shortage of art galleries, museums, music venues, restaurants and breweries. Easy access to the James River and multiple park systems provides endless opportunities for outdoor activities such as mountain biking, kayaking, rock climbing and hiking. Learn more about Richmond.
For more information about the Genetic Counseling M.S. program, please contact:
- Tahnee Causey
- Heather Creswick
Associate Program Director
- John Quillin, Ph.D.
Assistant Director of Research