The History of Genetic Counseling ((By Jade))

Harold Nitowsky Teaching Sarah Lawrence Students at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine Hospital. Source: Human Genetics Graduate Program Brochure, ca. 1970, Sarah Lawrence College Archives. Used with Permission. via A quiet revolution: the birth of the genetic counselor at Sarah Lawrence College, 1969.

One of the ways I decided what to major in during college was first deciding what NOT to major in.  For instance, I was able to say to myself, “Well, I’m NOT going to major in history.”  You know why? Because I’m embarrassingly bad, and even cavalier, when it comes to history.  I once memorized the date 1776 as the year of American Independence, but …beyond that, I sometimes need to re-watch Forrest Gump to brush up on my facts.

However, since it’s the start of a fresh, new (and my LAST) school year, it seems fit to blog about The History of Genetic Counseling:

Watson and Crick cracked the genetic code (A-T, G-C, double helix) in 1953, which unzipped a new arena for understanding human genetic disease.  In the forthcoming rush of medical discoveries, Melissa Richter spotted a need for a new medical profession: that of explaining genetic health information to patients.  In 1969, Richter founded the first genetic counseling program at Sarah Lawrence College.

From the Sarah Lawrence College Website:

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.”

The program was able to take root during a time blended with feminist health and civil rights movements, scientific break-through, and an upsurge of conversation regarding bioethical principles.  {The expanded, detailed version of the Sarah Lawrence program can be read here}.

Then, in 1979 a small group of genetic counselors founded the National Society of Genetic Counselors.  NSGC now includes more than 2,700 members, and the organization serves to “advance the various roles of genetic counselors in health care by fostering education, research, and public policy to ensure the availability of quality genetic services.” There are currently more than 23 accredited programs in the United States as well many international programs.

 

Happy Fall Semester! And that’s all I have to say about that.

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