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Programs News Kevin Storr August 08, 2023

Each year, the UAB M.S. in Genetic Counseling (MSGC) program accepts only eight students. The program is much like the profession itself – a combination of low numbers and high demand. Because of these factors, it is difficult for prospective genetic counseling students to secure an observation day with a genetic counselor to learn more about the profession.

The UAB MSGC faculty – with more than 50 years’ combined experience in genetic counseling and higher education – recently decided it was time to modernize this process. They combined their vast knowledge with multimedia technology to create the UAB Genetic Counseling Simulation Case Series.

GC Case Series 01

The case series was created as part of a genetic counseling student’s research project with the goal of gathering feedback  from prospective genetic counseling students about the value of the case series as an alternative to in person clinical shadowing. Kelli Carpenter, MS, class of 2023 along with UAB MSGC faculty R. Lynn Holt and Jessica Denton, worked together to create the content. However, collaborations were needed to bring the case series to life. With the help of genetic counselors and medical geneticists from the UAB Department of Genetics, patient families, and the SHP Learning Resource Center the case series became a reality.

In July 2023, they launched this online video series that delivers a deep dive into four unique cases, delivering depth and details seldom witnessed by people outside the profession.

“Even when students do get to observe in person, it is often only for one day, so their experience is limited – this series is unique in that it chronicles a patient’s journey from the beginning to the end,” said Jessica Denton, MS, CGC, Ph.D., associate director, M.S. in Genetic Counseling program. “Plus, each video includes ‘behind the scenes work’ of a genetic counselor, so you get more in-depth understanding of the case and more detailed explanation of the genetic counseling process than you would in a traditional shadowing experience.”

“I have over 60+ hours of shadowing, a majority of which are remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and I must say that these four cases were the most informative,” said one user. “Not only were the sections broken up into smaller sections making it easier to navigate and understand, but the discussions on case preparations, results briefing, case debriefing, reoccurrence risk, and interdisciplinary care with a geneticist showed the complexities of GC in a way I have never seen before.”

GC Case Series 02

The self-paced videos truly allow unprecedented insight into genetic counseling, and provide a careful examination of standard and complex cases in pediatric and prenatal cases.

Pediatric Genetic Counseling

“We chose pediatric genetic counseling because these cases demonstrate the unique role of the genetic counselor in the larger medical team, how they work with geneticists, and how collaborative the process is from start to finish,” said Denton.

  • Standard Pediatric Case – clinical diagnosis of neurofibromatosis type 1, family desires molecular testing.
  • Complex Pediatric Case – young child with delays and ventriculomegaly, recently developed seizures.

Prenatal Genetic Counseling

“We chose prenatal cases because they often lend themselves to psychosocial counseling opportunities, and we really wanted to show the ‘counseling’ part of genetic counseling,” said Denton.

  • Standard Prenatal Case – abnormal cell-free DNA screening with a high risk for trisomy 18.
  • Complex Prenatal Case – possible heart defect on ultrasound.

Free and Open to All

Even with a soft launch, the series has seen huge success. More than three dozen people from across the United States have gone through the cases and every one of them said they would recommend this series to others interested in genetic counseling.

“The level of guidance for patient cases and the incorporation of what physical examinations by doctors consist of was extremely helpful and unique – this is currently one of my most valuable shadowing experiences,” said a user.

Another aspect of the experience that is drawing attention is the free online access for everyone. The UAB Genetic Counseling Simulation Case Series is a public-facing platform that does not require a fee or a login.

GC Case Series 03

Providing uninhibited access to high-end videos and instructional design is due to the MSGC team’s collaboration with the UAB School of Health Professions (SHP) Learning Resource Center (LRC).

“People talk about making knowledge accessible and equitable, and because we have the resources and the expertise of the LRC to produce these videos, we are able to offer this learning experience to everyone for free – so anyone who is curious can conveniently learn about genetic counseling,” said Denton.

The LRC: Video and Instructional Design

“I didn’t hesitate to get on top of everything that Jessica needed to make her project successful, because I knew that this was very important since it was going to go towards training potential students,” said Christopher Reid, coordinator of Audiovisual Operations. “This project gave me a real opportunity to show the creative side to what we do here in the LRC and I took it very seriously.”

The LRC is the digital hub of SHP – they distribute guidance, resources and deliverables in video, instructional design, and much more. And they do this all at no extra cost to school members.

Reid worked closely in the video production with Doctorre McDade, another coordinator of Audiovisual Operations in the LRC, who Reid calls his “right hand man.” The two worked closely together to amplify the user experience and their final product delivers an intimate viewer experience.

“In previous shadowing experiences, I only got to see GC's collecting family history,” said one user. “With these videos, it was more about an explanation of the genetic conditions and it helped me gain a deeper sense of what a genetic counselor does.”

In addition to the video component, Courtney Garza, instructional design specialist senior, created embedded interactive questions with natural pauses for time to answer. It is these professional details that are highlighted in not only the production, but also in the lessons learned.

“It was nice to have the genetic counselor explain what they were doing in between patient sessions rather than just seeing the patient sessions themselves,” said another user.

GC Case Series 04

When the M.S. in Genetic Counseling faculty had this idea, they knew two things: 1) they did not want an impersonal telemedicine or Zoom feel, and 2) the series had to be high-quality to reflect their program and their industry.

Both of their asks were met by the Learning Resource Center team.

“They were so kind and patient with our families and they didn’t bat an eye at any of our asks – they took care of all the production details like scouting and reserving locations, directing and editing the scenes, and uploading each video to Kaltura – we could not have done this without the LRC team,” said Denton.

“A lot of times, people see us helping with Zoom, moving tables, pulling cables, etc., but we are professional photographers here,” said Reid, who has been a photographer and videographer for nearly two decades. “One of the things I most enjoyed about this project was the opportunity to show the school once again what we do in the LRC, who we are as people, and what I’m capable of doing.”

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