VCU Medical Center

Department of Human and Molecular Genetics

Dual Degree Ph.D. in Human Genetics/M.S. in Genetic Counseling

The Ph.D. in Human Genetics and Master of Genetic Counseling dual degree program is designed to prepare genetic counselors for careers that require strong clinical and counseling skills and the ability to carry out independent research. The combined program streamlines the process for students interested in pursuing both degrees. Students in this rigorous program have the advantage of efficiently pursuing a genetic counseling degree and a PhD degree simultaneously.

Please follow the links to the right for additional information or view a full description of the Dual Degree Ph.D. in Human Genetics/M.S. in Genetic Counseling graduate program.

MS/PhD Dual Degree Program Alumna Spotlight

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Jia Yan
6/4/2021

“You’re Not Just Saving Time”
Jia Yan (M.S. GC, Ph.D. ‘12/SOM)

Alumna Jia Yan (M.S.G.C., Ph.D. ‘12/SOM) attributes her professional success to the synergy and perspective students get through the Dual Degree Ph.D. in Human Genetics/M.S. in Genetic Counseling program (DDP) at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Everything I am doing now is because of the Dual Degree Program,” says Yan.

When she first entered the program, Yan envisioned a traditional academic career, writing grants and seeing patients as part of a narrow research trajectory. Having primarily experience with wet lab research before entering the DDP, she decided to branch out to quantitative genetic research. As a DDP trainee, she used data from genome wide association studies to model genetic risk for alcohol dependence. As part of the DDP, Yan simultaneously gained clinical experience. She started by attending clinical conferences and shadowing genetic counselors, and ultimately she gained independent genetic counseling experience. This close alignment with hands-on research and clinical work proved to be critical for her future career. “Every single day I remember making connections between the two [research and clinical care].” Those DDP training opportunities have given her a professional edge. “I don’t think that would have been the case if the [DDP] had not been designed this way…No matter what you do, I feel like you have that perspective and those core skills, beliefs, and values.”

After completing the DDP, Yan trained for two years as a post-doctoral student with the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. She missed direct patient care, though, and began work at the Johns Hopkins McKusick-Nathans Institute of Genetic Medicine as a pediatric genetic counselor. That role evolved into a clinical research position for patients with Hirschsprung disease, an intestinal disorder that has a mix of genetic and environmental causes. Now she is a Staff Scientist at the National Insitutes of Health and serves as the Director of Operations and a genetic counselor at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Centralized Sequencing Program (CSP). There she oversees sequencing for 35 research protocols and works with three institutes at the National Institutes of Health, conducting whole genome sequencing for patients with a variety of health concerns. She also provides pre- and post-test genetic counseling for patients enrolled in these research studies and performs research with the aim of understanding the etiologies of immunological disorders, with a particular focus on the analysis of common variants and their effect in rare Mendelian diagnoses. Having trained in the DDP, Yan is perfectly suited for her current profession, which requires both clinical and research skills. More than this, she has found that the two perspectives – clinical and research – enhance each other.

Yan acknowledges that an important benefit of the DDP is efficiency in graduate training. But, it provides more than that, she argues. “You’re not just saving time; it’s really this synergistic work between the two [clinic and research].”

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