Success of a Genetics Educational Intervention for Nursing and Dietetic Students: A Model for Incorporating Genetics into Nursing and Allied Health Curricula

Article excerpt

Allied health care professionals and nurses provide geneticrelated client services, such as eliciting family medical history information and discussing the genetic component of health conditions. However, these professionals report a lack of confidence in their ability to perform genetic services and have little formal education in genetics. A barrier to incorporating genetics into allied health curricula includes the limited flexibility to expand curricula. This barrier was addressed by incorporating a Web-based tutorial on basic genetics and a lecture on the genetics of diabetes into preexisting undergraduate nutrition courses for nursing and dietetic students. The vast majority of students enrolled in these required courses participated in the intervention. Most participants agreed that genetics is important to their future career. Following the intervention, students' knowledge of genetics and confidence in their ability to provide genetic-related services increased significantly. Despite the short-term success and positive student evaluations, a single educational intervention does not appear to be sufficient for students to become proficient in performing the recommended genetic competencies for all health care professionals. Recommendations and resources for incorporating genetics into allied health curricula are included. J Allied Health 2005; 34:90-96.

ALL HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS, regardless of their specialty, need to have an understanding of the role genetics plays in health and disease.1·2 Common diseases, including coronary artery disease, obesity, diabetes mellitus, and cancer, are caused by both genetic and environmental factors.1 Susceptibility to common diseases can often be determined by taking a family medical history and by identifying genetic variations that contribute to disease.1'3 Identifying risks early on can lead to disease prevention through the appropriate use of medication, prophylactic surgery, and/or recommendations for dietary and lifestyle modifications.3"5 To achieve the health benefits that are now possible as a result of genetic discoveries, it is critical for all health care professionals to have a knowledge of basic genetic concepts and an understanding of how to apply these concepts to clinical practice.2

Allied health professionals and nurses work with individuals who have genetic conditions, yet most have little formal genetics education.6"10 Despite the lack of education, these professionals perform genetic-related services such as eliciting family medical history information, assessing genetic risk, and discussing the genetic component of conditions.6·11"13 The 1998 Human Genome Education Model (HuGEM) survey of members of six allied health professions (n = 3,600; 57% overall response rate) demonstrated that confidence in performing genetic services was significantly higher among individuals with formal genetics education compared with those with little or no formal education in genetics.6 These results suggest that including genetics in training programs will increase confidence in performing genetic-related services among allied health professionals.

A variety of strategies have been used to incorporate genetics in undergraduate and graduate nursing curricula.14"19 However, continued efforts are needed to increase genetics knowledge and skills among nurses.8,9,2 One approach has been to include genetics content in multiple courses within the curriculum.19 Given the important role that genetic and nutritional factors play in the development of common complex diseases, a nutrition course is an appropriate setting to incorporate genetics. In addition, the Commission on the Accreditation for Dietetics Education added genetics to the 2002 knowledge requirements for undergraduate training programs.20 However, specific topics to be included were not defined, and published outcomes are needed regarding the implementation of this requirement.

An extensive list of genetic competencies for all health professionals has been created by the National Coalition of Professional Education in Genetics (NCHPEG). …