The History of the Genetic Counselling Profession in Australasia
- In the 1970s and 1980’s, various non-medical professionals were working in roles related to genetic counselling in Australasia.
- In 1987, the first position with the official title of ‘Genetic Counsellor’ was established in NSW.
- By the late 1980s, several Genetic Counsellors were employed in public health institutions throughout Australia and New Zealand.
- In 1986, the Human Genetics Society of Australasia (HGSA) formed a working party to consider how this body would guide and support the development of a profession of non-medical Genetic Counsellors.
- In 1989, a policy titled ‘The Training of Genetic Counsellors’ was ratified at the HGSA annual general meeting and HGSA Council endorsed a Board Of Censors (HGSA BOC), which would take responsibility for implementation of the policy, and for ongoing development of training guidelines and the formal assessment process.
The Evolution of Training and Certification Standards:
- In 1990, the Board of Censors for Genetic Counselling was formed.
- This inaugural BOC made an enormous contribution to the emerging profession in Australasia, deliberating on the appropriate benchmarks and compiling guidelines for a general certification process for Genetic Counsellors.
- The newly established Australasian process of certification involved two stages, Part 1 (coursework) and Part 2 (supervised clinical practice), which ensured a comprehensive approach to training and certification.
- Initially, to be eligible for Part 1 of HGSA certification, all candidates undertaking training in genetic counselling had to complete HGSA approved courses in human genetics and counselling, which were available through diverse institutions.
- In 1991, the first two Genetic Counsellors attained certification.
- In 1995, the first postgraduate genetic counselling programme (Graduate Diploma in Genetic Counselling), with a curriculum that covered all requirements for Part 1 HGSA certification, was established at the University of Newcastle (this course has now ceased operating).
- In 1996, The University of Melbourne, Griffith University in Brisbane and Charles Sturt University at Wagga Wagga offered the Graduate Diploma in Genetic Counselling. The programme at Charles Sturt University was offered by distance education (as at 2010 this course is being phased out).
- In 1998, the BOC developed training guidelines for certification of Genetic Counsellors who worked exclusively in the sub-specialty of familial cancer.
- In 1998, a Maintenance of Professional Standards (MOPS) programme was also established.
- In 2008, the first two-year coursework Master of Genetic Counselling programme was offered by The University of Melbourne.
- In 2010, Griffith University in Brisbane and The University of Sydney established two-year coursework Master of Genetic Counselling programmes, with the first intakes scheduled for 2011.
- In 2010, the BOC completed a major revision of the Training and Certification Guidelines. Sub- specialty certification was dis-established. In addition, the BOC developed Guidelines for the Accreditation of Master of Genetic Counselling programmes, and Guidelines for HGSA Certification Eligibility for Overseas Trained and/or Certified Genetic Counsellors.
Formation of the Australasian Society of Genetic Counsellors (ASGC)
- By 1990, regular Genetic Counsellor group professional meetings were underway and NSW Genetic Counsellors had established a newsletter.
- At the 1991 HGSA Annual Scientific Meeting in Melbourne it was agreed that the NSW group’s newsletter should become a national forum.
- In 1991 Linkage was launched – this newsletter continues to provide a vehicle for the sharing of ideas and has been invaluable in strengthening the network of Genetic Counsellors throughout Australasia.
- In early 1991, Genetic Counsellors from NSW began to investigate the options regarding forming a society on a National scale.
- In March 1992, a working party began to investigate the implications and ramifications of forming a professional society.
- On 29 September 1992, at a meeting held in Newcastle, the attending Genetic Counsellors voted to establish an Australasian group and seek formal recognition within the HGSA.
- The stated aims of this group were:
- To develop and define the profession of genetic counselling
- To promote educational exchange
- To create a professional voice
- To develop inter-professional networks
- In 1993, the group formally became the Australasian Society of Genetic Counsellors (ASGC).
- In 1994, the ASGC was incorporated into the HGSA as a Special Interest Group (SIG).
- Since 1996, the ASGC has had representation on the HGSA Council.
- In 1999, the ASGC logo was developed (trademarked in 2007).
- In 2000, the ASGC had its own Code of Ethics ratified and published by the HGSA.
- In 2002, the ASGC established various travel grants and conference presentation awards to support the professional development of Genetic Counsellors.
Current Status of the Genetic Counselling Profession in Australasia
- The ASGC continues to provide a strong voice and leadership in the development of policies and guidelines within the discipline of genetic counselling.
- Over the last decade ASGC office bearers and members have guided the establishment of professional classification structures, including roles for Senior and Principal Genetic Counsellor positions within the health workforce.
- In 2010, the ASGC has grown to more than 270 members.
- Genetic Counsellors continue to take an active role in research and education.
- Currently, ASGC members comprise Certified Genetic Counsellors, Associate Genetic Counsellors, students and others with an association with or interest in the discipline of genetic counselling
- Genetic Counsellors are employed in an increasing variety of specialist health services where they contribute their expertise within a team approach to patient care.