Educating Physicians About Genomics: Are We Doing Enough?

Ricki Lewis, PhD


March 25, 2013

In This Article

Are Medical Genetics Residencies an Answer?

The statistics on medical genetics residencies are sobering: Only 0.11% of graduating medical students choose this field. According to Sarah Brotherton, PhD, and Sylvia Etzel of the Division of Graduate Medical Education at the American Medical Association,[1] in 2011-2012 only 85 residents were in 51 medical genetics programs -- out of 113,427 residents in 9111 programs nationwide.

The American College of Medical Genetics and Genomics set up the Task Force on Medical Genetics Training to counter these statistics, said Bruce Korf, MD, PhD, former president of the organization and director of the Heflin Center for Human Genetics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He sees poor motivation and lack of role models as factors driving graduates from the field. "By the time medical students think about a career, genetics is a memory. The people they encounter day to day are not geneticists, so they don't prioritize that as a career opportunity."

Their Summer Scholars Program could be a step toward changing that. Available for 10-20 medical students each year, the Program has several videos that describe careers in the field. In one, a resident stresses the diversity of her workday: She might see an adult in his 50s with hereditary hemochromatosis, then see a baby in the neonatal intensive care unit, meet with a couple concerned about conceiving a healthy baby, and then meet with a cancer patient.

Another reason for the tepid interest in medical genetics is that it is a "cognitive specialty." "Medical geneticists are reimbursed only for examination and management-type codes, and not for procedures," said Dr. Pyeritz. Dr. Korf agreed. "People come out of medical school and get excited about dermatology, or anesthesiology, or ophthalmology. They pay well, and the hours are civilized. The reimbursement scheme is tilted against the so-called cognitive specialties," he said. Dr. Pyeritz suggested that introducing more genetics earlier might build interest and numbers.


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