• Five schools in Northeast address lack of diversity

Genetic counseling incoming class of 2024

Since its inception in 2017, the Rutgers Genetic Counseling Master’s Program has been preparing students for careers in one of the nation’s fastest-growing healthcare professions, securing 100 percent employment for its graduates. 

Now the program has joined with others in the Northeast to confront a major challenge in the field: a lack of diversity.

A consortium of five genetic counseling master's programs has received a multi-million-dollar grant that will support 40 students from underrepresented groups over the next five years. In addition to Rutgers, the participating schools include the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, the Boston University School of Medicine, Sarah Lawrence College, and the University of Maryland School of Medicine.


Excellence in the Life Sciences



“We’re thrilled to participate in a project of this magnitude with the goal of improving the diversity of our profession,” says Jessica Rispoli, the director of the Rutgers program, which is housed in the Department of Genetics, School of Arts and Sciences. 

Jessica Rispoli “Joining this consortium of renowned genetic counseling programs serves notice of Rutgers’ institutional commitment to these issues and reflects the diversity of our state and student population.”

The $9.5 million Alliance to Increase Diversity in Genetic Counseling grant is being led by the Perelman School of Medicine’s Master of Science in Genetic Counseling Program and funded through The Warren Alpert Foundation.

"Supporting innovative organizations dedicated to understanding and curing disease through groundbreaking research, scholarship, and service is why we are delighted to award Rutgers with this generous grant," August Schiesser, the foundation’s executive director said in a statement.  

The grant will fund tuition and cost of living stipends for 40 students enrolling in genetic counseling master’s programs at the five schools. Rutgers, for example, will get two additional students every year, increasing its typical cohort from 10 to 12. 

Genetic counselors work with patients who want to know how inherited diseases and conditions might affect them or their families. They explain test results, assess risk, and guide patients through medical decisions. They typically work in prenatal, pediatric, and oncology settings, and, increasingly, in cardiovascular and neurological treatment, and in a range of industry roles.


Having a diverse healthcare workforce is critical for the future of public health.

—Jessica Rispoli


Rutgers was happy to welcome the first two recipients of the fellowships to campus this fall.

Destini King graduated from Drexel University in 2020, where she majored in biology. After graduation, Destini gained experience as a Genetic Counseling Assistant at Nemours Children’s Hospital while volunteering as a crisis counselor with Crisis Text Line. “I am interested in researching the discrepancies in access to genetic counseling services,” King says.

Destini KingThanh Hien Tran graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018 and majored in Integrative Biology. She was an intern for the Johns Hopkins Genetic Counseling Internship and also volunteered at RACES as a hotline crisis volunteer for the past 3 years. “I am interested in researching the relationship between the genetic counseling profession and underrepresented patients and students,” says Tran.

The number of genetic counseling jobs is projected to grow 26 percent over the next eight years, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. One reason for the growth is that the field has expanded beyond hospital settings, says Christy Seymour, assistant director of the Rutgers program. 

“Genetic counselors have increasingly been playing integral roles in laboratories, health insurance companies, and patient advocacy groups to name a few,” Seymour says.

Accordingly, Rutgers has begun incorporating non-hospital based rotations to equip students for the changing landscape of the profession.

Despite its growth, the field is overwhelming white and female, with nine out of every 10 identifying as white, according to a survey in a 2019 report by the National Society of Genetic Counselors. Students in the Rutgers program tend to be more diverse than the average, with roughly 4 in 10 members of the current student population identifying as members of underrepresented groups.

Rispoli says the grant will help on several levels, fostering a more diverse student population in the program, and ultimately generating a more diverse profession that’s better positioned to help underserved communities.

Hien Tran“Having a diverse healthcare workforce is critical for the future of public health,” Rispoli says. “We believe every patient should have access to a genetic counselor that they can relate to and feel comfortable with and who understands their community.”

The Rutgers program, the first in New Jersey, fosters unique across-the-university collaboration with Rutgers Biomedical and Health Sciences (RBHS) as students learn from the clinical team and faculty at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School and Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey.

“The vision was always about creating a program that would benefit from the integration of RBHS,” Rispoli says. “And that is really what makes our program so successful.”

Graduates have landed jobs in locations that include California, Salt Lake City, Boston, Washington, D.C., and New Jersey. 

Rispoli says the grant will also facilitate increased collaboration between the five schools on issues such as recruitment strategies and developing curricula with a focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“The grant makes our program better in many ways,” Rispoli says. “Our students benefit from having a more diverse cohort that they go to school with. And we all benefit from the collaboration and connection with other programs.”


Read more articles below:




SAS Access Newsletter Website


Access Online is the electronic publication of the Rutgers School of Arts and Sciences.
Published annually, it highlights research, scholarship, and educational achievements and initiatives across the four divisions of the Humanities, Life Sciences, Mathematical and Physical Sciences, and Social and Behavioral Sciences.