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Genetic Counselling

Page content : 1. Master of and Graduate Diploma of Genetic Counselling | 2. Career Enhancement |
3. Course Description | 4. Course structure | 5. Admission Requirements | 6. Fees | 7. International Students|
| 8. Key Staff | 9. Interested in the masters | 1. Past Graduate Experiences

Master of Genetic Counselling (M. Gen Couns) - 2 years (Full- time)

Graduate Diploma in Genetic Counselling (Grad Dip Gen Couns) - 1 year (Full-time)

Genetic Counsellors

Genetic counsellors work in a multidisciplinary team with clinical geneticists, nurses, social workers, dietitians, communicating complex genetic information to individuals and families to facilitate decision making. Genetic counsellors are employed in clinical genetics units and work in many areas including: cancer genetics, predictive testing, paediatric genetics, prenatal genetics, adult genetics. Genetic counsellors increasingly are involved in qualitative and quantitative clinical genetic research.

Graduating Master of Genetic Counselling students 2009

The Master of Genetic Counselling constitutes the professional qualification for entry into employment as an
associate genetic counsellor, and for Part 1 certification, awarded through the Board of Censors in Genetic
Counselling (Human Genetics Society of Australasia)

The 2 year Master of Genetic Counselling is designed to build and increase skills and breadth in clinical practice
and research, utilizing the expertise of tutors who are clinicians, genetic counsellors, scientists, people with a disability
and community members. The Masters draws upon the expertise and professional support of the clinical genetics
service Genetic Health at the Royal Children's Hospital, Melbourne,Victoria. Students are encouraged to attend
educational activities within the Genetic Health Service, including seminars, clinic meetings and journal club.

The existing Graduate Diploma, established in 1996, is a successful 1 year program and is an exit point after 1 year
of study in the Masters.

Internationally, genetic counselling is taught within a 2 year clinical Masters. The Masters program aims to increase research and employment opportunities for graduates through developing reciprocity with other countries. With well established links to overseas training programs.

There are international opportunities for students, through an active exchange program for clinical placements and research collaborations.  Past graduates are employed throughout the world – including in Singapore, Malaysia and New Zealand.  It is expected that graduates of the Melbourne Masters will be eligible to register to practise as genetic counsellors in the UK and Canada, further increasing employment opportunities.

Student Award


Lynley, a first year student in the Master of Genetic Counselling 2011 has been awarded a Graduate Access bursary by the University of Melbourne for $5,000. Lynley is a student from WA. Congratulations to Lynley!

Lynley Donoghue, Master of Genetic Counselling Student

Career enhancement

The Masters can provide students with the knowledge and skills in both genetics and counselling which can enhance their existing career or be applied in careers other than genetic counselling including research skills and IVF counselling.

Course Description:

The Masters of Genetic Counselling will fulfil the requirements for certification and employment as a genetic counsellor in Australia and reciprocity with training overseas. The program teaches counselling skills, research skills and clinical genetics knowledge in small interactive student groups. Problem Based Learning is one mode of teaching in the genetics tutorials. This mode of teaching facilitates independent learning which equips the student to continue to develop professionally throughout their career.  Students will complete a minor thesis with supervision, and have extensive counselling skills practice in varied clinical genetics and community settings. Assessment tasks mirror the skills needed in genetic counselling practice and for professional certification by the HGSA (Part 2).

Teaching staff are primarily practicising genetic counsellors, scientists and clinicians within the clinical genetics service.


Program structure and sequence


Full time students 200 Credit points



Students complete four core subjects

  • Counselling Skills GENE 90003  (12.5cp)
  • Health Communication Skills 1 GENE 90004  (12.5cp)
  • Healthcare Research – Principles & Designs PAED 90027 (12.5cp)
  • Human Genetics and Genetic Counselling GENE 90001 (12.5cp)


Students complete four core subjects

  • Genetic Counselling in the Community GENE 90005 (12.5cp)
  • Health Communication Skills 2 PAED 90016(12.5cp)
  • Clinical Genetics GENE 90002 (12.5 cp)
  • Public Health Genomics POPH90226 (12.5cp)

EXIT POINT: Graduate Diploma in Genetic Counselling 100cp


Students complete three core subjects over two semesters

  • Clinical Practice PAED 90020  (50cp)
  • Genetic Counselling Practice PAED 90021 (12.5cp)
  • Research Dissertation – Minor Thesis PAED90023 (37.5cp) Semester 3 and 4
    Ethics approval, data collection, data analysis, writing thesis, presentation of results

EXIT POINT: Master of Genetic Counselling – 200cp


Special Features

  • Small interactive group tutorials with modified PBL.
  • Acquisition of applied counselling skills, reflective practice, and social and ethical aspects of genetics.
  • Placements prepare students for practice through contact with people who have /are at risk of genetic conditions and their families. Skills of communication and counselling are developed. Placements are within clinical genetics units and the community with supervision by experienced professionals.
  • Research skills are developed within a supervised clinical framework.
  • Eligibility to register to practise as a genetic counsellor in selected countries overseas.

Admission Requirements

Admission is open to both domestic and international students.

Selection criteria:

  1. The Selection Committee will evaluate the applicant's ability to pursue successfully the course using the following criteria:

    • Applicants will have an undergraduate degree from a recognised University, with a cognate genetics subject to 2nd year undergraduate level.
    • Preference is given to applicants who have demonstrated relevant volunteer or professional experience

  2. Some applicants will be selected for an interview from the above criteria. Final selection will be made from these interviews. Interviews can be conducted by telephone or Skype for interstate or international applicants Applicants who need to satisfy the University's English language requirements via the IELTS (International English Language Testing System: Academic English only) or the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) must meet one of the following standards:

    • IELTS (Academic English only) 7.0 (written 7.0 with no band less than 6.0)
    • TOEFL (paper-based test) 600 + TWE 5.0
    • TOEFL (computer-based test) 250 + 5.0 essay rating
    • TOEFL (internet-based test) 100 + written score of 24 and no band less than 21

Applicants are requested to submit a personal statement of 1,000 words to accompany their application, outlining their interest in and understanding of genetic counselling role.

How to Apply

Domestic Students
International Students

Closing date for applications is 30th September for international applicants (due to longer administration processes) and 31st October for local applicants in the year preceding proposed entry to the Masters.


There is a limited number of Commonwealth Supported Places (CSP) offered each year for domestic students. Both domestic and international fee places are available. Australian fee paying students may also be eligible for commonwealth government assistance (Fee-HELP).

Fee information for Domestic Students (including CSP and Fee-HELP)

Fee information for International Students

Not sure if you are an international or domestic student? Start here.

International students

International students are encouraged to apply . Students from Malaysia, Singapore, Canada, the UK and Bermuda have graduated returning to their countries to practice and also staying to complete further research.Students completing the 2 year M Gen Couns are eligible to register to practice in the UK , Canada, S-E Asia and New Zealand.

Applications should be made to the International Office at the University of Melbourne

Employment Opportunities after the Masters
 Jess Taylor (class of ’09).

job opps Jess is employed as an Associate Genetic Counsellor in Cancer Counselling at the Familial Cancer Centre, Royal Melbourne Hospital Melbourne. Here is her story:

I completed the Master of Genetic Counselling in 2009 and there were a number of key areas I found useful in aiding my preparations for employment.


1st year:

  • The theory based tutorials enabled me to learn the skills required for effective genetic counselling and to develop my knowledge of key genetic concepts. These skills could then be put into practice in the form of role plays.
  • Participating in community based screening programs provided the opportunity to explain genetic principles and discuss some of the basic counselling issues surrounding genetic testing.
  • The community placement subject allowed me to appreciate how genetic conditions affect the wider community. My placement at the muscular dystrophy association provided the opportunity to work with individuals affected with a muscular dystrophy giving me a sense of what daily life was like for these individuals. Other tasks included creating booklets about genetic testing for muscular dystrophies and providing information to clients of the MDA.

2nd year:

  • The 3 supervised placements increased my confidence in my abilities and facilitated me developing different skills and techniques.
  • The placements also provided an opportunity to observe working genetic counsellors in their practice, in a multidisciplinary team and to further understand the role of a genetics service in a hospital context.
  • The genetic counselling tutorials provided opportunities to develop my confidence via the simulated patient video role play. In this project we were fortunate to have an actor-tutor play the role of a patient which allowed the students to run a simulated session. This was a safe environment which provided the unique opportunity for immediate feedback from the actor-tutor. 
  • The Genetic Counselling Practice weekly tutorials encouraged reflective practice, as we shared our experiences in our placements, considered how the placement experiences impacted on us personally and heard the experiences of certified genetic counsellors and their roles.

Overall I found the Masters helped me to feel prepared to enter the genetic counselling profession

Other related activities helped me to prepare for employment as a genetic counsellor.

  • 1 activity I found very useful was volunteering with Lifeline Australia. Again this provided exposure to
    individuals in the community and allowed me to utilise some of skills I had learnt in the course.
  • As students we were encouraged to participate in the many and varied educational activities of the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute. This gave me the opportunity to hear about the experiences of other genetic counsellors, learn about new and evolving technologies and consider the ethical issues associated with the field of genetics.

Limitations to obtaining work as a genetic counsellor.  It is competitive to find employment as a genetic counsellor
in Victoria

Overcoming this limitation includes:

  • being flexible
  • being open minded about employment opportunities
  • making the most out of placements
  • if possible, trying to be flexible about job location as there are many positions advertised in other states.

Finally - consider the following positions that past graduates of the Master of Genetic Counselling have obtained:

  • Associate Genetic Counsellor
    • Public hospitals
    • Private hospitals
    • IVF clinics
    • Private obstetric clinics
  • Support staff for genetics services
    • Data manager
    • Intake Assistant
  • Research
    • PhD
    • Research Assistant
  • Support services
    • e.g. Genetic Support Network of Victoria, Muscular Dystrophy Association, Thalassaemia Association
    • Cancer Council of Victoria
  • Coming soon:
  • Direct-to-consumer labs
  • And much more!

Master of Genetic Counselling, First Year Reflections, 2010 

Michaela Cormack  

michaelaWhen I found out that I had got a place in the Master of Genetic Counselling (University of Melbourne) I felt excited. This was the first step towards a new career for me and also a chance to meet other people with similar interests, especially when I had only moved to Australia three years ago. I was looking forward to gaining new knowledge and being a student again. Although I was also a little nervous as I had a minimal formal background in genetics.  Now I’ve completed the first year. There were lectures given by various experts in their fields and it was a real joy to have access to these people, from genetic counsellors to cytogeneticists, specialist clinical geneticists and research fellows, all of whom are passionate about their interests.  My favourite moments were probably meeting some of the clients and hearing their experiences and perspectives. I also had a community placement of 8 weeks at the Royal Children’s Hospital, in the Public Health Department and I visited a regional clinic. This was a great introduction to seeing theory put into practice. I also really enjoyed slogging out the ethical dilemmas that genetics can throw up with the hospital ethicist and planning out ideas for my research project, which for me is a part of the course I am really looking forward to.

On reflection I was probably over anxious about the cytogenetics and of course at that point I hadn’t figured out we would be doing Bayes Theorem! Once I sat down with it all though, I really enjoyed the challenge that this part of the course provided. More pre-course reading might have helped reduce some of my anxiety about cytogenetics; however in the end I found that participating in the sessions, ably facilitated by experienced cytogeneticists, and preparing for each one by doing the homework suggested was enough.

Being organised was probably the most important skill to have for the Masters! There is a lot going on and you spend the first few months feeling as if you are in information overload, but it does gradually sort through. There was plenty of support available from the coordinators of each subject and the tutors, and I was lucky that in our group we supported one another, and when someone struggled with a concept there were usually one or two others who could help explain it. Between us all and our different strengths we seemed able to cover most of the course. I wanted a career change and after the first year of this course I feel I’m well on my way to that. It has been one of < my busiest ever years, and it’s flashed passed in a whirlwind. Out at the other end of the first year I can definitely say that it was all worth it and already I have a great sense of achievement moving into my second year.

Key Staff

Margaret Sahhar

Margaret is the Director of the Master in Genetic Counselling (University of Melbourne) program. She was the founding Director of the Graduate Diploma in Genetic Counselling which was established in 1996. Margaret was a member of the inaugural committee of the Human Genetics Society of Australasia, which established the guidelines for the training of genetic counsellors in Australia. Margaret served as a member of the first certification Board for genetic counsellors in Australia. Margaret has encouraged the formation of international links with other programs and fosters student exchange. The Masters hosts many international student exchanges and Margaret was a founding member of the Transnational Alliance of Genetic Counselling Educators (TAGC) and is the Australian representative of this group.

Margaret’s clinical work is with families and people with MPS and bone dysplasia.

Jon Weil

Jon Weil is the Honourary Consultant for the Master in Genetic Counselling (University of Melbourne) program. He received a Ph.D. in Genetics from the University of California, Davis, in 1963, and for 15 years conducted research on bacterial viruses (bacteriophage), first as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Oregon and Harvard University and then as Assistant/Associate Professor of Molecular Biology at Vanderbilt University.  As he approached his tenth year at Vanderbilt, he felt a need to expand his interests beyond the intense, specialized field of bacteriophage genetics.  He arranged to transfer to the University of California, San Francisco, where he carried out research on the pathogenesis of Down syndrome.  He also received training and experience working as a genetic counsellor.  He found this clinical work very satisfying.  In order to further his opportunities for clinical work, he pursued doctoral studies in social-clinical psychology and received a Ph.D. from the Wright Institute, Berkeley, California, in 1984.  He established a private psychotherapy practice with a specialty interest in the impact of genetic disorders and birth defects on individuals and families.  From 1989 to 2001 he was also Director of the Program in Genetic Counseling in the School of Public Health at the University of California, Berkeley.  He retired from clinical practice and the genetic counselling program in 2001 but has remained professionally active.  From 2003 - 2007 he served as the Co-Director/Director of the Ph.D. Medical Genetics Fellowship Program at the University of California, San Francisco.  His current activities include writing, teaching, seminars, workshops, mentoring and serving on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Genetic Counseling.  He is the author of Psychosocial Genetic Counseling, Oxford University Press, 2000, chapters on countertransference and patient resistance in a forthcoming advanced text in genetic counseling, and other publications in genetics and genetic counselling.

Jan Hodgson

photo janAfter completing a BSc (Hons) in Health Sciences I entered the Graduate Diploma in Genetic Counselling program in 1999. Having been a nurse and health educator for many years the course built on my existing skills as a health professional. While I found it to be really challenging in both counselling and genetics subjects I really enjoyed being in a wonderfully supportive learning environment and now count many co-students, and lecturers, as close friends. A conversation with an ethicist at a genetics conference led to my enrolment as a PhD candidate exploring ethical issues in prenatal testing and genetic counselling. During that time I also worked as a prenatal genetic counsellor and became involved in teaching counselling students. My PhD thesis "Testing times, challenging choices" explored the experiences of a cohort of women making decisions about diagnostic prenatal tests and examined the role of genetic counselling in that process.

Since completing my PhD I have been involved in a number of research projects and am currently Project Manager for a NHMRC funded randomised controlled trial (RCT) of genetic counselling that aims to enhance family communication about genetics. I am a lecturer at the University of Melbourne contributing to the Masters in Genetic Counselling and a breadth subject entitled 'Genetics, Health and Society'. I am also the Masters Research Coordinator and I co-facilitate the clinical practice tutorials for second year students. I enjoy working with students and counsellors in developing reflective practice techniques that best allow us to support and empower our clients.

My major research interests are genetic counselling process, medical ethics, health communication, prenatal testing and perinatal hospice care. I have particular experience with qualitative research methods and was recently admitted as a Member Scholar to the International Institute of Qualitative Methodology (IIQM).

Lisette Curnow

lisette photo After completing a science degree majoring in genetics and microbiology, I knew I particularly enjoyed genetics, but could never imagine myself working in a lab long term.  So when I heard about the genetic counselling course, it seemed to suit all of my requirements for a satisfying career choice - science and people!  I found the course to be challenging and fascinating, and working within a small group of enthusiastic others only enhanced the experience.  The tutors were all incredibly generous in sharing of their vast personal and professional experiences in their specialty areas, which only motivated me further. I also found the problem-based method of teaching to work very well, enabling a greater understanding of how the theory is applied in real clinical settings.

After completing the course, I travelled and worked in both research and genetic counselling in Toronto, then returned to undertake a Masters in genetic counselling.  Following this, I worked in a variety of areas, firstly cancer, then paediatric genetics, newborn screening and bone dysplasias, and now my primary area is neurogenetics.  The families and individuals I encounter through this clinical work never fail to challenge and inspire me.  In addition, I am involved in teaching and coordinating the genetics component of the Masters course.

Samantha Wake

photo samantha I completed my science degree at the University of Melbourne, where I majored in chemistry and genetics in 1981,  and then completed a Doctorate of Philosophy in genetics in 1987.  Following completion of my PhD I worked in both research and clinical genetic diagnostic services.  My laboratory work brought me into close contact with health professionals who were consulting with the families and individuals behind the samples I was testing, and from this grew my interest in a career in genetic counselling.  I obtained my first genetic counselling position as a trainee, in Sydney in 1989. Genetic counselling was a fairly new profession in Australia then, and I enjoyed being involved in the development of the profession. I completed my training in 1992. After 10 years in Sydney I returned to Melbourne in 1998 to work at the Victorian Clinical Genetics Services.  In 2000 I became the Principal Genetic Counsellor, a position that I held until June 2007, when I retired. In 2004, together with Lisette Curnow,  I became the co-coordintaor of the genetics curriculum of our genetic counselling course, a role which I continue to enjoy immensely.

During the course of my career as a genetic counsellor I have maintained an interest in clinical work, research, teaching, supervision, and the training/certification of genetic counsellors. I have also had a role in the development of a national code of ethics, and a professional classification structure for the employment of genetic counsellors in Victoria. Advances in genetic technology continue to raise challenges for those working in the field of clinical genetics. I developed an interest in the legal, ethical and social aspects of genetic counselling, which led to me completing a graduate law degree in 1999.  I enjoy working on projects that allow me to combine my interest in the law and genetic counselling, and am currently involved in the development of guidelines that relate to genetic information and privacy laws.

Interested in the Masters?

  • Keep an eye on this website! Further details will be posted here once they are available.
  • In the meantime, for further enquiries about the Masters of Genetic Counselling, send an email to the course administrator at:

Got a question about the Masters?

Questions about the Masters of Genetic Counselling should be directed to the Course coordinator on +61 3 8341 6256 or at:

Past Graduate Student Experiences

MaryAnne Aitken

photo maryann After completing a BSc in 1984 at Melbourne University, MaryAnne went on to train as a general nurse at the Mercy Private Hospital. In 1988 she returned to Melbourne University to do her honours year in molecular biology. Following this saw nearly 5 years at Monash University researching genes involved in human labour and birth culminating in the awarding of a PhD in 1994. After a short post-doc Mary Anne decided to apply for the Graduate Diploma of Genetic Counselling in 1996. The skills she learnt during this time equipped her well for her subsequent move into genetics education where she has had a keen interest in community education, public awareness and genetic screening programs.MaryAnne is now moving into the new area of research strategy and communications and again is grateful for the skill set she acquired during the year of the Genetic Counselling course.

Alison Archibald

photo alison “I am originally from New Zealand and completed my undergraduate studies in biomedical science and psychology at Victoria University of Wellington. When I finished my studies I knew I wanted to pursue a career in science and had a particular interest in genetics but wanted to do something more people focussed. I had heard about Genetic Counselling and thought it sounded really interesting so I applied for the Graduate Diploma in Genetic Counselling at the University of Melbourne in 2005. The course was fantastic, it was so interesting and I really enjoyed learning about the psychosocial aspects of genetic conditions. After I completed the course I enrolled in a Master of Health Sciences (Genetic Counselling) by research. I enjoyed the research so much that I converted my project to a PhD. My project involves exploring attitudes towards offering carrier screening for fragile x syndrome (an inherited cause of intellectual disability) in the community.  When I finish my PhD I hope to continue doing Genetic Counselling research.”

Melody Menezes

photo melodyI am an international student from Canada. I completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) with a major in Molecular Biology and Genetics in Canada and decided I wanted to pursue a career in genetic counselling. After looking up a variety of courses offering genetic counselling worldwide, I decided to pursue a Graduate Diploma in Genetic Counselling at the University of Melbourne.  The course appealed to me as it not only had a very interesting coursework component but also included clinical skills. Additionally, the University of Melbourne is very well recognised internationally which would increase my job prospects when returning to Canada.

My decision was a good one; I thoroughly enjoyed studying genetic counselling in Melbourne. I found the classes to be stimulating with a good range of academic material coupled with challenging ethical issues and real life accounts from a variety of healthcare professionals, patients, and members of the community. As the program is held within the centralised clinical genetics service, Genetic Health Services Victoria, there were many opportunities for clinical experience observing genetic counsellors in Genetics Clinics and then working with clients while being supervised. This integrated the theory of the tutorials into practice, gave me an understanding of the role of genetic counsellors and also prepared me for the realities of the work force. Additionally, studying in a hospital environment enabled me to meet physicians, laboratory staff, and a variety of allied health professionals to get first hand experience working in a multidisciplinary team.

I was so inspired by the genetic counselling course I decided to say on in Melbourne to pursue a PhD undertaking genetic counselling research.

Ivan Macciocca

ivan I completed the Graduate Diploma of Genetic Counselling in 1997.  The problem-based teaching approach of the course was a highlight for me, it made the learning so much more relevant to what I confronted in the real world of genetic counselling.  I am now a Certified Genetic Counsellor working at Genetic Health Services Victoria in the area of cardiac genetic and neurogenetics as well as seeing individuals from families with cystic fibrosis and haemophilia.

My special interest is in inherited cardiovascular disease, after having spent a year working in London at The Heart Hospital with families with inherited cardiomyopathies and arrhythmias.  I have just started a Masters in Health Science (Genetic Counselling) degree looking at the psychosocial impact of genetic testing for two inherited cardiovascular diseases Long QT syndrome and Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Before doing the Graduate Diploma I worked as a travelling Science Presenter for the CSIRO after having completed a Bachelor of Science and Diploma of Education at the University of Melbourne.


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