Introduction to the Genomic Competencies

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Information about the role of genes in health and disease is evolving rapidly because of the mapping of all human genes by the Human Genome Project. The number and types of genetic tests and services now available commercially are growing exponentially, and public health workers are increasingly aware of the potential role of genetic information in preventing common diseases. Everyone involved in public health should become aware of these advances and begin to incorporate genomic competencies into their public health specialties.

An interdisciplinary team of people actively working in local, state and federal public health programs formulated this document. The genomic competencies are for those individuals without formal training in genetics who are involved in administration, clinical services, epidemiology, laboratory services, environmental services, health education (including social work, nursing and other disciplines in public health that provide internal or outreach education), and volunteers involved in public health and local, state, and national boards of health.

Purpose of the Competencies

Competencies are defined as applied skills and knowledge (blended with behaviors) that enable members of the public health workforce to effectively practice public health. Educational programs are moving to a curriculum based on competencies rather than specific knowledge content. Competencies are used to design training programs, develop performance standards by establishing necessary skills, and guide the creation of educational objectives.

The genomic workforce competencies were developed as a tool for public health programs and schools of public health to incorporate genomics into existing competencies and program training goals. This document is a starting point for discussion, not a requirement or gold standard. Curricula and workforce skills must evolve and change in a process of life-long learning to ensure a competent workforce.

Genetics versus Genomics: Historically, the term “genetics” has been associated in public health with single gene disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, sickle cell anemia, or Huntington’s disease, each of which affects only a small subset of our population. Consequently, genetics was not relevant for many individuals working in public health. In this document, the word “genomics” combines both the traditional roles of genetics and evidence from the Human Genome Project that encompasses the notion that certain genes, interacting with other genetic and environmental factors, predispose people to such common diseases as colon cancer, diabetes, and arteriosclerosis and that this information can be used to prevent disease and improve health.

A Work in Progress

Public health workers at all levels are invited to comment on the competencies on the Genetics and Disease Prevention Web site. Competencies will be reviewed periodically, and comments will be incorporated.